Gourgen James Khazhakian

Gourgen James Khazhakian

Journalist Emeritus of the Republic of Armenia, writer, publicist.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017 02:15


This time The Highlights presents its readers another pearl of Armenian medieval architecture, legendary Monastery of Noravank.

Let’s start with the following extract from the traveltoarmenia.am:

“…They say whatever the human hand touches, it eventually destroys it. But considering the fact that the man was created in the image of God, then he surely inherited things that can make him appear God-like. One such thing is his ability to create. The general truth is, the human imagination recognizes no limits and boundaries, but even knowing that very often when you see the reflection of it right in front, you are still being unable not to question that general truth because sometimes those creations appear too unreal to be true.

Such creations, particularly in regard to monasteries and churches, can be found scattered all around the world, among them the church of Sagrada Familia in Spain or the Chapel of Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe in France. In Armenia, it’s the outstanding monastery of Noravank, which can also be referred to as a masterpiece with its unique architectural solutions and design”.

…Saying “legendary” reminds about a legend (that seems a very truth-like one): when the Mongols invaded Armenia in the 13th century, they crumbled many churches/other historic monuments. Noravank, fortunately, escaped from sharing their fate thanks to a relief of the God himself depicted with big eyes on it as the invaders were “scared” by the other’s Idol and left the Monastery.

After a peace treaty between Agha Khan and the Orbelyan Family (Princes residing in Syunik Province of Armenia) was signed, Noravank, under the aegis of Orbelyans, was rebuilt, turned into important religious, educational and cultural center of medieval Armenia, but, alas, it lasted until the invasion of Lenk Timur hordes in the late 14th century.

Noravank (that means “New Monastery” in Armenian) Monastery that stands out not only due to it complex of beautiful churches and khachkars (cross-stones), but also surrounding natural beauty. The monastic complex is located 122km from Yerevan in a canyon made by the Amaghu river, near the city of Yeghegnadzor, having  tall, sheer, brick-red cliffs, directly across from the monastery.

Why “new”? Probably because of the fact that Noravank was built in 12th century at the place of two other churches erected much before.

Besides, the Complex is famous due to unique reliefs and khachkars created by Momik (1250-1339), a legendary artist, sculptor and architect invited to move from Cilicia to Armenia by Stepanos Orbelyan. Momik was buried at the Monastery site, and there is a khachkar there in his memory.

 The complex of Noravank Monastery includes Saint Astvatsatsin Sepulcher-Church, Saint Karapet Church, Saint Stepanos Nakhavka Church and a gavit (entrance hall), Saint Grigor Church (the Sepulcher of the Prince Stepanos Orbelyan), ruined medieval chapels  and the newly built rectory. The fortress walls surrounding the complex were built in the 17th –18th centuries.

Noravank was founded in 1105 by Bishop Hovannes, fmr Abbot of Vahanavank Monastery (at the outscirts of the City of Kapan) who suceeded to get papers from Seljuk Turks (who occupied Armenia in those times) an the pontifical status of the Monastery.

And, as it was mentioned above, those centuries was a “Golden Age” for Noravank, - mostly due to patronage of the Orbelyan Princes.

 Saint Astvatsatsin Church

The Church of Saint Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother) was built as a family sepulcher for the Orbelyan Princes in 1339 by Prince Burtegh, that’s why it’s called “Burteghashen”. The architect of the church was Momik.

On the first floor of the church there is the sepulcher with khatchkars and small carvings of the evangelists. Also, on the western wall there are two khatchkars out of which the one on the left is attributed to Momik. Narrow and small stairs found at the western entrance take to the second floor, where the prayer hall is. To the east of the prayer hall there is the semicircular sanctuary above which the carving of Jesus Christ with angels around Him can be seen, while right above the window to the east of it there is the carving of a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit.

The church’s dome is supported by a rotunda. The latter comprises 12 columns on which there are bird carvings as well as the portrait of Prince Burtegh with the church’s miniature in his hand.

The facades of the church feature bas relief sculptures.

Saint Karapet Church

Saint Karapet Church that currently lies in ruins, is the oldest church of the complex, which was possibly built in the place of a pre-Christian sacred site. Traces of three arches, a three-story platform and a southern front room have been preserved. It’s also probable that the walls of the church came with frescoes, which, however, have not been preserved.

The arches are made of multi-color tufa stone. The use of arches was firstly typical of secular buildings. Gradually, the style was adopted into the church architecture of the Middle East and Byzantine. Later on Armenian churches also included the arches.

