Monday, September 7, 2015

2014 - Visiting Khorvirab, Noravank, and Tatev Monastery


The monastery of Khorvirab (read more about it by clicking the link) is right on the border with Turkey.  It is a holy site where, in the 4th century, St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned in a pit for 13 years.  He survived, with the help of the king's sister Santoukht.  As a result, the pagan King Tiradates III freed St. Gregory, and the Armenian nation soon thereafter became the first to adopt Christianity as its national religion in 301 AD.

View of Khorvirab with Mt. Ararat in the background
The existing church, built over the pit, was built in the 17th Century.  One can climb down to the pit by a ladder - but this is not a feat for those with a fear of heights, darkness, or weak legs!

Climb down 32 steps, the first 16 of which are in a narrow space,
and then climb back up - the hardest part!
Bucket list - check


Almost all of our group was able to make it down, and back up - the smiles are those of us successfully making our way back up that steep ladder, in the dark!

With our guide, Marina - the best!

After our visit to Khorvirab, we stopped at the Areni Winery, where most of us tasted wine, and worked off the anxiety we had definitely developed from climbing down into the pit!


Our next stop was the Noravank Monastery.  Founded in 1205 AD, the grandest structure is Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God), also called Burtelashen (Burtel's construction) in the honour of Prince Burtel Orbelian, its financier. It is situated to the south-east of the Surb Karapet church. Surb Astvatsatsin was completed in 1339, a masterpiece of the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik, who designed it, and was also his last work. Near the church there is his tomb khachkar, small and modestly decorated, dated the same year. In recent times the fallen roof had been covered with a plain hipped roof. In 1997 the drum and its conical roof was rebuilt, with the form based on existing fragments. The ground floor contained elaborate tombs of Burtel and his family. Narrow steps projecting from the west fa├žade lead to the entrance into the church/oratory. There is fine relief sculpture over the entrance, depicting Christ flanked by Peter and Paul.  The church was renovated by a family from the United States, who have a small burial site adjacent to the church.

The usual sustenance - at Noravank - after a tough morning!


Khundsoresk is only a few miles on the road toward Karabagh from the main city of Goris.  Khundsoresk, where the inhabitants once lived in caves in the deep canyon below, is where my paternal grandparents were from.  My paternal grandfather died in truck accident when my father was four years old, somewhere along the windy road between Karabagh and Baku, in Azerbajian.  

In 2014, we stayed in Goris for two nights on our way to Karabagh, and had the chance to briefly visit Khundsoresk and Datev Monastery.  I had the privilege to also visit Khundsoresk in June 2005 with my father (at the time 84 years old) and mother, so that he could see where his ancestors were from.  The remains of at least one church is still visible - in 2005 we walked down close to the bottom of the ravine.  This trip - I looked from the top - the ground was wet from a recent rain and it was not good for hiking.

Remains of old Armenian Church half way down the ravine
Remains of another church
Today, a suspension bridge extends from this point across the ravine


Tatev Monastery is a 9th Century Monastery. (Read more about it by clicking the link.)  It is one of the most beautiful, and well-preserved monasteries in Armenia, and still has a functioning church.  The monastery is on an isolated plateau above a deep canyon and is accessible today by either a road - which thankfully has been partially paved - or an aerial tramway recently completed by a European company.  Our group visited the monastery on a rainy foggy day.  We could not see the monastery at all until we got off the tram - but, for a few of us, that was good - because of our fear of heights!

Bob Derderian (on the left):  "Do I have to look down???"
In the 14th and 15th centuries Tatev Monastery hosted one of the most important Armenian medieval universities, the University of Tatev, which contributed to the advancement of science, religion and philosophy, reproduction of books and development of miniature painting. Scholars of the Tatev University contributed to the preservation of Armenian culture and creed during one of its most turbulent periods in its history.  The monastery is the "best-known site" in the Syunik region of Armenia. "Wings of Tatev", a cableway from Tatev to Halidzor village was opened in October 2010.  It was included in the Guinness World Records as world's "longest non-stop double track cable car."

Der Mesrop with the local priest of Tatev

Marian and Patti near the chapel entrance