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Armenia: Akhtala monastery

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Akhtala monastery | Armenia | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

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.

Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): The Mother of God church seen from the northwest

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.

Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Brilliant frescoes decorating the wall of the apse of the Mother of God church

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.

Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Fragment of the fresco depicting the Last Supper in the apse of the Mother of God church at Akhtala
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Close-up of fresco of one of the apostles in the apse of Akhtala church
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): View towards the apse of the Akhtala church, covered with frescoes
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Biblical scene depicted on frescoes inside Akhtala church
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Frescoes covering one of the walls of Akhtala church
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Fragment of scene of a fresco on a wall inside Akhtala church
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Exterior view of Akhtala church with huge stone cross carved out in the wall
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Frescoes covering the wall of the Mother of God church at Akhtala
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Scene of the Last Supper in brilliant colours of a fresco on the wall of Akhtala church
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Three saints and a white dove on frescoes on a wall inside Akhtala church
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Detail of a window with two saints in the Mother of God church at Akhtala
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Close-up of fresco inside Akhtala church depicting a biblical scene
Picture of Akhtala monastery (Armenia): Remains of the entrance portal of Akhtala

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