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Armenia: Kobayr Monastery

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Kobayr Monastery | Armenia | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

After visiting Ardvi, the small village nestled against the mountains west of Odzun, we walked back to the main road leading south. From here, we wanted to see the edge of the Debed canyon before hitchhiking down into the gorge. It was easy enough to find the edge: we just walked east, and soon found the steep vertical cliffs. Clouds were racing through the sky and the gorge, making the views spectacular. We walked the edge in search of a church that we did not find. Instead, we found a small chapel clinging to the edge of the cliffs, where two ladies were praying. Here, a stone trail led down into the gorge and, hoping to find a viewpoint of Debed canyon, we walked down. To my surprise, the trail seemed to continue for a bit, and with time still on our hands, we decided to continue and see where it would lead. I secretly hoped it would connect to the trail I knew ran much lower to the monastery of Kobayr. In neither of our travel guides could we find a mention of this trail, but it was worth the try.

Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Inside one of the crumbling buildings of Kobayr Monastery

The rocky trail continued, and from time to time, I stopped to see how it would continue further down. When I looked up, I realized that we had already descended quite a lot: the wall of the canyon rose high above us. I now hoped that our plan would work out: climbing back would be quite an effort. When we reached the vegetation, I knew that we were on the right way. We asked at a farm, and they indeed indicated us to walk further south. We passed the small Holy Cross chapel where a lonely khachkar was standing, and continued the trail into the forest. There, it became always less clear what the trail was; to make things worse, we could not really locate ourselves because of the trees. We just pushed on, and it was only when we saw a big group of people coming down the mountain, that we knew we were getting close.

Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): One of the apostles depicted on frescoes in the apse of Kobayr Monastery

Actually, the group turned out to be Georgians of all ages, accompanied by a priest; the old women had trouble walking down the steep muddy trail. They adamantly claimed that Kobayr is Georgian, not Armenian, in origin, wished us well. From here, it was only minutes before we reached Kobayr Monastery or, rather, the ruins of it. Restoration works are under way; many buildings of the 12th century monastery have collapsed. We went into the church, where tall scaffolding is upholding a modern roof protecting what remains of the frescoes: the elements must have a devastating impact on them. I climbed up behind the monastery for a great view of the monastery and the Debed gorge, and on the way down, explored the other, smaller buildings. Construction materials everywhere, the chapel that also has frescoes appeared firmly closed, but a small hole in the door allowed for a view nevertheless. Other buildings behind the church were messy, to say the least; it was not at all clear when works would resume. They only added to a special feel that Kobayr has, in the middle of the forest, with perhaps eternal works in progress. Our adventurous hike down to Kobayr had only added to a sensation of deep satisfaction when we walked down the last bit to the main road, to walk the road in this wild canyon, and catch a ride back to our homestay near Alaverdi - desperately in need of something to eat.

Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): The wall of Kobayr Monastery with carved cross
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Gateway to Kobayr Monastery
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Frescoes are clearly visible on the apse of Kobayr Monastery
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Lone khachkar on the way to Kobayr Monastery, at the Holy Cross Chapel
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): The edge of the Debed Canyon: small chapel from which a trail leads down to Kobayr Monastery
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Debed canyon seen from the edge with lone tree
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Forest near Kobayr Monastery with lone khachkar
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Detail of a carved stone with melted candles in the church of Kobayr Monastery
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Carved stones in close-up at Kobayr Monastery
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Arched wall at the church of Kobayr Monastery
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Panoramic view of Kobayr Monastery and Debed canyon
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Protecting the frescoes: scaffolding at the church of Kobayr Monastery
Picture of Kobayr Monastery (Armenia): Stone steps leading down the cliffs into Debed gorge

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