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Armenia: Tatev Monastery

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Tatev Monastery | Armenia | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

Even when we were still driving down the road leading to Tatev, we did not know whether to drive all the way, or take the cable car. When we arrived at the large parking lot of the cable car, we decided to check it out, and to take this chance to ride the longest cable car in the world. From here, it goes directly to Tatev Monastery, 5.7 km away. A cabin was waiting to depart, so we hurried to the ticket booth, hoping not to miss it. Unfortunately, the ticket seller clumsily told us "mashin kaput"; after a quick look at the sweeping views from here, but without a sight of Tatev itself, a girl who was fluent at English approached us to say that technicians were trying to repair the cable car, and that it might even take less than half an hour. It was clear now: we would drive, and while doing so, were trying to spot Tatev Monastery. When we rounded a curve, we suddenly saw it, still far away, a deep canyon standing between the road and the monastery. After a short stop at Satan Bridge where we crossed the Vorotan river, the asphalt vanished, and what remained was a gravel mountain road up, taking us always higher, until we found ourselves in the small village of Tatev, from which the monastery was very close.

Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Overview of the dramatic setting of Tatev Monastery

Just outside the entrance, we saw an old oil press, and some other smaller buildings. Entering Tatev Monastery is through what seems like a tunnel through the thick walls; above it sits the Mother of God church that can be reached by a narrow staircase. From here you get a good view of the complex, and even more than from a distance, I now felt like Tatev was mainly a mightily well defended fortification. Indeed, when the idea to build Tatev Monastery was first conceived in the 9th century, its purpose was to safely store the relics in possession of the church in Syunik. Around one thousand monks lived here, as well as artisans, in the 11th century, and in the late Middle Ages, Tatev developed into one of the leading universities in Armenia, as well as being a place of reproduction and creation of miniature paintings. Despite its hard to conquer position, Tatev suffered several waves of destruction by foreign forces over the centuries; the last damage was done during the 1931 earthquake.

Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Looking up the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, right in the middle of Tatev Monastery

We walked around the fairly compact complex, wondering how so many monks had lived here - perhaps some of them stayed out of the thick walls defending Tatev? We saw the spring where we drank some good tasting water, the refectory, kitchen, bakery, and other quarters, some of which were right above the deep abyss below, offering unobstructed views of the mountains around, and the valley below. Of particular interest we found Gavazan monument, erected in the early 10th century; with a small khachkar on top and named after a pastoral stick, the pillar is supposed to warn of earthquakes. Close by, we found the tomb of Grigor Tatevatsi, one of the most important inhabitants of Tatev, a 14th century painter and philosopher; his tomb is richly decorated and leans against the massive Church of Sts Peter and Paul. We studied the circular drum tower with its fine carvings of figures and patterns, before we finally entered. While there were once frescoes inside, the walls of Tatev are now quite stark. From here, you notice how high the dome is compared to most Armenian churches. Local families with babies and children were coming in for what appeared a baptizing ceremony, and we waited to enjoy the singing we assumed would accompany it. After another last walk around the now empty grounds of Tatev, we drove a little higher still to a point from which we had a great view of Tatev. A truck with a cow passed, giving us a nice-smelling bunch of flowers, and we took a hitchhiker on the way back to the main road to the west, only stopping at a gazebo from which there is a good view of the mountains, with the monastery of Tatev well visible in the distance - but unfortunately, huge towers with electricity cables take away the wild feeling you might have here.

Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Fine reliefs carved out of stone at the tomb of Grigor Tatevatsi
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Carved khachkar on top of Gavazan monument in Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Entrance of the church of Sts. Paul and Peter in Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Two of the many carved crosses in Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): The Mother of God church is built right over the entrance of Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): The setting of Tatev Monastery with mountains
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Large decorated bell on display at Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): The dome of the Sts. Peter and Paul church seen from below
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Angel carved out of wood at Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Drum tower of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul at Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Arches in the tomb of Grigor Tatevatsi in Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Mother of God church sits right above the entrance to Tatev Monastery
Picture of Tatev Monastery (Armenia): Stone oil press at Tatev Monastery

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