Geghard – rock-cut miracle of Armenian architecture: quick facts
“Have you taken your guests to Garni-Geghard and Sevan? Yes? Then you’ve already “fulfilled” your program, they can go back”,- a common Armenian joke runs.
Armenians are quite categorical: these three landmarks are the 3 “must-see” places in their home country when they host foreign friends or relatives from abroad (but, of course, the list is not only limited to these 3 – visit Tatev, for instance, and you’ll know why). It’s a given. But even if you’re a random traveler craving to satisfy your wanderlust in this ancient country, you just won’t forgive yourself if you don’t visit at least one of these three landmarks.
One of our previous blogposts was dedicated to Lake Sevan – one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world. (The pagan temple of Garni -the only one of its kind preserved in Armenia- is a topic of a separate article, indeed). As for Geghard, it’s unbelievably hard to encapsulate the serene aura and reserved beauty of this rock-cut miracle within a blogpost. Anyways, we’ll help you “get the feel” of Geghard with the quick facts below, and then it’s up to you whether or not to explore it.
- The name of the monastery (”Geghard” in Armenian means ”spear”) originates from a Christian legend according to which the spear which pierced Jesus at the Crucifixion was brought to Armenia by Apostle Thaddeus, and preserved in the monastery. Now the relic is exhibited at the Echmiadzin
- Majestically rising above the Azat Valley, the monastery complex comprises the Katoghike Chapel, the gavit (vestry), a belfry (also carved out of rock) and Chapel of Saint Grigor (Gregory the Illuminator), several tombs and a few khachkars (cross-stones). Some of the buildings are entirely cut out of rock while others are “nestled” in small caves.
- Small and serene Chapel of Saint Grigor is the oldest building in the monastic complex: it supposedly dates back to the 4th century. The legend has it that Saint Grigor built the church at the site of a sacred spring in a cave, which is why the monastic complex was formerly called Ayrivank- “The Monastery of the Cave”.
- According to the inscriptions, the main monastery – Katoghike was founded in 1215 under the patronage of Zakare and Ivane brothers. Katoghike is a piece of classic Medieval Armenian architecture- equal-armed cross inscribed in a square in plan and covered with a dome. As other churches and monasteries in Armenia, it is beautifully set against a mountain creating an unrivalled composition of man-made and natural marvels.
- A good news for foodies: Geghard offers not only aesthetical but gourmet experience. the paved road leading to the monastery features a whole ”fiesta” of homemade Armenian delicacies: welcoming Armenian women line up the road on both sides exhibiting and selling their ”masterpieces” – sheets ofdried fruit(fruit ”sour” lavash), gata, sweet shujukh (grape molasses covered strings of walnuts) as well as various souvenirs.
- It’s no mere chance that Geghard was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it ”is an exceptionally well preserved and complete example of medieval Armenian monastic architecture and decorative art, with many innovatory features which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in the region”.
Indeed, Geghard has all the perks of a really ‘’must-see” sight for tourists – rich history, unique architecture and an enthralling setting. Still skeptical about it? Then (keeping up with Kardashians) visit this medieval monastic complex to brag a bit (why not?) about your great experience in your home country! Also, feel free to write about your impressions on the comment section below.
Images: Gurgen Bakhshetsyan, Scott Newman, Arsen Yeranosyan, Miha Pavlin, Adam Bril, AyasTour
Text: Sirvard Amatuni
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