There was so little room inside the church that it could accommodate only very few people. It is supposed that the church was meant only for the clergy and used to serve as a pilgrimage site.

Saint Stepanos Nakhavka Church

Being the main church of the complex, cruciform Saint Stepanos Nakhavka Church was built in 1216-1223 by Prince Liparit Orbelyan. It represents a domed building with two-story annexes in the four corners. Note that the dome was destroyed during the 1840 earthquake and is currently restored. The church has only one entrance and it is in the western side. Priests used to reside on the second floors of the annexes. It’s where they used to pray and create manuscripts. In contrast, the first floors were meant for candle lighting.

Saint Grigor Chapel-Sepulcher

The chapel-sepulcher of Saint Grigor built in 1275 for the family of Orbelyans is sometimes called Smbat’s Sepulcher because the latter’s buried there. The architect was Siranes. Notably, ten members of the Orbelyan family are buried in the sepulcher. The tombstone of Elikum III Orbelyan who was one of the most popular political figures, with depicted sleeping lion, is among them.

The chapel has a rectangular layout with a small semi-circular sanctuary to the east and a vaulted roof.


Among khachkars of Noravank are the ones dedicated to the Holy Mother, Saint Sargis, Saint Gevorg, Saint Poghos, Saint Petros, Saint Stepanos, Saint Hovhannes, Saint Grigor and so on.

Traditionally, the khachkars depicting Holy Mother were believed to protect the families and mothers, those depicting Saint Grigor were thought to give strength and courage to the warriors, and the stones with the image of the All-Savior were considered to cure of diseases.

And, finally, a couple of rewiews from TripAdwisor:


Brasschaat, Belgium

Gold in the Amaghu valley

So beautiful situated in a valley surrounded by high cliffs. Several churches and chapels all dating back to the 13th and 14th century. A church (reachable by a very narrow steep stair) atop a burial vault: unique building and very nicely sculptered. Several khachkars (cross-stones).

Timothy T


Exquisite visit!

This beautiful monastery has so much to offer. There is an incredible restaurant next door which you must not miss. The architecture of the monasteries melds beautifully with the background making for some incredible pictures. The place has been renovated but still some buildings remain in ruins. Some of the incredible aspects of this monastery are the only depiction of God and the tombs of Armenian kings from the 12th century. Highly recommend!

Traveltoarmenia.am materials used in this story

Photos by Rachel Doyle, Shaun Dunphy

Tuesday, 27 June 2017 01:38

In 2000 the Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat River Valley were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Below we put an extract from the List:

“Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley contains a number of churches and tombs, most of them cut into the living rock which illustrate Armenian medieval architecture at its highest point(Italicized by the author).(The Gokht brook that comes from 2,000 m height bypassing the Monastery joins the Azat River; the latter goes to the Garni Temple about which The Highlights told in its previous issue. Normally tourists visits Garni first, and then, after advancing some 9 kilometres on the highway,Geghard).

The complex of those medieval buildings is set into a landscape of great natural beauty, at the entrance to the Azat Valley. High cliffs from the northern side surround the complex while the defensive wall encircles the rest.

The monuments included in the property are dated from the 4th to the 13th century. At the early period, the Monastery was called Ayrivank (“Monastery in the Cave”) because of its rock-cut construction. The Monastery was founded, according to tradition by St. Gregory the Illuminator, (the Founder of Christianity in Armenia and the very first Catholicos of All Armenians),and was built following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia (301 AD). Geghard has been renowned as well as for the relics housed there. The most celebrated of these was the spear (“geghard” in Armenian) that wounded Christ on the Cross and was allegedly brought there by the Apostle Thaddeus, from which comes its present name, Geghardavank (the Monastery of the Spear). The spear was kept in the Monastery for 500 years, (and, with some other relics, after it was transferred to the Holy See of Echmiadzin where (in museum) visitors can see it/them by present day). Relics of the Apostles Andrew and John the Baptist were donated in the 12thcentury. Besides,the deep believer visitors made numerous other kind of donations - land, money, and manuscripts within the centuries… 

The main architectural complex was completed in the 13thcentury. It includes the Cathedral, the adjacent narthex, eastern and western rock-cut churches, the family tomb of the Proshyan Princes, Prince Papak’s and his wife Ruzukan’s tomb-chapel as well as various cells and numerous rock-cut cross-stones (khachkars). The Kathoghikè (main church) is in the classic Armenian form, an equal-armed cross inscribed in a square in plan and covered with a dome on a square base, linked with the base by vaulting. The east arm of the cross terminates in an apse, the remainder being square. In the corners are small barrel-vaulted two-storey chapels. On the internal walls there are many inscriptions recording donations. The masonry of the external walls is particularly finely finished and fitted. A “gavit” (entrance hall) links it with the first rock-cut church.

