Notes of a wanderer. What to see in Armenia – monasteries and beautiful natural sights
Cities. People. Emotions
The most beautiful monasteries in Armenia: Top 10 must-see places
Author: Maria Sakhinova. Date of publication: March 28, 2022 .
Getting to know the monasteries of Armenia is one of the good reasons to go to this country. These are unique pagan and medieval buildings imbued with the culture, history and religion of the Caucasian republic. Which of them deserve your attention and what is their uniqueness, we tell in our new article.
10 most beautiful monasteries that everyone should see in Armenia
Armenia is a country of mountains and monasteries and the most popular among tourists is Tatev. The historic complex, which dates back to the 4th century, is located in the southeast of the republic, in the Syunik region.
You will see Tatev Monastery 250km from Yerevan over the picturesque gorge of the Javarkhan River, and so you will be impressed not only with its architecture and atmosphere, but also with the fantastic nature.
Construction went on gradually, and therefore Tatev Monastery was regularly expanded and restored. In fact, today it is a complex where one can visit up to three churches of different periods. And not only them, because Armenia’s monasteries were often more than just places of prayer for the monks. For example, it was home to a prominent university with one of the best libraries in the area. And even today you can see the intricate labyrinths in which the monks stored books.
The road to Tatev Monastery will be remembered for a lifetime because it is the longest ropeway in the world. The cabin can carry up to 30 passengers and takes 12 minutes to travel at a speed of 32 kilometers per hour.
Of all the monasteries in Armenia, Geghard is one of the most picturesquely situated in the Upper Azat Valley. Although the main chapel was built 800 years ago, its history goes back to the fourth century. Geghard is said to have been founded by Gregory the Illuminator himself and is where the spear used to crucify Jesus Christ is kept.
The Geghard Monastery and Upper Azat include a number of churches and tombs carved into the rocks, which best demonstrates medieval Armenian architecture in all its glory. The complex of medieval buildings is inscribed in a picturesque landscape at the entrance to the Azat Valley. To the north it is surrounded by high cliffs, while the rest of the complex is surrounded by a defensive wall.
Buildings in the monastic complex were erected from the IV to the XIII century and were called Ayrivank (monastery in a cave) because of its unique location. According to legend, it was founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator after the adoption of Christianity in the IV century AD. Construction of the main architectural complex was completed in the 13th century AD. It includes the cathedral, the vestibule adjoining it, the rock churches, the cells, the family vaults of the Princes Proshyan, the shrines-chapels of Papak and Ruzukan and unique cross stones.
The Geghard Monastery is a famous cultural and church center of medieval Armenia, where in addition to religious facilities there is a library, school, scriptorium and several cells for priests carved out directly in the rocks.
If we talk about the most beautiful monasteries in Armenia, Noravank, located in the canyon of the Gnishkajur River, is definitely in the top three. The ideal time to visit is the end of the day. In the light of sunset the natural stone and the monastery stone merge into one, creating a unique visual effect. Armenian believers call this phenomenon a divine act and a real miracle.
Noravank has been one of the most historic and iconic monastic complexes in Vayotsa region for thousands of years. The church is surrounded by sharp red cliffs and the dramatic scenery is one of the best reasons to explore Armenia. The historic Noravank was built in the 13th century and means “New Monastery” in Armenian.
Noravank is a perfect example of the Armenian traditional architecture that the country is so proud of. You will see the complex on the rocks along the beautiful canyon of the river Arpa, 120 km from Yerevan.
Sanahin Monastery is another one of Armenia’s monasteries that is included in the list of Human Treasures. It is located in the Lori region on a plateau above the Debed river canyon. The most famous monastery in the north of the country was founded in 934. According to legend, the religious site was erected on the spot where Gregory the Illuminator erected a stone cross in the 4th century. The complex included the temples of Our Lady, the All-Saints and St. Gregory. It is also notable for its bell tower and the square of the old scriptorium. In short the Sanahin monastery offers a voyage through time which will remain forever in your heart.
Going on a tour of Armenia to see the most beautiful monasteries, don’t miss Hagpat. The fogs familiar to this region, as well as the impressive Armenian crosses carved in stone and called khachkars, make this one of the most unforgettable trips in the Caucasian Republic.
Two monasteries, Sanahin and Haghpat, near Alaverdi, are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Hagpat is translated from the ancient Armenian language as “good masonry. Legend has it that the story began with the construction of Sanahin monastery by a father and son. But then something went wrong… There was a quarrel, because of which the son decided to prove his independence to his father and went to build his own monastery. The father, on the other hand, concentrated on building his religious object, but then looking at his son’s work, he admired and shouted “Ah pat.” We don’t know how true the story is, but Haghpat really stands out from the tenth century, having survived many earthquakes.
