We drive south along the road from the Georgia border. This is the main highway between Tbilisi and Yerevan the capitals of the two countries – but it sure doesn’t feel like a main highway. It is a very bumpy ride since they seem to be some sort of redevelopment of the road and the drive is much slower compared to what I remember from our visit here six years ago.
We turn away from the main highway to take a smaller road up a hill – this road is actually better than the main highway we have just left. We keep driving up some small twisted roads through a little village until we finally reach the main square of the village where we can park right in front of the monastery.
It is nice to go to this monastery after the visits to the Georgian religious sights – here the number of tourist is pretty low despite the UNESCO status of the monastery. We are not the only tourist but there is only a couple of other guest visiting the monastery at the same time as us so we can enjoy this place without the crowds of the Georgian attractions. It is a bit surprising how few people actually make it here considering we are only a few minutes’ drive from the main road.
The complex is fairly big compared to some of the Georgian churches we have been to and it is interesting to look at the different construction of the Armenian churches compared to the Georgian churches – despite the close proximity of the countries there is some marked differences. Here there doesn’t seem to be any frescoes in the churches – what there is instead are rock carving. Particularly the famous khachkars are present in great numbers. The khackars is a cross in stone with carvings – and some of the carvings are pretty amazing.
The main construction at the monastery complex is the large Surb Nishan cathedral. It is actually pretty big compared to most of the churches we saw in Georgia. The church was probably one of the first constructions started when the monastery was founded in 976 and it took about 15 years to complete the construction.
I find the monastery was one of the better places to look at ancient churches in Armenia and fortunately it is free to go inside and explore the place. So if you are driving on the road to or from Georgia it is well worth to make the short detour.