Suitcase and World: Tatev Monastery.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tatev Monastery.

Gurgen, standing in front of the mausoleum of Grigor Tatevatsi, at Tatev Monastery

I'm sure it was sad for Gurgen and Anush to leave Papi and Artsvanik behind. They don't see Papi often and this was far too short a visit for them. I'm sure he felt the same. I'm thankful to them for introducing him to us as I leave with great admiration for the man.

By nightfall today, we were back in Yerevan.  It was a long journey and we had quite a few stops along the way, including one at Tatev Monastery.

Leaving Artsvanik, we stopped at the village's cemetery so Gurgen and Anush could pay their respects to their grandmother/mother.  Pat and I stayed in the car.  As graciously as the family has shared their lives with us these past two days, this was a private family moment.  We also stopped at another burial plot so they could visit the grave site of another family member. 

 Gurgen backtracked to Goris where we had our second stop.  Gurgen was on another food shopping spree.  This time to pick up some greens that would be the ingredients for zhingalov khats
(also jinglov hats, djingalov hacs, zhingaylov hats).   However, you spell it, I am sure there's only one way it's pronounced.

Before we arrived into Artsakh, Areg texted me to say that I should have Gurgen have someone in Artsvanik make jengalov hats (which is how she spelled it) for us.  I had no idea what they were so I had to Google the term.

What are djingalov hats?  They are a flatbread, filled with a variety of fresh herbs, that is a specialty of Artsakh.    I had no idea what kinds of  herbs you need but when Gurgen came back with two large grocery bag's worth of greens,  it seemed like a LOT!  I hope poor Anush won't be making these all by herself as I can imagine that even when cooked down, what Gurgen had would stuff a lot of bread! I'm looking forward to tasting one.

It was a short stop in Goris.  From here, it was just about an hour's drive before we would reach our third destination - Tatev Monastery.  I'd been looking forward to visiting this place ever since seeing images of it on Google.

It was an overcast day today but the sight of the snow capped mountains made me happy.

We shared a lot of good laughs on this trip!!

I had no idea if the tram was going to be enclosed or not so I grabbed my fleece jacket before getting out of the car.  I should have also grabbed a spare battery for my camera.  Unfortunately, I did not realize I was down to one bar until it was too late to turn back and get the spare.  You would think that by now, I would be more mindful.

Before October 2010, visitors to Tatev Monastery arrived to the site by car.  Today, visitors are transported by an aerial tramway.  Known as the Wings of Tatev, the tramway runs for 5.7 kilometers (3.5 miles). It is the longest reversible aerial tramway built in only one section and holds the record for Longest non-stop double track cable car.

Although Gurgen and Anush have both been to Tatev several times, it didn't feel right leaving them behind.  We had been traveling together all this time and going to the monastery without one of them just didn't feel right.  So, when Gurgen went to get the tickets, I gave him dram to pay for all four of us.
The tramway leaves every 20 minutes or so.  Lucky us, we arrived just a few minutes before the next one was about to depart.

The tramway ride would take about 20 minutes and was narrated.  It was nice to have someone point out sights along the way even though it was often times difficult to pinpoint the exact location whatever we were suppose to be looking at.

As we  left the station, we soared above the village of Halidzor which is nestled in the Vorotan Gorge.

It was a slow and gentle ride taking us over valleys and peaks.

I wonder if that's the road  leading up to Tatev.  Awfully windy but I bet the views are amazing!

Sometimes we would hover over a point of interest and I wasn't in a good spot to take a good photo.  I'd snap a shot anyway.

And then I would  move to a better spot in the car and use my zoom lens.  This is a view of the ruins of the Great Hermitage of Tatev also known as Harants Anapat Monastery .  The hermitage was by monks in 1608-1613. An earthquake in 1658 forced the hermits to leave the community and build a new one several kilometers away.

A small waterfall flowing down to the Vorotan River.

We floated by numerous small villages, some nestled in valleys while others clinged to hillsides.

The unmistakable outline of an Armenian church soon came into view.  It was Tatev.  As excited as I was to spot the church, I was disappointed it wasn't from the same vantage point that I had seen in the Google images.