The first rock-cut church was built before 1250, entirely dug into the rock and on an equal-armed cruciform plan. To the east, a roughly square chamber cut into the rock was one of the princely tombs (“zhamatoun”) of the Proshyan Family. This gives access to the second rock-cut church built in 1283. The second zhamatoun, reached by an external staircase, contains the tombs of the Princes Merik and Grigor. A defensive wall encircled the monastery complex in the 12th to 13th centuries. Most of the monks lived in cells excavated into the rock-face outside the main defensive wall, which have been preserved, along with some simple oratories.

St. Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) Chapel is the most ancient preserved monument outside the ramparts and is located on the western side, above the central entrance and on the left hand side, - some hundredmetres. It is partially hewed in the rock. There are engraved inscriptions on the walls, the earliest of which date back to 1177 and 1181 AD…”

Notably, the Monastery has had its renaissance under the aegis of the prominent military commanders Zaqaryan brothers. The main church, Katoghike was built by Zaqaryan Bros. Allegedly, relics of the Apostles Andrew and John the Baptist were kept in the latter. At present they are going to reconstruct the Chapel.Residential and economic constructions were built later, in the 17thcentury.

After Zaqaryans, Geghard and the neighborhood were acquired by the family of Khahbakyan-Proshyan Princes in the second half of the 13thcentury.Fortunately for the Monastery, it received generous patrons. They built churches, two tombs for representatives of a kind on the first and second floors, and cells in the surrounding rocks. For example, in one of them lived and worked the well-known Armenian historian of the 13th century Mkhitar Ayrivanetsi.

The Monastery of Geghard was an important and renowned religious and cultural center of medieval Armenia, with a school, scriptorium, library and many rock-cut dwelling cells for clergy which were cut by the nunsusing the simplest iron tools at the beginning of Christianity, - about 140 in total.
Historians Mkhitar Ayrivanetsi, Simeon Ayrivanetsi who lived and worked there in the 13thcentury, contributed to the development of the Armenian manuscript art. But in 923, everything was barbarously destroyed by the Arabs under the leadership of the Armenia Governor of the Arab Caliph in Armenia, Nasra. Numerousvalues, including manuscripts, were plundered and burnt ... And an earthquake followed that invasion…

Fortunately, some of these documents were saved by the clergymen, and they are now stored in national libraries in Berlin, Paris and, of course, in Matenadaran (the Museum-Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan) ...

Here you can drink water from an ancient source that allegedly that has been healing people since Pagan times…
In total, it is said about Geghard that seven churches and 40 altars are cut down on its two floors (most of it in the rocks) ... Altars are difficult to count, but churches with tombs are no less, if not more ...

You can find numerous khachqars (cross-stones) and crosses cut just in the rocks dated back 11-13th century. Notably, it is impossible to find two of them with the same ornament.

According to a legend, the St. Gregory the Illuminator lived in one of the Monastery cell.

Today Geghard Monastery is a full scale functioning entity of the Armenian Apostolc Church having its Abbat and the Brotherhood living in contemporary building of cells.

And now we come back to the UNESCO World Heritage List:

“Criterion (ii): The Monastery of Geghard, with its remarkable rock-cut churches and tombs, is an exceptionally well preserved and complete example of medieval Armenian monastic architecture and decorative art, with many innovatory features which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in the region. 


The Geghard complex is an exceptionally complete and well preserved example of a medieval monastic foundation in a remote area of great natural beauty. There have been no changes on the components of the inscribed property since the time of inscription. In addition, the property is surrounded by a substantial buffer zone, established in 1986, within which there are strict controls over any form of development and change.

However, its location in an active seismic zone, the pollution of the surrounding environment, the risk of rockslides, as well as the active tourism route are the main threats to the integrity of the site. 