Nowadays, Haghpat is a whole architectural complex with many buildings, such as the churches of Sourp Grigor Lusavorich, built in 1005, Sourp Nisha, Sourp Astvatsatsin and others.
A tourist’s tip:
This unique landmark of Armenia, which you will find on the shore of the most beautiful lake in Transcaucasia – Lake Sevan. Like other monasteries in Armenia, Sevanavank attracts tourists with its unusual history, colorful architecture and landscape. For centuries, Sevanavank was located on an island surrounded by Sevan waters. But in 1981 the construction of a special drainage tunnel was started and completed in 2003. The area of the lake decreased, and the island turned into a peninsula. But that did not spoil the unique view of the snow-covered mountains and the lake from the territory of Sevanavank Monastery. Next to the temple there are the remains of an ancient structure that you can touch and feel its spiritual power.
Khor Virap Monastery
On Mount Ararat, the highest and most beautiful mountain, Khor Virap is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Armenia. In the fourth century it was a medieval castle that imprisoned criminals. Since then, things have changed a lot and the monastery is used only for religious purposes. But for inquisitive tourists, the underground prison cells retain their original gloom and have forever absorbed the hopeless condition of the prisoners. The highlight of this monastery is the incredible beauty of the scenery that opens from its walls to snow-capped Mount Ararat. Thanks to clear skies without clouds and fresh air, the mountain is perfectly visible most of the year. It is one of the most popular attractions in Armenia.
Another beautiful monastery in Armenia tucked away on the slope of the wooded mountains of Ijevan range, 100 km away from the resort of Dilijan. Surrounded by lush forests, it looks like a diamond in a setting that changes its color depending on the season. The first to be erected on the territory of the monastery was the church of Surb Grigor. It belonged to the monks who fled from the persecutions of Western Armenia. The church of the Virgin Mary with a richly decorated facade was built in the XI century. The Church of St. Stepanos was a smaller copy of the Church of the Virgin Mary. Nearby you can see the tomb of kings Smbat and Gagik of the Kyurekian dynasty.
If you want to see the best monasteries in Armenia, go to Goshavank. It is one of the most popular attractions, which is located 22 kilometers from Dilijan bus station. The medieval complex surrounded by dense oak forests attracts with its unusual architecture. Walls were not built around the monastery, so it is surrounded by simple village buildings. The complex was built in classical style, so you won’t find fantastic decorative elements here. But it is the strict minimalism that makes it extraordinarily beautiful.
The first church of this attraction in Armenia is the church of Astvatsatsin with original artistic decorations and rich interiors. Nearby is a library with a bell tower, as well as a room for studies and meals. It was a center that combined faith and knowledge in one place.
Goshavank Monastery is famous for its masterpieces of cross-stones (stone steles). They are considered the most beautiful in Armenia. The drawings on the stones look like embroidery. The unique technique of carving leaves no one indifferent.
Another Armenian landmark is located in Shirak province, 10 km northwest of Gyumri and 130 km from Yerevan. The monastery was built in the 10th-13th centuries and belongs to the fine examples of medieval architecture. The complex includes three churches of different periods. The biggest of them is Katoghikeh, erected before 994 during the reign of Prince Vahram Pahlavuni. There was a vestibule adjoining it, but, unfortunately, only foundations and ruins remained of it. In XIII century the monastery was destroyed by the Tatar-Mongols, but in 1870 they started to reconstruct it. Now it is a functioning temple and an important landmark in Armenia.
Monasteries in Armenia are unique and of course there are many more than in our selection. Do you want to touch the eternal, feel the atmosphere of the past and enjoy the breathtaking views? Book individual and group tours to Armenia right now. We will show you the best sights of the country known only to the chosen few.
Monasteries in Armenia
Church and faith in Armenia have always played an important role in the spiritual, cultural and political life of the people. Many monasteries and temples in Armenia are unique examples of ancient and medieval architecture. Ancient constructions were erected in picturesque corners of the country: on emerald hills, in mountains and at steep rocky cliffs.
The Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin is the administrative center of the Apostolic Church. The monastic complex is located in the Armavir region, namely in the town of Vagharshapat.
This temple of Armenia is one of the oldest buildings in the world. The cathedral was erected and consecrated by Gregory the Illuminator in 303, after the adoption of Christianity as the state religion. It was built on the basis of an ancient pagan cathedral and became a symbol of the conversion of people to the Christian faith.