Those photos were taken from somewhere above the monastery complex so you could see the entire place in a glance.  This view was just not the same and I was a bit disappointed even though it wasn't a bad view especially with the monastery located on a plateau high above the gorge and the beautiful snow dusted mountains as a backdrop.

But this is the view that I had in my mind.  You have to admit, it's a much nice vantage point from which to appreciate the monastery.  Someday, I'll go back and see it from this spot.....and in the early morning to get the proper light.  I want to take this photo!

Tatev Monastery, Armenia.  (Photo by Alexander Naumov)

Arriving at Tatev, we got off the tramway and took the path leading down to the monastery complex.  A few vendors called out to us to check out their offerings.  Today, I was not curious to see anything for sale.  I just wanted to get to Tatev itself.

Tatev monastery is a 9th-century Armenian Apostolic monastery that is today the the bishopric seat of Syunik.

At its height in the Middle Ages, up to one thousand monks, scholars and clergy worked as part of the Tatev spiritual community, both within the monastery walls and in the villages surrounding it.  In the 14th and 15th centuries the monastery was also home to one of the most important Armenian medieval universities, the University of Tatev, which contributed to the advancement of science, religion and philosophy, reproduction of books and development of miniature painting.

As you approach the complex, the first thing that you see is Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God Church), which was built on the monastery’s defensive wall in the 11th century. It is a memorial chapel that Armenians traditionally built on the tombs of saints and martyrs. The church was damaged twice by two earthquakes in the past century. In the 1970s it was rebuilt inadequately, and it is currently being restored under the Tatev Revival Project which is working to accomplish several restoration works at Tatev along with improving tourist infrastructure.  It was under the auspices of the project that the aerial tramway was built.  You can read more about the project here and here.  I just hope that the restoration work is accomplished within UNESCO guidelines so one day this monastery can receive a World Heritage site inscription that would then lead more tourists to come here.

The fluted cupola of Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God Church) looming over the ancient walls.

Entrance to the monastery complex.  Barriers were signs of the ongoing restoration work.

Looking back at Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God Church).

Inside the walls of the monastery.

The main monument is the Church of Pogos and Petros (Peter and Paul) built in 895-906.   You can't miss it as it not only stands alone but it is the largest and tallest building at Tatev.

Many people might have been disappointed to be at Tatev on a cloudy day but I actually loved it.  I think it  gives my photos a bit of a dark and gloomy feel which I somehow feel is apropo with the turbulence of the Middle Ages.


The imposing entry portal.

As is typical of medieval Armenian churches, the interior of the Church of Pogos and Petros was dark and stark but it felt large because the walls must have soared at least two stories up to the domed ceiling.

Khachkars decorate the exterior facade of Church of Pogos and Petros.

St. Grigor Lusavorich (St. Gregory the Illuminator) Church is the oldest of the Monastery’s existing churches. It was established in the place of an older church that had been built in 848. 

Situated in front of the entrance to St. Grigor Lusavorich Church is a small mausoleum that houses the tomb of Grigor Tatevatsi who was an eminent theologian, philosopher, pedagogue, painter, musician and writer. It was under his leadership, that Tatev underwent a major academic revival in the 14th century whereby it became an esteemed university.  In 1409, after Tatevatsi's death, his relics were buried at the south entrance of St. Poghos-Petros Church. Later, in 1787, Bishop Hovakim built a mausoleum on this spot, in order to preserve the sacred tomb with its cross-stone and inscriptions.

The mausoleum of Grigor Tatevatsi standing before the entrance to St. Grigor Lusavorich Church

Another view of the mausoleum of Grigor Tatevatsi.

Church of Pogos and Petros in the background, mausoleum of Grigor Tatevatsi in the foreground.

A view of a window of the Church of Pogos and Petros.

More inscribed khachkars.

