Tatev Monastery in Armenia: what is famous, how to get there and what to see in the Tatev Monastery

Tatev Monastery in Armenia: a masterpiece of architecture on the edge of the abyss

Tatev Monastery in Armenia: a masterpiece of architecture on the edge of the abyss

Tatev Monastery is a grandiose building of the late 9th century in the south-east of Armenia. The complex has “must-see” status and is consistently included in tourist routes. The enormous interest is due to at least three factors: the outstanding beauty of the monastery, its location on the edge of a breathtaking gorge and the rich history preserved by the walls of the complex.

From Armenian name of Tatev Monastery literally can be translated as “Give wings.” Legend has it that after completing the work, the religious master builder stood on the edge of a mountain ledge, made the sign of the cross, said: “Lights, Surb, ta tev” (“May the Holy Spirit send down wings!”), and took a step forward. The master flew away, but the masterpiece of medieval architectural art he built remained soaring above the mountains and for many years retained the status of one of the most important spiritual and educational centers in Armenia. About, what do Armenians believe in, wrote here.


  1. History of Tatev Monastery
  2. Church of Saint Pogos-Petros
  3. The swinging pillar of Gawazan
  4. How to get to the monastery

History of Tatev Monastery

The monastery complex did not acquire its current majestic appearance immediately. At first it was just one church, in which only a few dozen monks lived. But in the 10th century, the Syunik diocese, one of the most ancient and influential centers of the Armenian Apostolic Church, drew attention to this place. The place became their new residence for several centuries, which gave it a powerful impetus for development.

By the end of the 11th century, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as the Church of the Holy Mother of God and St. George the Illuminator, were built here. Around the same time, a hotel for pilgrims was erected.

There was a higher school at the Tatev Monastery. There, in addition to theological and philosophical sciences, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and anatomy were taught, books were written and translated. But by the end of the 12th century, the glory of the Tatev Higher School had sharply faded due to the destructive invasions of the Seljuks. A Turkic tribe, far from science, in 1170 destroyed almost all the buildings of the monastery and burned up to 10,000 manuscripts.

The history of this place could have ended there, but the Armenian Orbelian family, which came to power, took up the restoration of the complex, so the subsequent XIII-XIV centuries returned it to its former glory.

Tatev University became the largest center in the field of philosophy and science in Armenia during the Middle Ages. An extensive library of ancient manuscripts was discovered here. Holy relics were also kept there, including the hair of the Holy Mother of God.

Gentiles from Central Asia did not appreciate such a collection, and in 1435 the monastery was burned by the cavalry of Shahrukh, the youngest of the four sons of the Central Asian Turkic conqueror Tamerlane. Subsequent invasions of nomads completely devastated the university and forced the then ruler Shmavon to move with his brethren 400 kilometers north, to the Sanahinsky monastery.

At the end of the 19th century, only the abbot, several monks and a servant lived in the Tatev Monastery.

The last, but not least, blow to the monastery was the Zangezur earthquake of 1931. Its amplitude was 9 points, and the source was very close. As a result, the natural disaster destroyed Tatev almost completely. Only half a century later, in 1974–98, the main buildings were restored.

More detailed restoration of the monastery premises continues to this day. But this will not stop visiting tourists from enjoying its beauty and being imbued with the spirit of history.

Tatev stands on a mountain ledge, above the deep gorge of the Vorotan River. Therefore, the first thing that guests see is the vast expanses of Armenian nature. The photos turn out simply magnificent - ready-made wallpaper for your desktop. But there is also something to admire inside the complex. Guests can walk around the territory, visit the oil press, cells, a refectory in the rock and see two main attractions.

Church of Saint Pogos-Petros

On the territory of the complex itself, the eyes of guests are immediately drawn to the Church of St. Pogos-Petros (Peter and Paul). It amazes with its grandeur: a huge dome on a high drum, intricate patterns decorating the windows and portals. In some places, frescoes dating back to 930 have been preserved. Invited specialists from Europe worked on them together with Armenian masters. Particularly significant are the fresco “The Last Judgment” on the western wall and “The Birth of Christ” on the northern one.

The main entrance to the temple is located on the west, but there is also an entrance on the south side, where a chapel was added. Large windows are made according to a medieval model. Of particular interest are the vaults, which have images of people on the top and heads of writhing snakes on both sides.