According to legend, St. Gregory the Illuminator was given a prophetic vision in which Jesus Christ descended from heaven and showed with his golden scepter the place where the church was to be built. Saint Gregory told the king his vision and, with the king’s support, founded the first Armenian Christian church.
In addition to Echmiadzin Cathedral itself, the monastic complex contains equally beautiful buildings, viz:
- The Church of Saint Hripsime. It is one of the oldest preserved churches in Armenia. The attraction was built in the 7th century under the leadership of Catholic Komitas. Beneath the church are the relics of the martyred Saint Hripsime, after whom the chapel was named.
- Church of Saint Gayane. This domed basilica was built in the 7th century by the Catholic Ezr I. The church has a magnificent vestibule with three arches, which also served as a tomb for important lords. The church is dedicated to the martyr Mother Gayane.
- The temple of Shoghakat. The cathedral was built in Armenia by Prince Agamal Shorotetsi in 1694 during the reign of Nahapet I. The name of the church means “dripping light”. According to legend, a ray of light fell from the sky at the spot where Christian nuns were tortured and killed before Christianity was adopted as the main religion of Armenia.
Interesting fact: “In 2001 the monastic complex of Echmiadzin was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Geghard Monastery Complex is located northeast of the village of Gokht, on the slope of a tributary of the Gokht River Azat. This unusual architectural construction of Armenia is a temple carved out of a rock in the gorge of a mountain river. The monastery complex was really half-carved from a granite monolith of rocks. It is the temple of St. Geghard, the spear with which Christ was pierced.
The complex consists of:
- The church of Katoghikeh;
- the vestibule;
- two rock churches;
- a multitude of chapels and shrines.
In 2018, in France, at a meeting of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property, it was unanimously decided to give the monastery enhanced protection. The Armenian Monastery of Geghard has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
Interesting fact: “The monastery has another name – Ayrivank. It is the one that is used more often in historical notes about the site.”
The magnificent temple of Armenia with 24 columns in Garni is one of the unique structures preserved since pagan times. The main buildings of the complex were erected in XIII century, that’s why the building was made in Greek, Roman and Armenian architectural styles simultaneously. It is supposed that the building was devoted to the Armenian god Mihri and 24 columns symbolized 24 hours in a day. Garni temple stood in its original appearance for about 1600 years. The longest surviving building in Armenia collapsed in 1679 during the devastating earthquake of June 4. The temple was in ruins for almost 300 years. Over time, the surviving parts of the temple disappeared without a trace. The sight located in a picturesque place had to be rebuilt practically from scratch.
The restoration of the Garni temple continued from 1966 to 1975. Not everything could be restored: there were small palace buildings next to the main building. Now inside the structure is almost empty. The territory around the temple in 1980s was declared as a historical and cultural reserve of Armenia.
The name of the small Khor Virap means “deep dungeon”. Khor Virap has an important historical significance for Armenia. By order of the Armenian king, St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned here for 13 years.
When the king fell ill, his sister had a dream of an angel, who said that her brother would be saved only after the release of St. Gregory the Illuminator. Thus the king released the martyr, and the latter healed the king. Upon his release from prison, the enlightener, having secured the king’s support, made Christianity the state religion.
Interesting fact: “Armenia was the first Christian country to adopt a religion at the state level.
Today, tourists have the opportunity to go down into the underground prison, which is located inside the chapel at a depth of 6 meters. From the territory of the monastery there is a magnificent view of Mount Ararat.
The literal translation of the name of the monastery is “new”. Despite the name, the age of the building suggests otherwise. Noravank was founded by Vahanavank Hovhannes 13 centuries ago. Noravank, one of the magnificent monastic complexes of medieval Armenia, is situated 120 km from Yerevan.
The monastery rises in the gorge of the river Arpa, next to red majestic rocks in the gorge. The many stone walls with the image of a cross and the delightful views of the picturesque area are the hallmarks of Noravank.
The monastery complex consists of churches:
- St. John the Baptist;
- Holy Mother of God;
- St. Gregory.
The last large-scale restoration work in the complex was carried out recently, in the 1990s. A pleasant bonus for guests is that the monastery is on the way to other, no less popular, attractions in Armenia.
The Haghartsin monastery complex is located in the Tavush region, about 18 kilometers from the city of Dilijan. There is a beautiful legend connected with the genealogy of the name of the wicker monastery according to which during the opening and consecration ceremonies of the monastery an eagle soared over the dome of the main temple which gave rise to the special name of the sanctuary.
The Haghartsin monastic complex was built in the 10th-13th centuries. It flourished in the late 12th and early 13th centuries under the leadership of Khachatur Taronatsi. The building is often mentioned in history as a leading educational center of the 13th century. This structure is a true jewel of the canyon, one of the most mysterious places in Armenia, buried in the greenery of the Dilijan mountain forests.
