Sevanavank: One of the Most Famous Tourist Attractions in Armenia
Sevanavank Monastery is very popular in Armenia due to its possession of the blue pearl of Armenians – Lake Sevan. This monastery and Lake Sevan are beautiful and historically significant destinations just a few hours north of Armenia’s capital city Yerevan.
And to know why this monastery is one of the most visited places by tourists in Armenia, keep on reading this article!
Basic information on the Monastery
Sevanavank Monastery is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Sevan in the eastern Armenian province of Gegharkunik. It’s not far from the town of Sevan. Initially the monastery was built at the southern shore of a small island.
In the Stalin era artificial draining of Lake Sevan started. The water level fell about 20 meters, and the island transformed into a peninsula.
Later, Armenian Writers’ Union guesthouse was built at the southern shore of this newly created peninsula,. The eastern shore is occupied by the Armenian president’s summer residence. The monastery’s still active seminary moved to newly constructed buildings at the northern shore of the peninsula.
The Sevanavank Monastery Architecture
The two churches of the complex, Surb Arakelots (meaning the “Holy Apostles”) and Surb Astvatsatsin (literally the “Holy Mother of God”), are cruciform plan structures that have octagonal tambours. These two look quite similar in appearance.
Arakelots church architecture
Arakelots Gavit dates back to the 9th or the 10th century. You can see the bases for six columns on the ground. The central space was build with a unique system of dome, known as “yertik” (literally, “a window”) by the architects. It had a central aperture topping a shallow dome in the center of the roof.
At first, dome was made from wooden crossbeam squares and placed at diagonals from each other. The church architects took the same idea but they used stone instead of wood.
Asian influencecan be clearly notices if you look at the carvings, geometric patterns and other patterns of the complex architecture. These are very unique and valuable examples of Armenian wood-carving art.
Saint Arakelots was built during the same period as Saint Astvatsatsin. It has an elongated western end creating a square hall. The main apseis flanked by two antechambers. The octagonal drum is placed over the main hall. It is supported by arches resting on pedestal.
The experience of building this church was later used as a type of building for other big churches in Armenia.
Some of the remains of the gavit (entrance to the church or narthex) and its columns you can see in the Yerevan Museum of History.
The two churches were closed in the 1930s but today, Surb Arakelots Church is open to public.
St. Haroutioun church architecture
St. Harutiun church is also a part of the Sevanavank monastery complex. It is the oldest church at the site but nowadays, it is in ruins.
St. Harutiun was one of the few central domed basilicas at that time. It’s important to note, that this type of design was very popular in the 5th century Armenia.
Sevanavank Monastery has a large collection of khachkars (stone crosses). Each of them is a unique example of each period of the monastery’s history.
The complex was reconstructed and restored from 1956 to 1957.
Historical background to Sevanavank Monastery
Archeological digs have shown that the peninsula on which Sevanavank Monastery is located (also known as “Mariamashen” – “built by Mariam”), has been inhabited during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.
According to an inscription in one of the churches, the monastery of Sevanavank was founded in 874 by Princess Mariam – the daughter of Ashot I, who became a king a decade later.
At the time, Armenia was still struggling against the Arab rule.
One of the most popular legends about Lake Sevan and Sevanavank Monastery is the following. During the battle between Armenians and Arabs, King Ashot II (also known as Ashot Erkat, “Erkat” means “Iron”, as he was very brave) was on this island. The number of his soldiers was very small compared to that of the Arab army. Many monks, fishermen and others joined their King Ashot, but Arabs were still larger in number.
Then a wise fisherman, who lived there for years and knew the peculiarities of weather very well, advised the King to attack the enemies early in the morning, when the sun just starts to rise.
The King followed the advice. He led his soldiers in boats towards the Arabs. The sun was behind the Armenian forces and, therefore, blinded the Arabs. This is how the Armenians won the battle, after which the lake was full of Arab soldiers. Because of the dead bodies and their uniforms, the lake looked black. Hence, the name Sevan (“Sev” means black in Armenian).
Nowadays significance of Sevanavank Monastery
Sevanavank Monastery, in fact, is one of the oldest historical monuments is Armenia. It is also one of the most popular places of interest both for tourists and local. Sevanavank Monastery played a crucial role in Armenian history. In fact, it served as a place for battle for Armenian King Ashot II against Arabs, as we already mentioned.
It’s interesting to note that Armenia was under Arab rule during the construction of Sevanavank Monastery. That’s why there were many religious disputes, and this monastery played an important role at that time.
There is also a Sevan Music Festival, which is held annually in Sevan, usually in summer. Many popular artists and singers take part in this magical event.
Participants of the PanArmenian games also visit Sevan not only to admire its beauty, but also to take part in beach volleyball and other sport competitions organized on the shore of Sevan.
Sevanavank Monastery is one of the few monasteries in Armenia that work for religious purposes. There are benches in front of the churches, where tourists can enjoy a stunning scene of Lake Sevan.
The area around the churches is a very proper place to sit and watch the changeable colors of the lake, which depend on the weather and the time of your visit.
This incredible complex still remains one of the most popular destinations in Armenia.
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