Akhtala Monastery is one of the oldest and unique monasteries of Armenia. It is a great place for all those who like uncovering history, discovering new cultures and architecture that is worth taking lots of pictures.
Armenia is the best tourist destination for monastic complexes, unique architecture and breathtaking landscape. The country is very small and has 11 regions, which, although very near, are pretty diverse in dialect, architecture and traditions.
It’s interesting how tourists consider each day of their tour in a different region as a completely new experience in a new country.
Akhtala Monastery, which is located in the northern part of Armenia, in Lori Marz and is among a very few Orthodox monasteries in Armenia.
The Monastic Complex is lesser known than, the above lying UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Haghpat and Sanahin, yet it’s an amazing complex to discover and take pictures.
General Information about Akhtala Monastery
Akhtala Monastery consists of the main church-Surb Astvatsatsin, probably erected in the 11th-13th century, and the fortress.
The Akhtala fortress with its temple complex is situated in Akhtala village of Tumanyan region, in a high valley. Fortress territory is surrounded by rocky canyons from three sides, and the north side joins the plain.
In ancient times, the magnificent beauty of nature was only an additional tip for an eye-appealing look of the fortress as the fortress was considered one of the most outstanding defensive spots of medieval Armenia.
Akhtala Monastery played a great role in protecting the northwestern regions of Armenia, as well as the main road taking from Armenia to Georgia.
There are two possible sources of the origins of the name Akhtala.
- 13th-century historians, Kirakos Gandzaketsi and Vardan Areveltsi called the area Pghndzavank. Translated from Armenian it means place of copper. The area was very rich in copper deposits.
- The second theory suggests that the word Akhtala has a Turkic origin. It means white glade. According to this theory, this name was given during the Turkic invasion.
The History of Akhtala
Akhtala was built in the 10th century by Kyurikids, a branch of Bagratuni dynasty. The dynasty’s name comes from the patriarch Gurgen or Kyuriken.
Gurgen was the son of Ashot 3rd the Merciful and Queen Khosrovanush, patrons of nearby Sanahin and Hakhpat monasteries. Gurgen’s brothers were King Smbat 2nd the Conqueror and Gagik 1st Bagratuni.
Throughout the history, Akhtala played a core role in a number of challenging phases of history, protecting the Armenian territory and nation’s identity. However, there are two periods that is worth mentioning.
The Seljuk Tribes’ Invasions
Seljuk tribes invaded Armenia and conquered most parts of the country in the 1120s. As a result, The Kyurikids were to migrate to their ancestral fortress in Akhtala and find a safe shelter there.
Zakarids, which was an Armenian noble dynasty originated from Georgia, gave the country a new life by liberating the most part of Armenia. After the liberation from Seljuks, Zakarids took the rule over Armenia in the 1180s.
Greek Orthodox, Ivaneh Zakarian, turned Armenian Foundation into Chalcedonian, consequently having a great impact on Akhtala as well.
The Mongol Invasions in the 1220s and the Rule of Amir Timur (Tamerlane)
In the 1220s the Mongols weakened the power and influence of Zakarids, eventually making Ivaneh’s son, Avag recognized his subordination to the Mongol Leader.
The Mongol rule continued until 1340 but ended up seized by Turkic tribes. The tribes took control over most parts of Armenia in 1400. The Turkic rule had a short history, because of Turkic-Mongol ruler Tamerlane.
It is interesting, that even today there are many legends about Tamerlane rule in Akhtala. According to which one of the cliffs of Akhtala is named after him.
Another legend says, that Tamerlane’s son was madly in love with an Armenian girl and wanted to marry the girl and stop his father’s invasions.
However, Tamerlane learned about his son’s intentions and locked him in rocks. It is said, that even today screams and voices are heard from the rocks, referring to Tamerlane’s son’s sufferings.
In 1763, 800 families were settled in Akhtala by Georgian King Erekle 2nd, to work in gold and silver mines. The Greeks called the Monastery Meramani and left carvings on rocks and walls.
In the 19th century, an Armenian noble family in Georgia called Melikovs, took power over Akhtala.
Surb Astvatsatsin Church
The main part of the Monastic Complex is Surb Astvatsatsin, which was built around 11th-13th centuries. A number of excavations were made around the territory of Akhtala by modern researchers, dating the murals within the church to 1205-1216.
The historical background of the Monastic Complex refers to a number of legends. According to one of them, Princess Mariam, the daughter of Kyurikeh 2nd, made a record on the back of a khachkar, an Armenian cross-stone.
The record was found in the adjacent place to Akhtala, called Ayor and refers to the construction of the Holy Mother of God Church in Akhtala. The carving of khachkar states the following:
I, the daughter of Kyurikeh, Mariam, erected Surp Astvatsatsin at Pghndzavank, those who honor us remember us in their prayers.
The Architecture of Akhtala Monastery
Akhtala is one of a few churches in Armenia where signs of Chalcedonian construction remain in the structure of the scheme.
