Geghard Monastery is a medieval monastery in the Kotayk province of Armenia, being partially carved out of the adjacent mountain, surrounded by cliffs. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with enhanced protection status. While the main chapel was built in 1215, the monastery complex was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave. The monastery had thus been originally named Ayrivank, meaning "the Monastery of the Cave". The name commonly used for the monastery today, Geghard, or more fully Geghardavank, meaning "the Monastery of the Spear", originates from the spear which had wounded Jesus at the Crucifixion, allegedly brought to Armenia by Apostle Jude, called here Thaddeus, and stored amongst many other relics. Now it is displayed in the Echmiadzin treasury. The spectacular towering cliffs surrounding the monastery are part of the Azat River gorge, and are included together with the monastery in the World Heritage Site listing. Some of the churches within the monastery complex are entirely dug out of the cliff rocks, others are little more than caves, while others are elaborate structures, with both architecturally complex walled sections and rooms deep inside the cliff. The combination, together with numerous engraved and free-standing khachkars is a unique sight, being one of the most frequented tourist destinations in Armenia. Most visitors to Geghard also choose to visit the nearby the pagan Temple of Garni, located further down the Azat River. Visiting both sites in one trip is so common that they are often referred to in unison as Garni-Geghard.
The monastery was founded in the 4th century, according to tradition by Gregory the Illuminator. The site is that of a spring arising in a cave which had been sacred in pre-Christian times, hence one of the names by which it was known, Ayrivank (the Monastery of the Cave). The first monastery was destroyed by Arabs in the 9th century. Nothing has remained of the structures of Ayrivank. According to Armenian historians of the 4th, 8th and 10th centuries the monastery comprised, apart from religious buildings, well-appointed residential and service installations. Ayrivank suffered greatly in 923 from Nasr, a vice-regent of an Arabian caliph in Armenia, who plundered its valuable property, including unique manuscripts, and burned down the magnificent structures of the monastery. Earthquakes also did it no small damage.
Today the monastery complex is located at the end of the paved road, and the walk up from the parking lot is lined with women selling sweet bread, sheets of dried fruit (fruit lavash), sweet sujukh (grape molasses covered strings of walnuts) and various souvenirs. A group of musicians usually plays for a few seconds as visitors approach, perhaps willing to play longer for money. At the approach to the main entrance on the west there are small caves, chapels, carvings and constructions on the hillside. Right before the entrance are some shallow shelves in the cliff onto which people try to throw pebbles in order to make their wish come true. Just inside the entrance to the compound are the 12th–13th century ramparts protecting three sides of the complex, and the cliffs behind protect the fourth. Walking across the complex will take one to the secondary entrance on the east, outside of which is a table for ritual animal offerings (matagh), and a bridge over the stream.
Photo By: Hatis Tour
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