Our heads were still full of a great visit to the attractive monastery of Haghpat, where we had seen quite a few visitors; it is one of the most famous monasteries of Armenia. We started walking down to the main road, and soon enough, an old Lada stopped and offered us a ride down to the crossroads. Our friend turned left, and we waited for a ride north, towards Akhtala. A small van stopped after a few more minutes, letting out two foreigners, and turning right. He opened the back of the van in order to get the luggage of his hitchhikers; inside, we noticed baskets full of pastries and cakes. He gladly took us, and it did not take long to cross the Debed river and reach Akhtala. We had wanted to walk, to experience the view of the monastery from below, but he wanted to take us all the way. The view of the cliff, on which you can easily see the remains of defensive walls of a fortress, with the church of Akhtala monastery standing proudly near the edge of the cliff, was dramatic enough from the van, and when we walked through the iron gate, we realized that where Haghpat had been full of visitors, Akhtala appeared empty.
Two local ladies who were picking herbs approached us, and we tried to have a conversation. One of them, Ala, sent word that there were visitors: the Mother of God, or Surb Astvatsatsin, church that contains the famous frescoes we wanted to see, is normally closed; the lady with the key was on her way. We roamed around the terrain, saw some old buildings, ruins of the 10th century fortress, below which we had read remains were found of civilizations of the Bronze and Iron Age: we were treading old territory here. We were very curious and peeked through a hole in the door of the Mother of God church, and were impressed by the little we could see. The much anticipated arrival of the lady with the key meant that we could finally enter; having the church to ourselves made the experience even more intense. The sun was breaking through the clouds outside, sending in rays of sunlight through the windows high above us, and sending spotlights to the fabulous frescoes. In the apse, there are several layers; the top one depicts Mary, whose face has been badly damaged; under her, the Last Supper, and under that, the twelve apostles.
We stayed here for a long time, amazed at the brilliant colours of the frescoes, where blue is the dominant colour. The Mother of God church was built in the early 13th century, and was built as a Georgian Orthodox church; not surprisingly, as the border is not far from Akhtala. Some parts of the frescoes are badly damaged or even completely gone; still, we were very impressed and found it difficult to leave. When we finally did, our friend Ala showed us around a little, before inviting us to her home which turned out to be a special experience in itself. Living in what once had been a small hospital, she put us on one of her beds, and prepared an entire table full of food for us. Meanwhile, we found ourselves again trying to converse in Russian, and it was especially her honest and loud laugh that entertained us. When we were full, we realized we had to go to be able to reach our home-stay near Alaverdi; but when the husband came home, we had a hard time to convince him that we really had to leave. Walking back to the main road, we now finally had the view of the vertical rocky cliffs on which the Mother of God church proudly stands. We were very happy we had decided to come here, and it was hard to see why not more people do.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Akhtala monastery (Armenia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Akhtala monastery. Read more about this site.