Tatev – Armenia’s tourism visit card

Tatev monastery, Armenia

Tatev  monastery is situated near the village of the same name in part of Zangezur – ancient Syunik. The monastery was founded in the ninth century in place of a tabernacle well-known in ancient times. The strategically advantageous location on a cape formed by a deep river gorge with precipitous rocky slopes favored the construction of a mighty defense complex there.

Tatev monuments stand out for high quality of building work. At one time Tatev was the political center of Syunik principality. In the 10th century it had a population of 1,000 and controlled numerous villages. In the 13th century it owned 680 villages, though some of the hippie villages fought hard to stay out of Tatev’s hold. The earthquake of 1931 caused considerable destruction, but the parts that survived enable us to judge about the artistic merits of the complex. The main monument is the Church of Pogos and Petros (Peter and Paul) built in 895-906. It reproduces the type of domed basilicas of the 7th century, but has new features.

Tatev - Armenia's tourism visit card

Tatev - Armenia's tourism visit card

In the stretched out interior, the middle nave, crowned with a tremendous in the middle of the plan’s cross, predominates. As distinct from the domed basilica, the church had in its western part several annexes the corners of which served as the abutments of the dome. Its eastern abutments did not yet merge with the walls of the altar apse; consequently, the cross-winged shape of its interior is not too well pronounced. These features give us grounds to regard the church as an intermediate link in the development of the cupola hall into a cross-winged, dome type of building which became widely spread in Armenia later.

The outward appearance of the temple is severe and laconic. Its harmonious proportions add to the impression of its considerable height. The large dome, the low and closely-spaced arrangement of narrow windows and a high and round drum crowned with a pointed 32-fold roof immediately catch the eye.

The facades of the church, just as those of the 17th-century monuments, are smooth and free of superfluous detailing. On the eastern facade there are two deep triangular niches crowned, just like the windows, with thin ornamented edges. Four of them are decorated with representations of human faces, to which snake heads with stings sticking out are turned. Armenians believed snakes to be the protectors of their homes. The oval-shaped faces, with long locks of hair framing them and with eye sockets merely hinted at, are rather schematic. The only exception is the relief of the northern facade in which the carver tried to portray someone. According to Stepanos Orbelyan, an Armenian historian, these are the portraits of the founders of the church – Prince Ashot, his wife Shushan, Grigor Supan, the ruler of Gekharkunik, and Prince Dzagik.

Tatev history

The thousand-year-old Tatev monastic complex is located in the south of Armenia in a beautiful and strategically advantageous natural setting. It overlooks the Vorotan River Gorge and is flanked by steep, rocky slopes and lush forests.

The thousand-year-old Tatev monastic complex is located in the south of Armenia in a beautiful and strategically advantageous natural setting

The thousand-year-old Tatev monastic complex is located in the south of Armenia in a beautiful and strategically advantageous natural setting

During the Middle Ages, Tatev was one of Armenia’s most important spiritual centers. It also had great academic and political significance. It housed Tatev University, whose legacy lives on today through a wealth of preserved manuscripts, and was the political stronghold of Syunik principality. Within its walls, the eminent Grigor Tatevatsi and his successors wrote missives to the world leaders of their time and penned scholarly treatises that are as much a part of the world’s cultural heritage as are the architectural monuments of Tatev Monastery.

Tatev was highly self-sufficient. It had an oil mill, flour mills and a traditional bread-making oven, or tonir. All food for the hundreds of monks, students and clergy who resided at the monastery was grown and prepared on premises or on the surrounding plots. The surplus was used for trade and bartering.

Tatev region map

Tatev region map

Tatev had a highly advanced water supply and irrigation system, with clay pipes transporting fresh spring water from the mountains above to the monastery and its surrounding area. This allowed for the cultivation of orchards and vineyards in the Vorotan Gorge, where a wide range of fruits and vegetables were grown, including olives, which were very uncommon in the region. There was also a winemaking facility close to Mets Anapat, a cloistered monastery deep in the gorge, which was administratively and economically linked to Tatev. Villagers cultivated the orchards and operated mills and other production facilities. They gave a percentage of their harvest and yield to the monastery.

Tatev underwent a major academic and cultural revival in the 14th century, with the introduction of Tatev University. The university was founded in 1390 by Hovhan Vorotnetsi and later flourished under the leadership of Grigor Tatevatsi. It was a highly advanced academic institution, which consisted of three different schools, each divided into faculties, including theology, philosophy, architecture, astronomy, manuscript-writing and miniature-painting.

Tatev aerial tramway

Tatev aerial tramway

Tatev University’s academic tradition came to an end in 1435, when the monastery was invaded by Shah Rukh, one of Tamerlane’s successors, and the remaining monks reestablished themselves at Sanahin Monastery in the north.

In the centuries to come, Tatev would undergo periods of religious revival and several restorations, but would never return to its medieval glory. In 1931, an earthquake left the monastery in ruins. Restoration efforts were undertaken during the late Soviet era but they were incomplete and flawed, resulting not only in historical and architectural inaccuracies but also in ongoing water damage. Today, the definitive restoration of the monastery and rejuvenation of monastic life are major components of the Tatev Revival Project, continuing a centuries-old tradition of protecting, preserving and enhancing Armenia’s cultural heritage at Tatev.

Wings of Tatev – Aerial Tramway

The longest aerial tramway in the world!

Wings of Tatev has two cabins carrying up to 25 passengers each. A large electric motor located at the bottom of the tramway station pulls each of the two cabins in opposite directions such that they pass each other midway on the cable span. While one cabin arrives at Tatev station, the other arrives at the opposite end, at Halidzor.

Tatev monastery, Armenia

Tatev monastery, Armenia

Wings of Tatev is a double-reversible aerial tramway. It spans 5.7 kilometers in a single journey lasting approximately 11 minutes, gliding up to 330 meters above the Vorotan River Gorge. The ropeway cost 13 million Euros to build.

By connecting passengers to Tatev Monastery from across the gorge, Wings of Tatev not only serves the local community whose members can ride it free of charge, but makes Tatev much more accessible to tourists. It is also a major attraction in its own right, providing magnificent views of the mountainous landscape and the historical and natural landmarks in the valley below.

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