Dadivank is notable for its exceedingly complex layout © Maria Oleinik

Dadivank, one of the largest medieval Christian monastery complexes in the region, is on the northern route to Armenia from Nagorno Karabagh. It is traditionally believed to be on the site of the grave of St Thaddeus who was martyred in the 1st century for preaching Christianity, ‘Dadi’ being a phonetic transposition of his name.

Although there was probably a church here by the 4th century, the oldest surviving remains date from the 9th century. The church was pillaged in 1145–46 by the Persians but reconstruction started in the 1170s. The monastery went into decline in the 18th century and the monastery estates were only half occupied when the Khan of Shushi invited the Kurds to move on to them from Yerevan. The late 18th century saw further Persian military action, and plague and famine in 1798 saw the final abandonment of the site.

The layout is exceedingly complex and there are buildings on two levels. The 9th-century church of St Thaddeus, built over his grave, is at the north side of the complex. Less than ideal restoration work following excavations has resulted in some loss of atmosphere from this ancient church. To its west lies a chapel resembling a gavit, said to be the burial vault of a princely dynasty, built in 1224. There are further contemporary buildings to the west. Southeast of St Thaddeus is the main cathedral which dates from 1214. The 16-sided tambour has graceful arcatures and the cupola is conical.

On both the south and east façades are two figures holding a model of the church. In front of it is a 14th-century arcaded gallery which extends as far as the belltower of 1283. New steps at the belltower enable the two intricately carved khachkars to be fully appreciated. To the south there is a small-domed church with circular tambour and a tiled dome; its date is uncertain. The restoration of this church is also somewhat insensitive but the remains of frescoes can still be seen high on the north wall.

On the lower level are the kitchen, refectory and wine press, as well as various accommodation quarters. The building with four round pillars on square bases is, according to an inscription of 1211, the temple. There is a spring at Dadivank, picnic tables, and a small shop above the site.