The church belongs to the domed basilica type of churches typical of Armenian Architectural Style. The bearings join with the side-chapels of the apse, the longitudinal prayer hall is divided into three naves by two pairs of arches.
Virgin Mary’s Church is characterized by stylish iconography, richness of theme and variety of different colors, especially various shades of blue. The vertical axis of the building was crowned by a massive dome.
The Murals of Surp Astvatsatsin draw parallels between Armenian and Greek architecture, as the murals are one of the best features of Byzantine art outside the traditional border of Byzantium. The majority of murals have Greek carvings on them, the coloring is characteristic to Byzantine architecture, while the pictures and thematic solutions are of Armenian origin.
Images, carvings, pictures of saints and Testaments’ scenes are especially characteristic of Armenian Apostolic Church.
A large picture of Virgin Mary is depicted in the dome holding Jesus. However, the mural was badly damaged and it was only partly saved. Pictures of various saints including Saint Gregory the Illuminator, new and old Testaments scenes can be found on the murals.
Because of the complicated course of history, many parts of Akhtala Monastery have been badly damaged or destroyed. That, however, couldn’t hide the uniqueness and historical importance of the complex and Armenian culture in general.
The second prominent building in Akhtala monastery is the rectangular chapel built against its western wall. It is also the grave of Ivaneh Zakarian and his son Avak. The chapel was used for ceremonies.
It’s attached to the main church with a lean-to roof from the north. The remaining section of the façade of the main church is attached to the chapel with a ridge roof from the west. A number of khachkars with different crosses and breathtaking architectural motifs are situated around the monastery. You can never find two khachkars with the same motifs.
Tourist Information about Akhtala Monastery
9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
To get to Akhtala from Yerevan, you should take the M3 highway and pass Vanadzor and Alaverdi cities to Akhtala. It’ll take about 2.5-3 hours, depending on the traffic. The fastest and easiest way to get there is taking a private taxi.
12.000 – 14.000 AMD ($25-$30)
If you’re looking for cheaper options you can get there by minivans or sprinters (Armenians call it marshrutka), which you should take from Kilikia bus station. The station is on Tsovakal Isakov Avenue and you can reach there by Yerevan city public transportation.
There are separate minivans and sprinters for the biggest cities in Lori marz, for example, Spitak, Vanadzor, Alaverdi.
Spitak – 1000 AMD (~$2,0)
Vandzor – 1200 AMD (~$2,5)
Akhtala – 2500 AMD (~$5)
The minivan ticket is a little bit expensive depending on the number of passengers. It’s more convenient to visit Akhtala by local cities’ minivans (for example Vandzor, Alaverdi, Spitak) and then travel to Akhtala from local cities, if you are willing to see more attractions of the region besides Akhtala. There is no fixed schedule for the transportation.
Hotels and Hostels Near Akhtala
There are several hotels and restaurants in Akhtala village. However, a richer choice is given in nearby cities and villages such as Alverdi, Vanadzor and Haghpat village.
For restaurants, you can have a delicious dinner or lunch in Nurik in the center of Akhtala. You can find this place via Google map.
The most well-known B&B hotel is Shnogh hotel-restaurant, which provides Armenian food and comfortable shelter for guests to stay in.
It is a modern B&B hotel with all the necessary accommodations for tourists and with a restaurant in it, which services delicious Armenian traditional dishes.
Haghpat village isn’t far away from Akhtala and where you can find a number of B&B hotels and accommodations as well as restaurants. Moreover, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Haghpat monastery is located in Haghpat village and can be your next spot.
You can choose Haghpat hotel for overnight, which has modern and comfortable accommodations for tourists. Not far away from the Monastery, there are a number of restaurants.
Iris hostel is situated in the center of Alverdi near to all the shops, stores and stations. It provides B&B service and is said to be the favorite place for tourists.
IRIS provides classic-style rooms, guests can use either shared or private bathroom facilities. Iris offers a 24-hour front desk, luggage storage and on-site shops.
The atmosphere is more like a ‘home sweet home’, where guests can relax in the shared lounge watching TV or play table tennis with friends. The hostel’s location is unbelievably beautiful for pictures.
WIFI and other services are available for all the above-mentioned hostels. They usually provide all types of rooms starting from single, double to family type of rooms.
The prices usually differ according to high and low seasons. The higher prices usually are from March to August period, which is called the high season in Armenian tourism industry.
The prices of single rooms for one night usually start from 12.000 AMD.
Tufenkian Avan Dzoraget
For more luxurious holidays and accommodations, you can choose Tufenkian Avan Dzoraget hotel, which is located in Dzoraget village. The lavish hotel is designed entirely with Armenian traditional elements using world famous Tufenkian Artisan Carpets.
During high season, a superior double room in Tufenkian Avan Dzoraget hotel usually costs 58.000 AMD, Superior Double room with a river room costs 63.000 AMD, suite costs 73.000 AMD.
The food and overall atmosphere is typically like how Armenians lived decades ago. For the lovers of luxury, modernism and history, this is the best place to stay in. The hotel’s panoramic view is perfect for fabulous pictures.
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