Inside the building there is twilight and special peace. The monastery has a large number of secret passages and storage rooms, so the place will be of interest not only to pilgrims, but also to lovers of secrets and mysterious theories. 

Photo: Photoforum.ru

The swinging pillar of Gawazan

The most mysterious attraction of the Tatev Monastery is the giant vertical stone pillar Gavazan (translated from Armenian as a staff). This is an octagonal eight-meter column, which is crowned with a small khachkar - a carved image of a cross..

The peculiarity of the design is its ability to independently tilt to the sides and return to the starting position. Under the influence of seismic vibrations due to the built-in hinges, Gavazan begins to sway. For In the 10th century, such a structure was a real miracle of engineering. The movements of the stone pendulum warned monks about the earthquake and the approaching enemy cavalry.

The monument has survived to this day almost undamaged. All thanks to the art of ancient architects, who managed to calculate with pinpoint accuracy the relationship between the gravity of the monument and its volume. This made a kind of “tumbler” out of the giant block.

Gavazan also has a second name - “Vardapet Staff”, that is, the staff of a learned monk, teacher. The fact is that the seminarians of Tatev University took their exams next to the pillar. If he began to sway from the sound of their spiritual chants (sharakans), then the students could well count on the rank of priest, deacon or hieromonk. 

Gavazan has another purpose. It was installed on August 11 - the day of the ancient Armenian New Year (Navasard) and is an accurate celestial compass. The pillar shows the zero mark of time, and from it you can calculate the light year, you just need to have a powerful telescope and a wealth of knowledge in astrology.

Photo: ad-cd.net

How to get to the monastery

1) Auto + cable car

Tatev Monastery is located 270 km from Yerevan. The journey is not long and will take 5-6 hours by car without stops. Rarely will a taxi driver want to go here, so you will need your own car, a guide or a rented car. By the way, you can rent it from our partner Move2Car. If you plan to get there by car, you need to keep in mind that the last 15 km of the road to the complex is a rather steep and winding serpentine road, you need to be extremely careful. It is easier to leave your transport in the neighboring village of Halidzor (Khalidzor), and from there take the cable car.

In 2010, to make it more convenient for tourists to get to the monastery, a reversible cable car was built to Tatev. She was included in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest in the world. In 15 minutes you will cover almost six kilometers at an altitude of 320 meters. However, keep in mind that there are only two carriages on the cable car, so you sometimes have to wait for your turn for about an hour. But you won’t get bored, because there is free Wi-Fi at the station.

On the way, you can see the deep gorge of the Vorotan River and mountain slopes covered with dense forests. From a bird's eye view you will see Ararat, the megalithic complex of Karahunj, the Khor Virap monastery and the famous village of Areni with its fortresses, necropolises and the oldest winery in the world.

Operating hours of the “Wings of Tatev” cable car: from 9:00 to 19:45 (Tue-Sun, Mon – closed).

Prices: from March to November – 7,000 drams round trip. December-February – 5,000 drams. More information at official website.

Tatev Monastery is located quite far from the capital of Armenia, so on the way to the trip you can include other interesting locations: Jermuk city, Artashat, suburbs of Yerevan.

Photo: About-planet.ru

2) Minibus + taxi

The closest large settlement to Tatev - Goris city, where daily minibuses go from Yerevan. The issue price is 2,500 drams. Travel time is five hours. Departure from Sasuntsi David station at 09:00 and at 15:00. We recommend booking a seat at least one day before your trip by calling the dispatch center: 077 99 06 69.

From Goris, there are two options for getting to Tatev: a taxi directly to the monastery or, again, first by car to the village of Halidzor (Halidzor), and from there by cable car. Either way, the journey will take about an hour.

3) Excursions

Tatev is included in many excursions around Armenia. If you don’t like to travel “savage”, then you can turn to professional guides with your own car for help. For example, these options:

Usually, on the way to Tatev, excursions stop at a cave city Khndzoresk.

A more complete list of guides and travel agencies can be found in our directory. The best were selected. If you have any questions about your trip to Tatev, write to our support team @move2armenia_official.

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Tatev Monastery in Armenia: a masterpiece of architecture on the edge of the abyss
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