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Geghard Monastery

an Armenian historical and spiritual site

Address

Azat Valley, Kotayk, Armenia

GPS: 40.143182066876, 44.820692264124

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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.

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  • The fortified courtyard and architectural complex of the Geghard Monastery
  • The numerous cave dwellings of the monastery complex (former living quarters of the monks)
  • The carved ceilings of the main church (Katoghike)
  • The rock-cut chapels: St Gregory’s Chapel (the oldest part of the site) and the Asvatsatsine (Holy Mother of God) Chapel on the edge of the main entrance
  • The numerous decorative and ornamental elements (animal and flora motifs, sculpted crosses, etc.)
  • The khatchkars, steles finely sculpted with crosses serving as tombstones
  • The princely tombs (zhamatouns) of the Proshian dynasty
  • The songs and choirs during the traditional Sunday morning mass; the religious ceremonies during the major Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter…)
  • The Azat River gorges flanked by spectacular high cliffs
  • The monastery of Geghard is said to have been home to the Holy Lance, one of the spears that wounded Christ during his crucifixion. This is the reason why the religious site is also called Geghardavank (meaning “Monastery of the Spear”). The Holy Lance is said to have been brought back by the apostle Jude, also known as Thaddeus. This sacred relic is now housed in Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church, on the outskirts of Yerevan.
  • Before converting to Christianity, King Tiridates IV was a pagan who persecuted Christians with the support of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. He even imprisoned Gregory, a priest in Caesarea of Cappadocia, for 13 years. When the king fell seriously ill, Gregory nursed him back to health and baptised him. The monarch then decided to free Gregory and, as a sign of gratitude, promulgated Gregory as Supreme Head of the Armenian Church (Armenia’s patron). Gregory the Illuminator was given the title of Catholicos of Armenia, built a church (Etchmiadzin Cathedral) and founded the first councils and bishoprics in the kingdom.
  • Armenian liturgical chants are among the oldest in the world. Those of the Geghard Monastery are particularly famous.
  • It is always best to use the services of a guide to learn more about the history and spiritual dimension of the religious complex.
  • Complete your tour with a visit to the Temple of Garni, located less than 10 kilometres from the monastery of Geghard.
  • You will find women selling gata, a sweet, round Armenian bread, outside the monastery or on the roadside leading to Geghard and Garni.
  • It is possible to visit the Geghard Monastery virtually by alternating between aerial and ground views.

Where to eat

  • Odalen
    (cool and pleasant)
  • Tsirani Garden Restaurant
    (enchanting setting)
  • Hin Jrvej Old Jrvezh Armenia
    (distinguished Armenian cuisine)

Where to go

  • Khosrov Forest State Reserve
    (wilderness and mountainous area)
  • Temple of Garni
    (from the Hellenistic period)
  • Erebuni Fortress
    (remains of a fortified site)

Where to stay

  • Bed & Breakfast 3 Gs
    (close to the monastery)
  • Silk Road Hotel
    (family run)
  • HyeLandz Eco Village Resort
    (ecological estate)

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