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Armenia: Sanahin Monastery

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Sanahin Monastery | Armenia | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

Rain was still coming down as we left our shelter under the wings of the MiG fighter jet. Rivers were forming in the streets, and at times we had to jump over them. On the way up the hill, we saw some attractive balconies, but the weather made most people stay inside. Once we got close to the entrance of Sanahin monastery, an older woman enthusiastically called out to us. She removed the plastic cover protecting the wares on her stall, and with a big smile, showed us her hand-made socks, the same type of socks we had seen before and we would see again in Armenia. She continued to get other socks, and other items, too; but we were not really interested and only stopped at her stall out of pity. Even though Sanahin is supposed to be one of the top attractions of Armenia, we did not see any visitor, and imagined she had not sold much during the day which was now definitely drawing to a close. When we clearly told her we were on our way in, her upbeat mood changed at once: she now snapped at us, and made us feel even worse, but still convinced that we were not even buying the smallest thing with her.

Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Side view of the Church of the Holy Redeemer

We now just walked towards the monastery, where we found a few gates closed, but walking around the wall that was low enough to allow us to see the compound, we walked in at the backside - straight into the cemetery. Here, we found khachkars and mausoleums for the deceased. Climbing a little higher allowed us a sweeping view over the gorge below; above it, heavy clouds were sailing through the sky, threatening to crush the dramatic landscape below once and for all. The monastery itself still lied half hidden behind trees, and the low light made it almost fade into the surrounding landscape. Getting closer, we noticed grass and plants growing on the roof; if it weren't for the name, we could have believed we had just discovered a long forgotten monastery. We walked to the circular St. Gregory chapel and the library where columns supported arches, and noticed the fine carved crossed in the columns. Once - some thousand years ago - the library of Sanahin had achieved an important position: monks would come here to copy manuscripts. Walking around the complex, we arrived at the entrance of the gavit of the Mother of God church.

Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Looking at the Mother of God Church with carved cross in the column in the foreground

We took time to study the decorations on the wall of both the gavit of the Mother of God church, and the Church of the Holy Redeemer; both stand side by side, separated by a gallery. The Sanahin complex was founded in the 10th century, and Sanahin is closely related to nearby Haghpat Monastery. Sanahin actually means "this one is older than that one"; both were important religious centres in the Middle Ages. Entering the gavit of the Mother of God church, we walked on tombstones of the clergy, and noticed the low ceiling of the hall. The dark conditions outside did not allow much light in; exploring the gavit and church in the semi-darkness gave it some added atmosphere. The arched gallery turned out to be heavily decorated by intricately carved khachkars. The door of the Church of the Holy Redeemer was closed, and we walked around in search of another entrance, only to find out that apparently there was no other door - with no one around, we realized that we would not be able to find the key and enter. Instead, we continued to walk around the darkish interior of the Mother of God church, and the outer walls, before we walked back the way we had entered. Our friend with the socks had already packed all her items, so we were spared another embarrassment. Walking down to the cable car, we were just in time to see the last one coming in, and had to hitch a ride down.

Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Tombstones on the floor of the Mother of God Church
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Finely carved crosses in the Mother of God Church
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Dome of the Church of the Holy Redeemer overgrown with grass
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Arched gallery inside the Sanahin complex
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Part of the library of the Sanahin Monastery complex
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Church of the Holy Redeemer
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): The circular St. Gregory Chapel is part of the Sanahin complex
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Carefully carved out khachkars at Sanahin
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Carved bird in the outer wall of the Mother of God church
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): A huge cross decorates the side wall of the Sanahin Monastery
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Carving in the wall of Sanahin
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Interior of the Mother of God church
Picture of Sanahin Monastery (Armenia): Detail of the outer wall of the gavit of the Mother of God church

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