- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
April 23, 2004

Low Overhead: Roofs made of earth still weather the elements in Aghbiuradzor

There was a day when along the shores of Lake Sevan, roofs made of thatch were the common means of using nature to protect from nature.
Five-year-old Lilit was born and will grow up in a house covered with soil.

Like the picturesque cottages for which Ireland would become famous, Armenian country homes were perhaps less glamorized but no less served by roofs made of earth.

Older residents in villages such as Aghibiuradzor remember that until the 1950s the use of earthen roofs was common. Fifty years later, the distinguishing feature of Armenian culture hasn’t completely disappeared.

In Aghbiuradzor, some 100 kilometers east of Yerevan seven thatch-roofed houses are still standing and still occupied. Others have been turned into cowsheds by villagers. The village, about 1,900 meters above sea level is isolated from the outside world for about five months, when snow cuts it off from autumn till spring.

Heghine and Vaspurak Gasparyans have been living in their thatch-roof home for six years. Previous occupants left the village and gave the house to the Gasparyans who, since, have given birth to three children here.

It is believed that the house was built in the early 1900s. The roof is made of cane over wooden beams, covered with earth. Nettle grown through the earth penetrates the apartment through the ceiling in some places.

“When it rains water always comes through into the house. Moisture will choke us if we don’t open windows,” says Heghine, who always cleans the house getting rid of the earth, coming in chunks from the ceiling.

In his story “Apostle” written in 1902 Muratsan describes such village houses of the lake. There is only one difference between houses from the story and houses of Aghbiuradzor. In the story, illumination is by “skylight”, whereas the Gasparyans’ house has “modern” windows in the walls.

It is impossible to place a typical roof on the house because the beams already groan under the load, and pillars are placed in the room to keep the earth ceiling from collapsing.

If it sounds quaint, it is far from it for the Gasparyans. They live here out of necessity because they cannot afford something else. Year-round, they live off potatoes grown on their 1,000 square meter garden. Vaspurak earns money as a shepherd during warm months, and Heghine makes money cleaning cow sheds of other villagers.

Early in their marriage they lived in the house of Vaspurak’s father. But one room was too small for the families of two brothers, so the older brother sent Vaspurak out to find his own home.

But while the Gasparyans’ old-style home survived recent heavy rains and flooding, the brother, Mushegh’s, home (with a standard roof) was wrecked.

(Click on photos for enlarged view)


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