The Monastery of Geghard, with its remarkable rock-cut churches and tombs, is still preserved in its natural setting. The authenticity of the group is high, not least because the property has been in continuous use as a monastery for many centuries. All constructions included in the property, as well as the landscape, are not threatened in spite of restorations carried out during course of time. To meet conservation challenges, scientific research, renovation, fortification, design and preventive measures have been undertaken in order to ensure that authenticity is retained. Due to the passage of time, a part of the wall adjacent to the auxiliary construction collapsed and was renovated in 2006-2007, keeping the original materials. The designs for water isolation of the rock-hewn part and comprehensive interventions for Geghard Monastery were drafted in order to strengthen the complex…”

Well, dear Reader, is it possible after reading all this not to come to see Geghard?

Photos by Travis K. Witt, Mcscreck, Baldiri, Raffi Kojian, Diego Delso

Acknowledgement: Karen Markaryan 

Friday, 23 June 2017 22:28

No tourist visiting Armenia can miss Garni, this unique 76 AD temple and Roman style baths, with its cyclopic stone walls that surround the royal summer residence and temple are were in fact first laid in the 3rd millennium BC by ancient Armenians.

The temple itself was built on top of an Urartian temple, and has the same floor dimensions as the temple of Sushi in Erebuni (5.05 X 7.98 meters). A common feature of sacred structures from oldest times through the Christian era is to orient the structures to the East, that is, to the rising sun.

The temple of Garni was dedicated to the sun goddess Mythra. Armenians shared Zoroastrian entities with Persia (and by the time of Garni Temple, with the Eastern Roman empire, which had adopted Mythra as a patron goddess), and worshipped fire as an ultimate gift from the gods, an entity in itself. However, after adopting Christianity in 301 this beautiful pagan temple lost its significance and the fortress of Garni became the summer residence of the kings.

Garni perfectly follows the Pythagorean and Platonic theories of sacred geometry in its design, a design for civilization carved form the wilderness.

And then there is the Other Side of Garni, the wilderness itself.

On a mountain trail between Lake Sevan and the fertile Ararat Valley, 7000 years of history wound its way through the Goghi and Azat River canyons below Garni and left indelible prints on the stone walls. Prints that can only be seen - just as Garni is best seen - from inside the canyon walls.

The Goghi and Azat Rivers meet at Garni dropping more than 300 feet below the temple site, creating an impenetrable natural fortress above, and a remarkably diverse eco system below. While dry summer winds whip the mountain plain above the canyon rim, below the river forest is always moist and cool: towering trees form a canopy above the foot paths along the river, and wild boar, deer, leopards and bears call the nature preserve home.

Famous Symphony Canyon was named for its rock formations, a series of perfectly cut diamond shaped granite, basalt, slag and andesite. Inside the canyon are the remains of a 16th century bridge, its finely engineered arches at one time leading to a narrow road that surmounted the Geghama Ridge and ended at Lake Sevan.

A few yards beyond, past a series of caverns yawning in the side of the canyon walls, the Goghi River joins with the Azat, and to the right is one of the most beautiful sights in Armenia: About 600 meters away and 300 feet above is the temple of Garni.

Inside the canyon, the upper rim and sky are soon blocked from view: tangled vines wrap themselves around centuries old trees that shade the hot sun from the fetid ground. In Spring, swarms of blue, yellow, gold and violet butterflies nest along the sun-dappled river bed, as many as a thousand might be resting on the banks or the side of a tree.

From here the canyon looks more beautiful, with occasional meadows and fields of sweet hay and goldenrod covering the patches of open land. In May the river swells and covers some of the natural path, but the terrain is easily navigated. Just after a narrowing in the canyon, the land widens into a dense forest, and it seems to be the most remote place on earth.

Garni is on the road to the Geghard Monastery complex of 13th centuryand both can be comfortably seen on the same day. Halfway to Garni however, take a few minutes to look at the Charents Arch, thru which you can enjoy the fantastic view of Ararat, especially on a clear day. Garni reminds to many a somewhat plain Parthenon. It was built in the first century A.D. by the Armenian King Tiridates (Trdat) with the money he received after visiting Emperor Nero in Rome. The temple was destroyed in 1679 in an earthquake, but was partially reconstructed in 1970s. (You can recognize the new stones by their lack of carving, which allows you to appreciate the originals.) It is an excellent reconstruction and a very worthwhile place to visit. You can even see carved graffiti in Arabic... There are also ruins of mosaic ancient baths and residences in Garni. If you came in a car (not bus) or can hike, take the time to go down to the very worthy Garni Gorge, and maybe hike up to the extensive and virtually unvisited ruins of Havuts Tar Monastery.

