Azat Valley, Kotayk, Armenia
GPS: 40.143182066876, 44.820692264124
The Geghard (or Gherart) Monastery is a remarkable medieval construction in the province of Kotyak, in central Armenia. The monastery complex, largely carved out of the rock of the Upper Azat Valley, consists of some 20 churches, chapels and rock tombs. The nature of its construction and the richness of its decorative art illustrate the golden age of Armenian medieval architecture.
The foundations of the Geghard Monastery date back to the 4th century, at the very site of a sacred water source. The creation of the Armenian Apostolic Church followed the evangelisation of the country by Saint Gregory the Illuminator. The latter succeeded in converting King Tiridates IV as well as the members of his court and his subjects. Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Known as Ayrivank, “the Monastery in the Cave”, the site of Geghard contains numerous tombs, stelæ and residential cells for monks as well as cave churches carved into the rock. Despite being looted and destroyed in the 10th century by the regent Nasr, seeking to convert the Christian population to Islam, the monastery of Geghard was rebuilt. It became a major spiritual centre under the influence of the Prochian and Zakarian families in the 13th century. They built the main church of the site (Katoghike), in classical Armenian style, in 1215. A school for Armenian manuscripts, a library, a scriptorium, and a music academy were successively built in the church centre in the Middle Ages. In the following years and centuries, the monastery of Geghard was successively attacked by the Mongol Empire and the warlord Tamerlane and suffered several earthquakes (the site is in an area of high seismic activity). Despite long periods of Muslim rule (notably under the Ottoman Empire), the country remained faithful to its early religious beliefs and the people did not convert to Islam on a large scale.
Surrounded by defensive fortifications at the foot of a steep cliff in a beautiful natural setting, the Geghard Monastery remains an important place of pilgrimage for Armenians of the Christian faith. In 2000, this cultural property was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and has recently been given enhanced protection status. Located about 30 kilometres from the capital Yerevan, it is one of the most visited sites in the country.