Ask a few tourists who visited Armenia: “Which is the most impressive sight in the country?”, and 1 out of 3 won’t hesitate to answer – Tatev Monastery and surrounding sites. It’s no mere chance that this incredibly charming area is considered one of the top tourist attractions in Armenia. In high season, Tatev (”give me wings” as translated by Armenian) brings together thousands of travelers from various corners of the world. So, here are 5 well-grounded reasons why Tatev and its surroundings is a must-see during your trip to Armenia.
Majestically situated on a large plateau near the Tatev village (Syunik marz, southern Armenia), the 9th-century Tatev monastery comprises a complex of three churches (Sts. Paul and Peter, St. Gregory the Illuminator and St. Mary), library, belfry, dining hall and other administrative buildings. Historically, Tatev played a strategically important role as a cultural, economic and spiritual center of the region. In the 14-15th centuries, the monastery was home to one of the most prominent Armenian universities – University of Tatev- alma mater of eminent scholars, historians and artists of the time contributing to science, religion, philosophy and miniature painting. By the way, the monastery, Tatevi Anapat (”Desert of Tatev”) and neighboring areas have been included in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Besides the churches, Tatev boasts a few other unique pieces of Armenian architecture, and the pendulous column as called by Armenians, is perhaps the most beloved by tourists. At the first glance, it’s only a piece of architecture – just an upright pillar resembling a walking stick (perhaps, this is why it’s called gavazan- the Armenian variant for ”walking stick”) crowned with a cross-stone, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. But in reality, the pendulum was of great strategic importance. It’s the great grandfather of modern seismographs: the pillar was sensitive to even the slightest joltings thus alerting on possible major quakes. Also, the gavazan saved the monastery and surroundings from invasions of enemies many times- it would start swaying once the rival approached the monastery.
If after reading N2 reason you’re already enticed to visit Tatev, we have another good news for you: to get there, you’re going to experience a breathtaking flight on the world’s longest ropeway (over 5km)- registered in the Guinness World Records-Wings of Tatev aerial tramway. Soaring over the picturesque Vorotan Gorge, you’ll admire the magnificent Armenian landscape and learn facts about this spectacular area through the free audio guide. Perhaps, afterwards, you’ll describe the 12 minutes of panoramic view of the valley, river and the monastery looming in the distance as one of the most memorable experiences in your life.
Flying over the fast-flowing Vorotan River is not the full drive you can throw yourself into. The most curious and bravest minds will indeed want to descend to the Vorotan Valley to explore the natural gems of Syunik. The gorge abounds alluring sights- cave settlements, small hermitages and mineral springs, and the mystic Devil’s Bridge. Truly, there is something mysterious, almost demonic about how the wind, water and travertines would ”craft” this natural miracle over thousands of years. The Bridge is rich in warm healing springs hiding secretive grottos below. A caveat: the ascents of the Bridge are not for faint-hearted. They can be quite dangerous, so a professional guide is highly recommended.
The right bank of the Vorotan River is commonly visited by tourists as it’s home to Kharants hermits (“Great Hermitage of Syunik), a unique must-see place in Tatev. It was founded by monks in the early 17th century. Due to the devastating quake of 1658, hermits left the community and built a new one a few miles away from Kharants – The Great Hermitage of Tatev or Tatevi Mets Anapat as dubbed by locals.
And finally, while traversing Tatev and its neighborhood, you should include Old Khot Village- a less explored sight in Armenia – in your must-see list. The abandoned village is called ”Armenian Machu Picchu” due to its striking resemblance to the amazing 15th century Inca city, and is located on the bottom and slopes of the Vorotan Gorge. The village hosts Mrgadzori Khach Church (“Cross of the fruit ravine”). According to a legend, the church was built by a beauty having run away from the Sheikh-Abbas harem.
Tatev has become one of the top tourists attractions in Armenia over the past years. Where else can you find so many natural and architectural wonders so harmonically flocked in one place? Discover many more in one of our guided tours in Armenia and share your impressions afterwards.
Text: Sirvard Amatuni
Images: Mantvydas Drevinskas, Alexey Kharitonov, Edgar Marukyan, tatever.am, Ayas Tour