The fortress of Garni is situated in the Garni village in the Abovian District. That was a mighty fortress well known from chronicles (Cornelius Tacitus, Movses Khorenatsi, etc.). The structures of Garni combine elements of Hellenistic and national culture, which is an evidence of antique influences and the distinctive building traditions of the Armenian people. The artistic merit and uniqueness of its monuments place Garni among outstanding creations of architecture of world importance.

Just at the entrance to the Temple a visitor could find long rows of welcoming locals offering lavash – the Armenian bread baked in their own homes, tasty Armenian sweets – dried fruits holding the taste of the Sun, fantastic homemade vodka - mulberry, grape, apricot, apple etc.

There are regular 5-6 hour tours to Garni and the Geghard Monastery organized in Yerevan.

The trip starts at 10.00 from a meeting point at the Nalbandyan Street in Yerevan.

Acknowledgement: Richard Ney

Thursday, 15 June 2017 23:42

…One of the strongest emotions in his life your author has felt when for the first time sow rising getting out a cell at the Gandzasar Monastery…

…5.42 a.m., you find yourself right under the egis of the toll and ancient St. John The Baptist Cathedral, that masterpiece of Armenian and world architecture, you go just few steps to the right, and…you see a miracle – the Sun is appearing slow from beyond the mountains…But this is not the last miracle you coud see there – get the left, behind the cells, stand at the edge of a canyon, and you’ll enjoy an incomparable beauty out of hail – Mrav Ridge…Its peaks are snow-covered even in hot summer .

We strongly believe that a few reviews from Tripadvisor will add significantly your author’s emotions:

"The air filledwith sounding silence"

Sep 4, 2015,  Krivitch, Moscow, Russia

Fantastic place. Feeling that the God is speaking to you. Meaningful silence. Gandzasar will remain in the heart forever. Everything here speaks of the high ascetic spirit of the ancient Armenians. They say that there is the head of John The Baptisthidden here. I do not know whether it is true or not, but here you can see the tombs of the high clergy which are arranged so that all the visitors can walk on them - because they (those resting in peace) wanted to atone their sins even after death with such a humbleness.

"Beautiful monastery in the mountains"

Aug 5, 2016,  CharlesM382, Paris, France

Magnificent XIII century monastery located on a rocky outcrop about forty km from Stepanakert. The church -  St. Jean Baptiste Cathedral…The garden is on the right side of the church, andthere are very old cross-stones there... A must-see place is an exhibition of manuscripts in the building on the left side of the church and filled with the most richly illuminated books dating from the thirteenth century. You can also see a showcase dedicated to Napoléon Bonaparte with his autograph. This exhibition was created very recently. Finally, at the back of the church, you have a beautiful view of the valley that can make beautiful pictures of the landscape. In short, you must see it”.

“Gandzasar is Armenian and it's not in Azerbaijan”

August 9, 2016,xTimewind, Can Francisco, California

Gandzasar monastery is a 10th to 13th century Armenian monastery situated in the Mardakert district of Artsakh Republic (Armenia). The monastery holds relics believed to belong to St. John the Baptist and his father St Zechariah. Gandzasar is now the seat of the Archbishop of Artsakh. 
Recently a branch of Yerevan Matenadaran has been located here and holds most of Artsakh manuscripts.gr
About 70km from Stepanakert. The road is ok for any sedan. 
Once you are there, don't miss the well known loin-mountain located below. You need to drive left (while straight takes you to Monastery) to get there. Keep your eye on road marks...
Plan half day for your trip. Also check out the map, you may combine your trip to Dadivank(another ancient Monastery) as well.

And Gandzasar is Armenian and it's not in Azerbaijan (as Tripadvisor says)”

…As the last user said, the Gandzasar Monastery is located in the Mardakert District of the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh at present) Republic, and is 1-1.5 hours drive from the Republic’s capital City of Stepanakert. It stands atop of Mount Gandzasar (hence the name), a large green hill that rises above the historical village of Vank.

In Armenian “Gandzasar” means “Treasure Mountain”, that is to say “gandz” stands for “treasure” and “sar” for “mountain” which could point to old copper and silver mines found in the nearby area. But saying“treasure” we should rather mean the Monastery itself with its really great architectural, historical and spiritual value.

