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Armenia: Gandzasar Monastery

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Gandzasar Monastery | Armenia | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

Driving north from Stepanakert, and seeing the We are our mountains, or Grandma and Grandpa monument covered in scaffolding, we quite soon had to take a turn to the left. The road was still quite good, and after we crossed a pass, we could see far into the landscape ahead. Mountains surrounding green hills and not much in the way of villages, we felt that we were getting to a more remote region of the Nagorno-Karabagh enclave. Our eyes were scanning the hilltops around us, and just before we reached the lively village of Vank, we spotted our destination for this morning: Gandzasar Monastery, sitting on a hilltop high above Vank. Switchbacks behind the hill allowed us to quickly climb to the monastery protected by walls.

Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): The tambour with bas-reliefs and the belfry crowning the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist at Gandzasar Monastery

At one turn, Gandzasar Monastery suddenly re-appeared, very close now. The famous 16-sided dome was clearly visible. When we arrived at the quite large parking lot of the monastery, a guard directly approached us with a white horse, and tried to lure us to ride it, but we declined and entered the monastery complex. Soon enough, the same guard started to mow the grass, but after a few minutes, found an excuse to stop, and make a phone call. We studied the walls of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, well known for its exquisite carvings. Scattered all around the walls of the cathedral, they can be found on the walls, above the doors, while the finest ones are probably on the tambour, unfortunately a little more difficult to see from below. Walking around the cathedral, we saw monks walking the compound, and were reminded that this is a working monastery again, after it was restored in 1991. On the southern side of the monastery complex, we had great views over the defensive walls, with high mountains on the far side of the valley below. A great location, with a natural protection, was chosen in the early 13th century to build Gandzasar Monastery; its remoteness helped to protect it against invaders.

Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Cross-covered curtain hiding the altar of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist with chanting priest

The sun was now starting to shine on the monastery, and we got a better view of the beautifully carved figures on the drum topping the cathedral. Kneeling figures with haloes, topped by protective angels, the Virgin and child, eagles with spreading wings, and the heads of bulls. The walls had more carvings, while the main entrance to the gavit has two birds on top, as well as other, abstract designs. Inside, we found many richly decorated stones on the floor of the gavit, and as on the outside, we saw the Wheel of Eternity, a common motif. Chanting filled the hall, and we moved into the church where priests were singing. A ray of sunlight was falling from the windows in the drum above to the floor; a large red curtain with a golden cross was closed, hiding the altar. There were more visitors now, from the region, who were interested in knowing us - we ended up taking pictures together. The guard had never been far, was only too happy to have his picture taken, and then was very happy some of the local women were keen to ride his white horse. He himself was getting a little crazy now, riding the horse while standing with one leg, and doing somersaults against its flanks, being a big success with the women. It was time to go - we visited the cemetery just outside the walls of Gandzasar Monastery, and now had unobstructed views of the mountainous landscape all around us.

Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Outside view of Gandzasar Monastery
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Entrance to Cathedral of St. John the Baptist with various decorations
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Cross and Wheel of Eternity carved out of the wall of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Kneeling figure with angel in bas-relief on the tambour of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Ray of sunlight shining into the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist from above
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Carvings on the drum of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Gandzasar Monastery on a hilltop above Vank
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Crosses and bible at the altar of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Reliefs can be found all around the drum of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): The view over the wall of Gandzasar Monastery with mountains in the distance
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Close-up of the wall of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist with crosses carved out
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Carved Star of David with Wheel of Eternity on the floor of the gavit of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Picture of Gandzasar Monastery (Armenia): Fragment of the wall of Gandzasar Monastery with crosses carved out of the wall

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