From stunning landscapes to sites of historical and cultural importance, monasteries provide a wealth of interest for the avid traveller. Here is our selection of six of the best monasteries in Europe.Read more...
Makaravank - A view from our expert author
Makaravank, on the slopes of Mount Paytatar, is beautifully situated with fine views over the Aghstev Valley and into Azerbaijan. It is well restored and has probably Armenia’s finest carvings. Road improvements have made this splendid monastery more accessible.
To reach Makaravank from Ijevan, take the main road towards the Azeri border as far as the junction with the road to Noyemberian. At this junction turn left on to a road heading for the village of Achajur. In the village centre a sign points right to Makaravank. It is then 6km to the monastery; for the last 3km the road deteriorates but is still driveable.
If the monastery gate happens to be locked, simply walk along the path to the right, past domestic monastic buildings, to gain access. The oldest church, whose dedicatee is unknown, was probably built in the 10th century. Inside it has beautifully carved window surrounds and an equally beautiful front to the altar dais with floral and linear designs.
(Photo: An elaborately carved stone outside Makaravank © Adrian Chan)
However, even this fine carving is wholly overshadowed by the amazing carving of the main Mother of God Church built in 1204 by Vardan, son of Prince Bazaz. The carving here is wonderful. In particular the front of this altar dais is covered with eight-pointed stars separated by octagons in each of which is a different elaborate design: a man in a boat, sphinxes, sirens, birds, floral arrangements and other unusual designs.
Outside there is more fine carving; the south façade has a sundial above the main window and a bird below it, while the smaller round windows each have a different intricate design. The gavit was added by Prince Vache Vachutian early in the 13th century. Plain outside except for a bull and lion fighting to the left of the door and a winged sphinx with a crown on its head to the right, it is a riot of carving inside.
Makaravank is situated on the slopes of Mount Paytatar © Adrian Chan
Adjoining the north side of the original church is the site of a bakery for making communion loaves. East of the main church is the small Mother of God Chapel, which is very unusual, being round in its lower part and octagonal in its upper part. It is surmounted by a round tambour. It was built in 1198 and like other parts of the complex has richly carved decoration.