Besides, it is believed that Gandzasar’s Cathedral holds a very important and key Christian relic, head of St. Hovhannes Mkrtich (St. John the Baptist) brought here from Palestine. So Gandzasar Monastery has always been an important and popular place of pilgrimage not only in Armenia and Nagorno-Kharabakh (Artsakh) but from all over the world.

…In this connection your author desires tell the following story.

…It was unprecedented hot summer’2014 when, seating with then-the abbot Fr. Grigor Markosyan, alas of the blessed memory (1956-2016), a man whose name is inseparable from the Gandzasar itself, Liberation War, City of Yerevan and many other things, in his office, yours truly was forced to open a window. Suddenly we see a human head inside the window that asks us in terrible English…Mere one word is clear: “…baptist”. I’m astounded, but in the next second Fr.Grigor says: “He means the head of St.John The Baptist”. “Yes, yes, I wanna see it”, - says happily a foreigner who proved to be a travel agent from Spain. Well, sometimes SOME legends are accepted like a reality…

As we spoke about legends, one must note that there are some other legends and “miracles” connected with this place.

During the heavy bombardment by Azerbaijani army in the times of the Karabakh Liberation War (1992-1994), luckily or miraculously, the shells  flying right on the cupola of the Monastery suddenly changed their direction and exploded away from the territory of the monastery. (So almost everybody who visits Gandzasar is convinced that it is impossible to leave this place and stay an atheist). Nevertheless, one rocket launched from an Azeri warplane (driven by a Ukrainian mercenary) get the cupola, but thanks God, did not explode. And similar shell you can find in the wall behind the Monastetry cells.

The construction of Gandzasar's Cathedral of St. John the Baptist began in 1216, under the patronage of the Armenian Prince of KhachenHasan-Jalal Dawla, and it was completed in 1238 and consecrated on July 22, 1240. Prince Hasan Jalal relates to one of the most ancient aristocratic families in world history—the Arranshahiks—who ruled eastern Armenian lands since early medieval times, if not much before.

In the 14th century, a regional Catholicosate emerged in Artsakh (Karabakh). Gandzasar Monastery became the Holy See of Gandzasar. In the 16th century it became subordinate to the Etchmiadzin Catholicosate (Armenia, Holy See of Catholicos of All Armenians). Many of its Catholicoi were members of the Hasan-Jalal Dawla dynasty.

The complex is protected by high walls. Within the complex is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Surb Hovannes Mkrtich Yekeghetsi in Armenian), built between 1216 and 1238.The drum of its dome has exquisite bas-reliefs that depict the CrucifixionAdam and Eve, and two ministers holding a model of the church above their heads as an offer to the God.

Some prominent art historians consider the Monastery as a masterpiece of Armenian architecture. Anatoly L. Yakobson, a prominent Soviet medieval art historian, described Gandzasar as a "pearl of architectural art....This is a unique monument of medieval architecture and monumental sculpture, which by right ought to be regarded as an encyclopedia of 13th-century Armenian art."And Professor Charles Diehl (1859-1944) of the Sorbonne University, the renowned French art historian and specialist on Byzantium, placed Gandzasar in a group of five most important examples of Armenian monumental art which belong to the world’s architectural masterpieces.

Gandzasar Monastery represents the so-called "Gandzasar Style" of medieval Armenian architecture. 

The exclusively rich decorative pattern of the interior and exterior renders a particular uniqueness to Gandzasar’s Cathedral. After the Akhtamar Cathedral of St. Cross on the Lake Van (in Turkey at present), Gandzasar contains the largest amount of sculpted decor compared to other architectural ensembles of Armenia. As it was mentioned above, the most famous of Gandzasar’s bas-reliefs that decorate its domes and walls are Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ, a group of stylized animals (Lions, Eagles and Bulls—symbols of the Vakhtangian Princes to whom Hasan Jalal belonged), and two Churchwardens holding on their hands miniature models of the cathedral.

Overall, up to 150 Armenian stone-borne texts are found on the walls of the Cathedral, including a wall-large inscription made by the order of Asan-Jalal himself. 

Gandzasar's cathedral church shares many architectural forms with the main churches of two other Armenian monasteries also built in the mid-13th century: Hovhannavank Monastery and Harichavank Monastery.And some late medieval Armenian churches were evidently inspired by Gandzasar’s characteristic dome. One of them is the renowned Cathedral of the St. Stephanos Monastery built in the 17th century; it is located at the meeting point of the borders of Armenia and Nakhichevan (ancient Armenian province voluntarily transferred by J.Stalin to Azerbaijan in 1920s).

