Discover Armenia’s millennium-old monasteries and discover their magnificence! Tucked into canyons and mountain tops, their architectural beauty and religious spirituality remain unparalleled.
Tatev monastery stands out as one of the most dramatic monasteries, dominating an expansive canyon along Vorotan River and accessible through a long nonstop double track cable car that holds a Guinness World Record for nonstop double track travel.
Haghartsin monastery complex stands out as a remarkable site in Armenia, nestled amidst lush mountain woods. Dating back to between the 11th and 13th centuries, its construction was an important center of Armenian music and culture renowned for its khachkars and church that blend in seamlessly with their surroundings.
Haghartsin includes several churches within its complex. St. Astvatsatin stands as its centerpiece and features a cupola structure with tall drum and south entrance; built during the 12th century. There are also chapels, refectory, and set of khachkars created by Poghos himself in 13th century, including one standing outside Mother of God Church’s southern doorway carved by him himself – some especially fine examples exist such as one by Poghos standing just outside its southern door!
Monastic ensembles were typically situated high mountains or deep gorges away from settlements for two reasons: (1) to make it harder for enemies to access; and (2) as large centers of thought, culture, and education. The architecture of monasteries often reflected local surroundings with both traditional and medieval elements being present within its architecture style.
One unique aspect of this monastery is the bronze cauldron bearing an inscription with its date of preparation – 1232. Weighing 350 kg and featuring unique boiler handles shaped like lions’ heads, it was an attraction for pilgrims while its church served as a gathering point for clergy and people from surrounding areas.
Today, the complex is a popular tourist spot and particularly breathtaking during autumn and winter when its trees blaze with color. On Sundays at 11:00, Divine Liturgy is celebrated here.
In 2005, the complex was renovated thanks to a donation by Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi – a member of UAE’s Supreme Council and governor of Sharjah who was struck by its beauty and sensed its connection with God.
St. Gregory the Illuminator Church stands as the centerpiece of this complex and was constructed between the 9th and 10th centuries. Later, in 13th century Armenia it was chosen as home for Armenia’s inaugural musical conservatory established by Khachatur Taronatsi (composer of Khorund Khorin hymn).
Geghard, located in Kotayk province, is an exceptional medieval monastery carved out of rock. Once known as Ayrivank (Monastery in the Cave), Geghard was founded by Saint Gregory the Illuminator to commemorate Christianity’s arrival to Armenia during the 4th century AD. Today, this complex houses a cathedral, narthex, eastern and western rock-cut churches, Papak’s tomb-chapel, Ruzukan’s tomb-chapel as well as various cells; its internal walls contain numerous donor names that helped support building of churches or chapels.
The Katoghike Church was constructed in 1215 and stands as an outstanding example of Armenian medieval architecture. Featuring a cruciform plan with interior richly decorated with floral, faunal, and geometrical patterns in high relief relief; this monastery served as one of the primary cultural hubs in medieval Armenia with schools, libraries, printing houses, monks who contributed significantly to calligraphy art development as well as being used as repository for manuscripts.
Geghard monastery suffered damage during an earthquake, yet survived to become part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2000.
Geghard is an ideal day trip destination from Yerevan. Just 36km away by taxi or day tour, Geghard monastery provides visitors with ample time to explore its surroundings while seeing more historic khachkars.
Many visit this monastery for its exquisite khachkars; however, its crypt and basilica should also be taken into consideration. Galdzak was one of Armenia’s greatest medieval architects who is thought to be responsible for these intricate structures.
Geghard is not only a tourist attraction, but it is also a place of pilgrimage for many Armenians. According to legend, one of the spears used during Jesus’ crucifixion may have been stored here until being moved later to Echmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat as an official relic.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Armenia’s monastery has been protected from further decay or destruction over time by being listed on its list. As part of regular conservation and maintenance projects and with a buffer zone around the site to prevent changes from taking place. Furthermore, TUMO and CyArk have joined forces to use 3D laser scanning technology in preserving monasteries throughout Armenia; training the next generation of digital heritage preservationists through this partnership.
Sevanavank Monastery Complex sits atop an idyllic peninsula on Lake Sevan in Armenia – one of the country’s most stunning lakes – at its end. Boasting breathtaking mountain vistas, colorful wildflowers, and lounging lizards on rocks – Sevanavank makes an unforgettable photography destination. Established by Princess Mariam in 874 AD, the monastery’s two cruciform churches (Surp Arakelots and St Astvatsatsin) built from black tuff are an exemplar of Armenia’s architectural Renaissance after almost 200 years of Arab rule. An 1830 French explorer described how the monks lived a secluded existence without meat, wine or women. Their two churches boast beautiful frescoed domes topped by florid frescoes while their old refectory is filled with stone carvings. Unfortunately St Astvatsatsin’s church was destroyed during Soviet rule; only recently did its theological academy begin operating again (since 1451).
Haghartsin, just outside Dilijan and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers another stunning example of Armenian monastery architecture set against an unparalleled landscape. Ideal as part of a day trip from either Yerevan or Dilijan, group tours combine visits to Haghartsin with Lake Sevan or Geghard; or private tours may also depart directly from Yerevan.
Tatev monastery in Armenia must be seen to be believed. While its church may not differ dramatically from others around Armenia, what makes Tatev truly exceptional is its setting! Situated high above a deep canyon along Vorotan River and accessible via Wings of Tatev cable car ride – recognized by Guinness World Records as being longest non-stop double track cable car in existence worldwide!
The monastery complex comprises of various buildings, such as its main church and three smaller ones; as well as a refectory, library and dungeon. The main church features two-story exterior architecture with six flattened domes topped by flattened domes that support six octagonal tambours; inside, you’ll discover beautiful carved ceilings, altarpieces and religious objects.
Akhtala monastery complex, constructed in Armenia’s Lori region in the 10th century and considered one of the best-preserved examples of Armenian architecture, comprises of church, chapel and bell tower, with unique frescoes and carvings from each element. Additionally, Akhtala was known for its once lucrative copper mines which once boasted one of the richest deposits worldwide.
Rumor has it that throwing a stone into the pit outside the monastery gates will help your wish come true, while sculptures depicting wedding rings offer good luck for newlyweds passing by. While it might not be high on everyone’s list of must-see spots, it’s well worth visiting if you are nearby.
St Astvatsatsin Church at the monastery features some of the most breathtaking frescoes in all of Armenia; these frescoes date back to 7th century and display an aesthetically pleasing mix of Armenian, Georgian, and Byzantine styles. Additionally there is a smaller hall church as well as the remains of a two-story residential building on site.
Haghpat and Sanahin, located only 15 kilometres apart, are both World Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO. Both were constructed during the Bagratid Dynasty which marked an auspicious time in Armenian architecture; both monasteries feature intricate interiors that incorporate elements from both vernacular and Byzantine styles; Haghpat overlooks a deep gorge while Sanahin stands on Lake Sevan’s shores – two stunning locations!
Armenia boasts another UNESCO World Heritage site – Zvartnots Cathedral. Built on what is said to be the site where St. Gregory healed King Tiridates of a disease that had caused him to turn into a pig, this 7th-century cathedral features Armenian, Mesopotamian, and Syrian influences and remains as one of only five remaining circular cathedrals around today – an engineering feat even back then!