- Hiking / Trekking
- Place or Religious Monument
- Place or Historical Monument
- Unesco World Heritage
A monastery constructed in the 4th century AD then burnt by Arab invaders, Geghard is a incredible religious site nestling beneath an impressively steep rocky peak, which seems to blend perfectly with the dry stone of the monastery itself. The two churches within the site, which were constructed in the 12th century AD, are also just as stunning, with incredible inscriptions carved into their stone walls.
Geghard was one of the most impressive sites I visited in the country, and it really encapsulates what a trip to Armenia is all about in my opinion: at the end of a semi-tarmacked road in an arid, inhospitable landscape, completely lost in the middle of nowhere, you encounter a pure wonder, a monastery which seems to have no business being there yet which adds that extra little magical dimension to your stay in Armenia.
Of all the monasteries that I visited during my holiday in Armenia, Geghard was the one that impressed me the most. Part of building and its halls have been carved out of the mountain, which gives the site a unique architectural style and magical atmosphere. You'll also find a sacred spring in one of the monastery's halls, where worshippers come to pray. To reach the spring, you'll pass through an elaborately decorated hall, engraved with lions and Armenian crosses, all lit by shafts of light that pour from an opening in the ceiling. As for the main hall, its filled with hundreds of votive candles that pilgrims light all year round.
What's more, the monastery complex at Geghard was built in a deep valley through which a river flows. Before or after your visit, you can relax under a walnut tree, in a lovely shady area by the river.
My arrival in Geghard literally transported me into another world. From Yerevan, I had first visited the Antique Temple in Garni, whose site is superb, but had left me rather cold. After having gone back up the Azat Valley up to this display of cliffs which form Geghard's natural arena, the discovery of this monastery, perched at the top of its lost valley, let the wind of spirituality blow over my head.
A fortress constructed by worn stones awaits you, on its own, at the foot of the cliffs, allowing you to pass the bell tower of the St Astvatsatsin chapel. When you penetrate theouter wall of the Geghard monastery, which dates back to the 13th century, the church is unveiled in all its splendour. The very oriental ornaments, sculpted on the facade and around the doors, are magnificent. The numerous caves and the khatchkars (ornate Armenian crosses) carved into the cliff honour these completely mineral aesthetics.
But it's inside the St Astvatsatsin chapel that moved me the most. Very sombre, but bathed in bundles of light, skilfully filtered from outside, it was mostly made by excavation, even the cave itself. The austerity of the décor only makes these wonderful decorative elements more valuable: khatchkars, bas-reliefs, including two remarkable lions, completed sculpted from the rock. A treasure!