My Time Capsule: Armenia: Noravank Monastery The Hidden Gem Of Amaghu


Armenia: Noravank Monastery The Hidden Gem Of Amaghu

Armenia, October 2017

Armenia has a what it seems like an endless list of centuries old churches and monastery. For Armenian church and monastery has always been a crucial establishment. Not only for praying, they served as school or college as well. Needless to say in such a short span of time I've only managed to visit a few of them. Nevertheless I already have a hard time to decide which one is my most favourite. I seriously think Armenian are really advanced in choosing the most dramatic and extravagant location to build their churches. From atop of a beautiful lake, carved inside a rock mountain to hidden in the middle of dense forest. They believe it's the way to protect their church less vulnerable to attacks. It blew my mind when I imagine about how did they transport and construct all the materials to those hard to reach location. The first glimpse of each of the monasteries I've visited made my jaw drop. And Noravank Monastery is no exception.

just me and my silver 'horse' in this stunning narrow gorge 😁

Noravank monastery is located at the end of narrow and deep gorge, after driving through the small twisting road. It's perched halfway up the mountain, surrounded by high peaks full of brick-red colour cliffs, known as the home of hundreds caves. So the journey itself was a pleasant reward. Feels like I was in a scene from Indiana Jones' adventure. But instead of a horse, my ride was a sprinter limo 😛.
Previously I had a lunch inside one of the caves which is set into a simple restaurant. It was a unique experience indeed! I think it deserve a whole blog post itself, so stay tuned, okie! When I reached nearly the end of the gorge I looked up and my heart skipped a bit. The monastery looked striking in such an isolated area, like a hidden treasure.

brick-red cliffs

long winding road

Surb Astvatsatsin church

The complex consists of two churches and one chapel; each decorated in intricate designs and religious reliefs. The grandest structure is Surb Astvatsatsin or Holy Mother of God church, famous for its two-storey architecture. It was completed in 1339 by the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik. Sadly this masterpiece was also his last work as he died no long after and was buried in this complex.

Here's another twist about Momik. He fell in love with the daughter of Syunik's governor. But the governor didn't like him and trying to get rid of him by challenging Momik with an impossible task. Momik was ordered to build a big church complex in such a short time. If the project is succeed then Momik could marry the governor's daughter. Never underestimate the power of love, because even though it seemed hard to accomplish apparently the church complex was coming to its end even before the due date. The governor was furious and sent someone to kill Momik. His servant climbed to the dome of the church where the architect was working and pushed him. Momik fell down and died before he could marry the love of his life 😭.

details on wall and khachkars

There's also a number of khachkars or Armenia cross-stone which is commonly used as tombstones or sometimes used as memorials. There are some category of khachkars depending on the carved details. From standard to the highly elaborated which is called "lacework" khachkars. They are all soooo pretty and I can't get enough of it! Every time I saw one, I would spend some time to admire the details. I wish I could read Armenian alphabets so I could understand the story behind each khachkars.

super narrow stairs at the church entrance

Nope! That's not me on the picture. I really wanted to reach the second floor but when I saw the narrow steps, my heart sank and my legs turned to jelly. Dang you, acrophobia! It's probably only 15 cm width so it's difficult to balance my once-petite-but-now-curvy body. Trying the lizard-crawling-on-the-wall moves with my face stuck to wall and did not make it either. Afraid of ruining the 13th century historic site, I decided to settle with the ground floor only. Apparently it's more difficult to climb down that going up. I saw some people were panicking because they couldn't figure out how to climb down that deadly stairs since there's no guardrail to hold on, only an unstable rope 😱

relief sculpture 

the eyes that saved Noravank Monastery. Thank God! (literally) 

Gayane, my pretty cicerone told me that this complex of churches almost didn't survive the Middle Ages. When the Mongols conquered Armenia in the 13th century they destroyed many of the historic temples in the country. And Noravank Monastery was just about to be demolished when they saw a relief of God with large almond-shaped eyes. This conciliation to the Mongol's physical Asiatic heritage seems to calm the army and left Noravank in peace.

Surb Karapet church

The second church is Surb Karapet where the dome was damaged twice during earthquakes in1340 and 1931. After the earthquake, the new roof that they made had a new the shape. They made the structure quite different from other Armenian monuments of the same kind. In this church, the ceiling has four rows of brackets and forms stalactite vaulting with a square lighting aperture at the top. As most visitors flocked around Surb Astvatsatsin (queueing to climb the stairs of death, that is), I found  Surb Karapet to be more serene. I had all the church by myself, admiring the interior and beautiful inscribed gravestones.


one of the inscribed gravestones

the altar

Noravank Monastery

My pictures can't do justice to the beauty of Noravank Monastery and the surrounding. I brag a lot in superlative words that I might sound like I'm being paid by Armenia tourism to promote their country. Believe me, it's not a sponsored post. Armenia maybe is not a big country but it has so much to offer. The more places I visit, the more I yearn to discover another. It's addictive! Perhaps because I have a thing about inscrutable remote areas as it tickled my curiosity. If you ask me whether Noravank Monastery worth the 2 hours drive from Yerevan (about 120 kilometres)? Yes, a big YES! It is a real gem to visit specially if you fond of historical buildings like I do. 


  1. This is such a beautiful monastery. I love that it's been built into the side of the hill. That reminds me of the stone churches in Ethiopia which also seem to blend into the landscape. The interior is absolutely gorgeous as well. Were there many other tourists here? I feel like Armenia is definitely a bit off the beaten track

  2. These gorges and valleys with all their colours reminds me of Argentina's sello de siete colores. So beautiful. And I can see why Noravank complex is your favourite monastery. Is that story about Momik a myth or actually true?

  3. I love visiting monasteries. In Greece too I visited them instead of the beaches and islands. Strange they have such precarious staircases. I too would have hesitated climbing them.Those brick red mountains are amazing. I wish to see all these in real some day.

  4. Armenia is not a place I read often, and yet I'd be very curious to visit. Its culture looks very fascinating, and the views are exactly what me and hubby are looking for. Besides, I think you're right when you say that they are great at choosing dramatic and extravagant locations for their churches!

  5. Armenia looks beautiful and not what I expected. The red mountains and the churches are so different and I like the love story behind the Surb Astvatsatsin church. This is a place I would like to visit in the future.

  6. Your pictures definitely do do justice to Noravank Monastery: they are beautiful, and you paint a beautiful picture of Armenia.

    Also damn the acrophobia! I get that sometimes too and it definitely impedes some of my experiences, especially as I love trekking!

  7. I never understand why such beautiful buildings are in such isolated places! Although the journey is definitely part of the pleasure here! Armenia looks stunning, I have heard a lot of good things about it lately and would love to go and visit soon!

  8. I’m not an overly religious person but I love visiting churches and places of worship when I travel as they’re usually the most stunning and beautiful buildings, and have a long stretching history deeply rooted in a country’s culture. The monasteries and churches throughout Armenia sound astonishing - Surb Astvatsatsin church is stunning – I agree, I’m amazed to think at how they got the materials into the mountains to build such a structure. Such a testament to love! But what a tragedy that Momik met his end :(

    I would love to get to Armenia, pretty much just solely for Noravank Monastery and the surrounds, though I’m sure there’s so much more to see in the country too!


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