Tatev Monastery

© Norayr Grigoryan, Unsplash

According to legend, the architect couldn’t get down when he finished the cupola of the main church. He cried out: ‘Togh astvats indz ta-tev’, which means ‘May God give me wings’. And so the monastery got its name.

Syunik’s best-known historical site, Tatev Monastery, is dramatically situated on the cliffs above a deep section of the Vorotan Gorge. Dating to the 9th century, its greatest importance was in the 14th and 15th centuries under Hovnan Vorotnetsi (1315–88) and Grigor Tatevatsi (1346–1411).

The date of the now-vanished first church at the monastery is unknown, but in 844 Bishop Davit persuaded the Princes of Syunik to grant lands which would support the founding of a monastery worthy to house the relics which the church in Syunik possessed. His successor, Bishop Ter-Hovhannes, built the main church, dedicated to Sts Paul and Peter between 895 and 906. (Incidentally, legend has it that the architect couldn’t get down when he finished the cupola, and cried out: ‘Togh astvats indz ta-tev’, which means ‘May God give me wings’ – and so the monastery got its name.) 

It is somewhat intermediate in style between the earlier domed basilica churches and the later cross-dome churches. The umbrella cupola is supported by an unusually tall decorated circular tambour. On the east façade, above the triangular niches, long snakes are looking at two heads while on the north façade, above a window, two shorter snakes are looking at a person: Armenians supposedly regarded snakes as protectors of their homes.

Tatev Monastery Armenia by © photostockam, Shutterstock
Tatev is undoubtedly one of Armenia’s most popular monasteries © photostockam, Shutterstock 

On the north façade are also representations of the founders of the church – Prince Ashot, his wife Shushan, Grigor Supan (the ruler of Gegharkunik), and Prince Dzagik. In 930, the walls of the church were decorated with frescoes but these have almost totally vanished except for some scant remnants in the apse, and the interior is now rather plain. Grigor Tatevatsi is buried inside the small chapel on the south side of the main church. His tomb is the highly decorated structure which abuts the church.