A little further along the Azat River in the Kotayk province of Armenia is the medieval monastery of Geghard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Geghard (full name Geghardavank) means “the Monastery of the Spear”, originating from the spear which wounded Jesus Christ at the Crucifixion. It was said to have been brought to Armenia by the Apostel Jude, amongst many other relics. These days, the spear is housed elsewhere in the country, in the Echmiadzin Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the world.
Nevertheless, Geghard remains a popular place for pilgrims and tourists alike.
The road leading up to the monastery is lined with women selling sweet bread, sheets of dried fruit (fruit lavash), walnuts dipped in grape juice on a string (sweet sujuk) & other non-edible souvenirs.
Located at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave, Geghard was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator, the patron saint credited with converting Armenia from Paganism to Christianity.
Geghard is placed in a lush landscape of towering cliffs & verdant vegetation, the monastic complex extending into the rock face, with churches & chapels carved into the mountain stone. Some are little more than caves, while others are elaborate structures with walled sections and rooms stretching deep inside the cliff.
The main church of the monastery is the Katoghike Chapel, built completely against the mountain in 1215. From the skies, light passes through the room in numerous different places, shining spotlights on the various symbolism carved throughout the space. There are trees, fruits, doves, oxen and lion.
The darkness, speckled with flashes of light and flame, creates a gothic ambience of reverence & humility, towards a higher state of being.
In the middle of a chamber, a choir commences a chorus of chants and hymns, solemn & soaring, haunting and heartbreaking, adding further to the aura & awe.
Doors of stone, wood & wrought-iron lead to hidden chambers & exits:
An external staircase leads to the upper Jhamatun, a rock-cut chamber on a second level. It contains tombs of princes & carvings of khachkars, Armenian cross-stones depicted with rosettes, interlaces and botanical motifs. Khachkars and their symbolism and craftsmanship are inscribed in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The daytrip of Garni-Geghard offers a historical reflection of Armenia’s transition from Paganism to Christianity, in a environment of natural beauty and spiritual contemplation.
Free or minimal
How to get there:
From the city centre of Yerevan, take buses 22, 26 or 36, or marshrutkas (local minibus) 9, 69 or 73 to the Gai Bus Station. Marshrutka’s depart for Geghard when full, around every 30 minuted.
Marshtrutka’s cost 250 AMD / US$0.50.
From Garni, local villagers offer rides to Geghard, 10km away. A tip of 250 AMD per person (the same cost as a marshtrutka) seems reasonable.
Easy DIY travel outside city centres using public transport
In an easy day trip from Yerevan, combine a visit to Geghard with a trip to Garni, The Only Pagan Temple in Armenia
1 August 2013