The Haghartsin complex consists of:
- three churches;
- two narthexes, one of which has been destroyed;
- a refectory;
On the territory of the monastery to the east of the main group of monuments there are chapels on a rocky slope – sculptural cross-stones. In ancient centuries here were taught metallurgical basics. The bronze cast-iron cauldron found in Agartsin is one of the highly artistic samples of artistic metallurgy. Now the cultural foundation of the country is restoring the Armenian monastery of Haghartsin with the support of Sheikh bin Mohammad al-Qasim. The work of Haghartsin is supervised by the Dilijan National Park.
Goshavank Monastery is another ancient structure in Armenia, surrounded by the forested mountains of the resort town of Dilijan. In the 13th century this object of Armenian architecture was a major religious, educational and cultural center of Armenia. In historical sources Goshavank was called a college, university or seminary. Goshavank is a unique in its style monastic complex incorporating all the merits of medieval architecture. The buildings of the monastery complex are in harmony with the luxurious nature of the place.
The monastic complex of Goshavank includes:
- three churches;
- two small chapels;
- A two-story bell tower with a library inside;
- The ruins of the chapel and the cross-stones.
The monastic complex of Goshavank was built from 1188 to the 13th century. Originally the monastery was called “Nor Getik”, but after the death of Mkhitar Gosh the monastery founded by him was renamed into “Goshavank”. The man after whom the temple was named was Mkhitar Ghosh. The man was one of the great minds of his time – jurist, theologian, chronicler, fable writer and teacher. The fame of his wisdom was so widespread that famous scholars from all over the world came to study with him.
The Tate monastery complex is located in the south of the village of the same name, on the right bank of the gorge of the tributary of the Vorotan River. In the early Middle Ages it was called the “Testament of the Apostle Eustatius”. Founded in the 4th century, the monastery was a well-developed center of the school of the 8th century. It was built gradually, mostly in the ninth century.
The enclosed monastic complex of Tat consists of:
- three churches;
- a bookshop;
- a refectory;
- a bell tower;
- the mausoleum and outbuildings.
Also belonging to the monastery are a churn, a spring, and a school, which are outside the main area.
In 2010, the “Tati Tier” aerial tramway was built here, which connected Tati Monastery with the village of Alidzor on the opposite cliff. Interesting fact: “The 5.7 kilometers long aerial tramway is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest reversible aerial tramway in the world. Today the Tata Monastery attracts tourists and pilgrims from all over the world with its magnificent view. It is one of the must-see tourist sites.
Sevanavank Monastery is located in Gegharkunik Province, on the San Peninsula. It is always crowded, especially during the summer months. Armenian citizens and visiting tourists rest on the shore of the Lake San and visit the picturesque monastery complex. From the observation platform of the small monastery a breathtaking view of the lake and the nature of the region opens up.
Sevanavank has a rich history. The complex was founded by Grigor Lusavorich in 305, when the present peninsula was a complete island surrounded on four sides by truly blue waters. The two largest churches of the complex were founded in 874.
In the Bronze Age, the island was fortified by a fortress, and there was also a pagan shrine. In the 9th century the Syunik princes made the monastery their military base.
In 874 Mariam, daughter of King Ashot Bagratuni, built two temples here:
- The Church of the Holy Apostles;
- Church of St. John Garabed.
Previously Sevanavank was a large historical-architectural complex, which in addition to churches included buildings of various purposes: a bookshop, guest houses, warehouses, refectories. The monastery was damaged by an earthquake in 1936, but since 1990 it is revived and lives a full spiritual life.
The monastery Haghpat is located in the southeastern part of the village. It was built in the second half of the 10th century, and in the 10-13th centuries it was one of the most important cultural centers of Armenia. In earlier times grammar, oratory, philosophy, theology, music and other subjects were actively studied and taught here. The monastic complex of Haghpat refers to medieval Armenian architecture. Most of the churches are cross-domed. The vestibules, with their large volumes, are considered some of the most outstanding buildings of this architectural style.
The complex consists of:
- the Nshan temple;
- two narthexes;
- three small churches;
- two corridors with shrines;
- a refectory;
- a bookshop;
- a belfry and a bathhouse.
An interesting fact: “Under the vestment of the priest, the famous folk composer Sayat Nova lived in the Armenian temple for several years”.
Most of the constructions of the complex were made of bluish polished basalt. The monastery is surrounded by a fortress wall and outside the square is a monument in the form of a fountain. In 1996 Haghpat was included in the list of Armenian monasteries protected by UNESCO.