Hasan Jalal’s successors, who assumed the surname Hasan-Jalalian in memory of their prominent ancestor, branched out into two lines. The clerical line hereditarily controlled top positions of the Holy See of Gandzasar, while the original, princely one, continued administering the Province of Khachen as princes and meliks (dukes).

Gandzasar shared the turbulent history of the Armenian people. In a colophon, from 1417, the superior of the Monastery deplores the situation whereby the princes of Khachen are “in the hands of lawless people” and “the House of Armenia is thus weakened.”

The Monastery was sacked several times, most notably—by Mongol hordes, in the 13th century. In the late 13th century, Gandzasar was looted by the gangs of the Turkic chieftain Ibrahim-Khalil Javanshir—a tribal lord from the family of the self-proclaimed “Khans of Karabakh.” By usurping Artsakh’s Castle of Shushi for over 50 years (until driven out and assassinated by Russians and Armenians, in 1805), Ibrahim—and his father Panah-Ali before him—had been terrorizing Gandzasar’s clergy. In 1786, this policy culminated in capturing, torturing and killing Gandzasar’s Catholicos Hovhannes Gandzasaretsi and his brothers by Ibrahim’s henchmen.

Most recently Gandzasar was attacked in 1992, in the course of Azerbaijan ’s anti-Armenian aggression and Nagorno Karabakh’s heroic self-defense. But despite the challenges before them, Armenians—whether throughout the Middle Ages or in the twentieth century—always organized extraordinary measures to defend Gandzasar and shield it from damage.(It is symbolic that it was near Gandzasar Monastery where the first large regiments of Azerbaijani Army were rounded up and destroyed by Nagorno Karabakh self-defense units).

(In partnership with the Monastery of Tatev of neighboring province of Syunik (today’s Republic of Armenia), Gandzasar Monastery is also known as a center of Armenian independence movement of the 18th century initiated by the Armenian dukes (meliks) of Artsakh. In was in Gandzasar where the representatives of Armenian nobility prepared and signed the famous appeal for assistance addressed to the Russian monarch Peter I the Great.

From 1923 to 1992 when Nagorno-Karabakh was within Soviet Azerbaijan, Gandzasar Monastery was in terrible state. But after liberation of this ancient Armenian land thanks to generosity of Moscow-based Armenian businessman and philantropist, a Vank village native Levon G. Hayrapetyan the whole complex was cleaned, renovated and reconstructed and turned to a fully-functioning Monastery.   

A traditional domain of the Catholicos (Archpriest) of the Eastern Territory of Armenia, Gandzasar Monastery is the center of Nagorno-Karabakh's religious life and present-day seat of the Archbishop of Artsakh of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Liturgies, baptism, weddings are being held by the Monastery clergy.

Gandzasar Monastery: Tourist Information

How to Get to Gandzasar

Already looking forward to visit Gandzasar monastery in Mardakert? Then we can offer several options for traveling to Nagorno-Karabakh and enjoying its historical-architectural monuments, such as the Gandzasar Monastery and many others.

  • Firstly, you can take a taxi that will drive from Armenia via the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor or through the Karvajar (fmr Kelbajar) pass that will cost you around 100USD.
  • Secondly, you can go there by buses (marshrutka) that run from Yerevan central bus station and cost about 4500AMD.
  • Some tour agencies can also provide guided tours to Nagorno-Karabakh, but prepare to pay 100–150USD. If you are planning to visit the place with your friends, then the right option will be renting a minivan.

Where to Stay During Your Visit to Gandzasar?

There are some quite good hotels to stay during your visit in Karabakh that are just a few kilometers away from Gandzasar monastery.

Hotel Tsovin Qar (Sea Stone) is on the right bank of the Khachen River and is surrounded by picturesque woods. Some rooms have balconies that are overlooking these forests.

During your stay, you will feel the spirit of wild nature and the flavor of national cuisine of Nagorno-Karabakh. The hotel has an open-air restaurant, a cozy little restaurant, and a tavern where you can enjoy peaceful rural evenings

Not far away from this hotel there is another good option called Eclectica. Among residents it is also known as Titanic due to its unique architecture in the form of a ship and with original interior. The hotel has 18 rooms, a bar in marine style, a restaurant, cafes, riding hall for horses, table tennis, etc.