Armenian monasteries among the oldest in the world. There are over 4000 monasteries in the territory of the Republic of Armenia. Let’s learn more about the most popular ones.
Armenia, being the first to adopt Christianity as its state religion (back in 301 AD), is considered to be “a land of churches and monasteries”.
There are more than 4.000 churches and monasteries in the Republic of Armenia, belonging to different centuries, each being the architectural masterpieces of their period.
Usually, Armenian monasteries are situated in highlands in very picturesque landscapes, surrounded with divine nature, which makes them more mysterious and incredible.
Armenian Monasteries #1 | Tatev Monastery
The History of Tatev
According to Stepanos Orbelian, author of the “The History of Syunik province”, the first church of the monastery was built in the 4th century. Very few hermit monks lived in the monastery at first. At the end of the 8th century, it was the Syunik bishopric seat.
In the late Middle Ages, the fortified Tatev Monastery had a great strategic importance. It was one of the significant centers of Syunik liberation struggle, as well as Zangezur defense.
As a result of the 1931 earthquake, the complex was completely destroyed. The University of Tatev Monastery was leveled. In 1974-1998, most of the monastery was restored. However, the bell tower and several other buildings nearby, including a portion of the wall, still remain unfinished.
The Monastic Complex
The territory of Tatev monastery is indeed enormous. The monastic complex is comprised of:
- barrier walls,
- a mill,
- the Poghos Petros Cathedral,
- St. Astvatsatsin
- St. Grigor Churches,
- the Grigor Tatevatsi mausoleum,
- a Gavazan,
- a dining hall,
- pilgrim inn,
- numerous service buildings
- monk cells.
The oil mill has two large rooms and a huge stone, which was used to make oil by pressing herbs and flowers. The holy oil made here is called muron in Armenian. Oil was also made for defensive purposes.
The outer walls were built in the 9th century, later restored in 18-20th centuries, maintaining the original structure. As in other fortresses, adjacent to the walls residential and economic buildings were constructed.
However, the walls are not as high as they used to be in the past (were 20 meters). The old entry is closed now, although the arch is still visible. The eastern entry is near the small tower and goes through St. Astvatsatsin church.
St. Astvatsatsin church is one of the buildings in the monastery. This small chapel-church was built in the 11th century. The structure of the church is not very much characteristic to Armenian churches. It is a two-story vertical building. The entrance is decorated with a beautiful wooden door.
The oldest building in the monastic complex is St Yevstateos church. This church of pre-Christian period was built at the site of St. Yevstateos apostle’s relics. In the first century, Yevstateos together with St. Tadeos preached Christianity in Armenia.
How to get to Tatev
Tatev monastery is 250 kilometers away from the capital city Yerevan. Getting there takes 4-5 hours.
If you decide to visit this treasure of Armenia, you just need to take a bus to Goris from Tigran Mets street in Yerevan (near Rossia Mall). The ticket cost is 5000 AMD ($10).
In Goris, there is a bus that runs daily to Tatev at 15:00 and costs only 500 AMD ($1).
Armenian Monasteries #2 | Noravank Monastery
Another piece of art and a treasure of Armenian architecture is Noravank monastery in Vayots Dzor province of the Republic of Armenia. Noravank monastery is one of the most popular sites in Armenia with fantastic beauty and breathtaking views.
The name Noravank derives from two Armenian words: Nor and vank (նոր վանք), which in English means new monastery.
Noravank monastic complex was founded by Bishop Hovhannes in the 13th century and is comprised of the following buildings:
- St. Karapet church,
- St. Grigor chapel with a vaulted hall,
- St. Astvatsatsin church (Holy Mother of God).
The main structure of the monastic complex is Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God), also called Burtelashen (Burtel’s construction, after the name of its benefactor Prince Burtel Orbelian).
It is situated to the south-east of the Surb Karapet church. The construction of Surb Astvatsatsin was completed in 1339. It is worth mentioning that the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik, has worked here and designed the church.
How to Get to Noravank Monastery?
To get to Noravank monastery, you need to get to Yeghegnadzor (the center of Vayots Dzor province). The cheapest way to get to Yeghegnadzor from Yerevan is going by minibus (marshrutka). It costs 5 USD. Marshrutka leaves for Yeghegnadzor from Gordzaranayin traffic circle, near the subway stop of the same name.
You also have an option of “shared taxi”, when several people gather, take a taxi (from the same place) and at the end share the bill. Taking a taxi by yourself will cost 20-30 USD.
Armenian Monasteries #3 | Akhtala Monastery
The remarkable and impressive monastery Akhtala is located in a very quiet village in Lori Province. Although the monastery is now inactive, it is visited very often because of its historical value.
Because of the rich copper mines found in the village, the monastery in 12-13th centuries’ inscriptions is referred to as Pghndzavank (Coppermine monastery), the name Akhtala was first mentioned in 1438.
The monastery is one of the few orthodox monasteries in Armenia, built in the 10th century, during the period of Armenian Renaissance (earlier than the European). Akhtala was of great significance since the time of its construction. It protected the region, also the road from Armenia to Georgia.
With its architecture, fantastic frescoes and carvings, Akhtala monastery is one of the best monasteries reflecting the Armenian art and culture.
It is worth mentioning, that one of the legends of Armenian cinematography, Sergey Paradjanov. filmed some scenes of his famous “The color of pomegranate” in this place.
Armenian Monasteries #4 | Sanahin Monastery
Sanahin is one of the most outstanding monasteries of Medieval Armenian architecture. Supposedly, the monastery dates back to 10th century.
It is situated in a very picturesque place in Lori province of Armenia. The name Sanahin is translated literally into Armenian as “this one is older than the other one”, comparing it with the neighboring Haghpat monastery.
Sanahin monastery includes:
- St. Astvatsatsin church
- St. Amenaprkich church
- a library
- bell tower
- St. Gregory church-chapel.
The oldest church is St. Astvatsatsin, built in 928-944, which is one of the earliest examples of doomed hall type churches.
The monastery is one of the main tourist attractions in the region, so make sure you won’t pass it by.
How to Get to Sanahin Monastery
If you do not want to spend a lot of many, yet you want to get to Sanahin monastery safe and sound, you need to start your trip from Alaverdi central station, where the public transports gather.
From the station you take bus number 3, which costs 100 AMD (per one way ride). After a 10 minutes drive, the bus will stop in a square near other buses.
This is where you have to walk some 15 minutes to get to the monastery. The monastery is visible, so you won’t have a hard time finding it. Buses start running at 9 am in the morning and the last departure is at 6 pm.
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