Marmashen Monastery

Marmashen is unusual for an Armenian monastery as it is situated within a valley © yug, Shutterstock

Located off the main tourist trail, the beautiful monastery of Marmashen sees fewer visitors than other churches in Armenia.

The monastery of Marmashen is beautifully situated in the valley of the Akhurian River, unlike most Armenian monasteries which tend to be sited in elevated positions. It is not on a main tourist route, so sees relatively few foreign visitors. In Vahramaberd turn sharp left on to a dirt road between fields. The road descends into the valley. The monastery can be seen below the road, picturesquely situated by the river and a small reservoir, and surrounded by fruit trees. 

Three churches survive, the foundations of a fourth have been uncovered and the remains of many more buildings can be seen, as can parts of the surrounding wall, particularly on the northwest side. The main church, St Stephen, was built between 986 and 1029 in red tuff and is in the style of those at Ani, the former capital. It is particularly elegant with decorative arcatures on each façade and columns supporting the corners of the umbrella cupola.

Inside, the front of the altar has been restored using the original carved stones where possible but supplemented as necessary with other stones found on the site. Much restoration has been expertly carried out, funded by an Italian-Armenian couple who went to the length of having experiments carried out in Italy to find an ideal mortar to repair the stonework.

The church had a 13th-century gavit on the west, its position clearly visible on the church’s west façade. The 10th-century church, St Peter, to the north of the main church is now roofless. The church on the south side, Mother of God, is rather like a smaller version of the main one.

The foundations of the fourth church, circular and much earlier, lie further west. It was a four-apse church with a small room off each apse. There is a good array of khachkars, those marking the graves of men in front of the main church, those of women to the sides and back. On the small hill to the north of the churches is an extensive cemetery and a ruined chapel.