In the monastery courtyard stands a very unusual monument called Gavazan which was erected in 904.  The monument is an octagonal column that stands 8 meters (26 feet) tall and is built of small stones.  It is crowned with an ornamented cornice with with an open-work khachkar topping it.  I can't envision how this actually works but apparently the column was connected to the base using a coupler hinge allowing the column to, at the touch of a hand, sway which is why it is known as the Rocking Pillar or a Moving Stick.... a “gavazan".   It was said to start swaying when the ground shook as an enemy force was approaching the monastery.  What a great idea if that really worked!  The “Gavazan” collapsed following an earthquake in 1931 earthquake but was reassembled and reinforced with iron cramps during the Soviet era.  The Tatev Revival Project is planning to free the pillar from its iron chains and make it capable of rocking again.

In a small room, located off the courtyard was a one room museum if you can call it that.  I presume the artifacts were recovered from the monastery grounds.

Perhaps this bell once hung in the bell tower?

Christ on the cross.  I prefer the design of a khachkar to this etching.

The communal quarters, which make up a substantial part of the monastery, are in various states of critical disrepair.

There's a lot of restoration work to be done.

The Tatev Revival Project is working to address the issues.  I think the photos below are of the dining hall.  The wall niches would have held candles and the stone ledges were what the diners sat on.  That's my guess as the amateur archeologist.

We made our way around to the kitchen.  At least that's what we guessed it to be based on the large, circular shaped pit in the floor that was shaped and sized perfectly for a tandir oven.  Oddly enough, I didn't take a photo of the pit. 

Entrance to the kitchen.

View of the surroundings from the kitchen.

From the kitchen, we made our way to a small building that housed the monastery's olive oil press.  Today it's a museum as well.

The Dzit Han oil press facility was built in the 17th century outside the monastery walls so as not to disturb the monks. One of its two rooms still has a massive millstone that was rotated by an ox. The oil press workers would first dry sesame, mustard, flax seeds, or whole plants on a stove and then place them under the press. The oil would flow into jars through stone grooves. The oil was consumed locally for food and was also used for the monastery’s defense. Surplus oil was either sold or traded. The oil press was one of the first facilities in the monastery to be restored under the Tatev Revival Project.

It was hard, just looking at the various parts of the press, that were on display, to envision how it actually worked.  Luckily, I found the following YouTube video, which I think was just captured from the one looping on a monitor at the museum, demonstrates how the press worked.

After checking out the press, we were done at Tatev.

A priest, sitting quietly and watching the world go by.  Clad in all black and bearing a full black beard,
he looks intimidating but Gurgen says he's a really nice man.  I believe it.

Hmmm.....if we weren't at a historic site, would he have taken this for his garden?? :-)

But before we left Tatev, I asked Gurgen to take a photo of Pat and I.  She and I are usually so preoccupied with taking photos of everything else, we forget to have one taken of the two of us together.   We look like two bag ladies but it's a nice memory! :-)

We made our way passed the row of vendors.  The weather had changed dramatically.  The wind was blowing like a beast.  Although we had to catch the earliest tramway back, it seemed like we had time to catch a small bite of something sweet and something warm to drink.  So we walked a few short meters to a nearby coffeeshop where we sat outside to enjoy a brief break.  Gurgen ordered up some cake and tea/coffee for us.  He also pointed me to a small room, next to the main dining, where a man was playing the duduk. With the sound of the wind pretty much obscuring the sounds around us, I did not hear the music until I neared the room.  Indeed, there was an elderly man seated inside the room playing the duduk.  With the sound of the wind around me, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to capture the music or not but the video didn't come out too badly.  He's not a professional and I wasn't in love with the melody he was playing but it was still cool to watch someone playing the instrument.

I had barely taken a sip of my tea when Gurgen and the other two declared it was time to leave.  The tramway was departing any second now.  We bolted towards the station as we quickly as we could and got on the tram.  Indeed the doors closed just seconds after we all boarded.  Whew! 

With the wind blowing as hard as it was, Gurgen did mention that they often suspend rides out of safety.   If we weren't already in a rush to get back to Yerevan in time for our dance performance, I would have been okay with a delay but not today.  Luck was on our side today.  The tram moved as scheduled and we arrived back into Halidzor without issue.

We made it!

Back in the wind free interior of the van, we continued our journey back to Yerevan.

Bye Tatev!