Haghpat and Sanahin Monasteries, Armenia

Travelling in Armenia, Part 8 – Haghpat Monastery

When planning a trip around Armenia, probably one of the first places we paid attention to were the Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries in the Lori region, in the northern mountainous part of Armenia. Two monasteries on different sides of a gorge, the factory town of Alaverdi between them – a mind-blowing sight! In fact, it turned out that everything is not so simple… until the tourist season starts. Some firms at the end of April, simply have not yet begun the season of excursions in the northern regions, so we had to spend some time looking for (add to that the revolutionary situation in Yerevan at that time) – we even thought about going there “savages”, with drivers for hire, which is widely practiced in Armenia. But all turned out well. We will talk about the travel agencies separately, but now it will be a story about one part of the trip. Let me tell you right away that is not the whole story, the story will have to be divided into several parts, this time we will talk only about the Haghpat Monastery.

The Haghpat Monastery (Հաապատ) is probably the most organic and holistic of the monasteries we saw on our trip to Armenia. Even the legendary Tatev Monastery did not interrupt my impression of it. Why? That’s what we will try to tell you. It should be mentioned that Haghpat Monastery and the neighboring Sanahin Monastery are under UNESCO protection as a World Cultural Heritage since 1996. Monasteries are always considered to be a pair. According to one legend, one of them was built by the father and the other by the son who decided that he was not inferior to his father in craftsmanship. According to the legend, the father once came to see how the work was going and, tapping the wall, exclaimed: “Ah pat!” which means solid, solid, solid wall. This is how the monastery of Haghpat got its name. Since there was a dispute over which of the monasteries was built first, the phrase “sa nranitz ine” – “this one is more ancient” – which is thought to be the key to the name “Sanahin” comes to mind.

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The monastery was founded at the end of the 10th century, under King Ashot III, and by the middle of the 12th century it had become a major spiritual center of the Lori Kingdom. Wikipedia suggests that in 1081 the Armenian Bishop Barsegh of Ani and Shirak was ordained catholicos in Haghpat, which speaks of the importance of the monastery for Armenia as a whole. Like most of what is now Armenia, from the end of the 11th century these places were ravaged by the Seljuk Turks. After that the monastery wandered from one ruler to another. Nevertheless, by the end of the Middle Ages many of the surrounding Armenian Church estates were subjected to the Archbishop of Haghpat. By the beginning of the twentieth century the monastery of Haghpat had lost its importance and lost most of its possessions, and was already reopened under Catholicos Vazgen I.

But enough of the history. We get off the bus in the village Haghpat. We will talk about the road separately, but at the moment I will tell you that it would be really scary to drive here with private drivers .

The season has not started yet, so there is almost no trade:

The monastery, fenced with a low wall, towers in front of us – almost monolithic. And this is despite the fact that it was not built at once, but over many years:

Separately, the bell tower, built in 1245, rises:

Being here, you realize that the monastery is very organically woven into the surrounding nature, as if being part of it. It is very difficult to separate the buildings from the surrounding landscape:

Even the stone fence fits very organically:

The buildings of the monastery seem to grow out of the rock:

This is especially noticeable for the book repository, completely covered under a layer of turf:

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Here and there are tombstones:

From here you have a stunning view of the valley. On the opposite cliff is the village of Sanahin, home to the monastery of the same name:

The photos hardly convey the scale:

The trees are in full bloom:

We can see the smoky Alaverdi factory town in the gorge in the distance:

Let’s walk through the grounds.

The center of the monastery is the Church of the Holy Sign (Surb Nshan), dating back to the late 10th century. It is believed that founded it queen Khosrovanush, wife of King Ashot III of the Bagratuni family. The architect is considered to be the famous Trdat. Does this mean that he was the son of that legend?

The vestibule was built later, in 1185:

The architecture of the church is traditional for Armenian churches: four pillars and four arches resting on them. In the high part there is an aperture in the center:

Here is the church itself:

Very beautiful elements with ligature:

In the narthex you can clearly see the openings leading to the prayer rooms – for the commoners on the first tier, for the nobles on the second, so that they were above the commoners:

The clergymen were buried right here, under the floor – so that people, as they walked over their graves, would remember their names. It’s a remarkable tradition, and I don’t recall seeing anything like it before.

Haghpat Monastery was one of the repositories of knowledge (we’ll come back to that later). Since the invaders often destroyed scrolls with records, there was a tradition to write directly on the stone:

UNESCO-protected sites have rather strict requirements for restoration. In some places, the stones are crumbling:

The door, as in many churches in Armenia, is itself a work of art:

Let’s move to the next hall, the vestibule of Amazasp, a spacious hall with four columns, built in the middle of the 13th century. In the picture it is on the back-left, on the left in the foreground is the chapel of the Virgin Mary (Surb Astvatsatsatsin):

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The light beaming through the narrow window is something to behold:

The traditional hole exactly in the center of the ceiling is thought to be a tradition set by ancient Armenian dwellings:

Let’s move to the gallery that encircles the Church of the Sign. Wikipedia suggests that this is the tomb of the Ukanyants family:

The hackar-stone clearly visible from this point is unusual. It is the so-called All-Savior (Amenaprkich ), dated 1273 year. There are only five such cross-stones in Armenia which show not just a cross but a crucifix:

From the gallery you can go to the book depository – the entrance is in the distance on the left:

Again we turn to wikipedia:

“In the 11th century, a library was built at the monastery near the Church of Sourb Nshan, which became the richest collection of Armenian medieval manuscripts, later in order to be more preserved, they were moved to nearby caves, where reading rooms were arranged. The famous Mughni Gospel was kept in Haghpat (now in Matenadaran). Among the lost manuscripts of particular value was the “Kotuk” (the lore of the Haghpat monastery), a list of the Bible of 951 is mentioned. In 1931 only 12 manuscripts were brought from Haghpat to Yerevan, the rest are considered to be lost”.

It is here, in these vessels, that the scrolls were kept:

The general view of the monastery from the right side. On the left is the Church of Gregory the Illuminator, built in 1005, on the right is a good view of the semicircular exit from the gallery-mausoleum:

Well, and just a few shots of the grounds:

And in the distance you can see our next goal, the village of Sanahin with the monastery of the same name:

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