Some consider Armenia a museum in the open air due to the country’s rich culture, architecture, and sights. Monasteries and temples are an integral part of its culture.
Here, we have 10 outstandingly beautiful and important structures, which at one time served as religious and culture centers of whole villages and cities. Mostly, their names are forgotten by now.
The Tatev Desert Monastery
This monastery is located near the Tatev village in the Syunik Province, Armenia. It was built in the 17th century after the degradation of the Kharants desert. The main building of the complex is the Surb Astvatsatsin church, which is a three-nave basilica with a portico on its western side.
The year “1663” is inscribed above the entrance of the church, which is probably the year the monastic complex was built in. A small covered crypt is located in the northern parts of the building.
The Tatev Desert Monastery is one of the most notable and important complexes of the late medieval Armenian architecture. The complex was used as an outpost during the liberation movement organized by David Bek in the 18th century. Although the complex was damaged by an earthquake in 1930, it is quite well-preserved today.
The Khuchap Monastery
The Khuchap Monastery is located near the Privolnoye village of the Lori Province. It was built in the 13th century. The main building of the complex, the dome church, was constructed with felsic tuff stones.
To the sides of the church’s apse are two-story chapels. Their top stories were used as caches, which had secret passages as well. The right chapel has preserved old frescos. Unfortunately, the monastery is now abandoned.
The Kobayr Monastery
Kobayr is yet another medieval Armenian monastery located not too far away from the city of Tumanyan of the Lori Province. The complex is positioned on a slope of a mountain above the canyon of the Debed River. The 11th-century monastery includes one central cathedral, two chapels, a belt tower-burial vault, a refectory, and a cemetery. The main entrance of the complex is an open hall with round towers forming a tunnel.
In the light of historical events, the complex at some point was passed to the neighboring Georgian Bagratid kingdom.
The Kobayr Monastery is a prominent example of Armenian medieval architecture. Despite the current half-ruined condition, the monastery has preserved Armenian and Georgian frescos.
The Zorats Tachar Temple
Zorats Tachar is the widely accepted name of the 13th-century Surb Stepanos temple. It is located west of the Yeghegis village of the Vayots Dzor Province.
The architectural appearance of the temple is quite unique for the Armenian architectonics. One reason for that is that it only has one apse. Besides, the prayers were standing out in the open during services.
It is noteworthy that the Armenian soldiers took an oath exactly here before their battles. The territory of the temple is rich in khachkars as well.
The Tsaghats Kar Monastery
This abandoned monastery is located in the same area as the Zorats Tachar temple. This 10th-century complex has two buildings, the Surb Hovhannes and Surb Karapet Churches.
The wall of the main entrance is decorated with images of pomegranates and grapes. The interior of the churches has well-preserved frescos. Tsaghats Kar once was a local cultural center. Today, the complex is half ruined and needs some restoration works.
The Arakelots Monastery
The Arakelots Monastery is located on a picturesque hill near the village of Ajakurt of the Tavush Province. Little to no information about the monastery has reached us. It is only known that it was built in the 13th century.
The monastic complex includes one small and one bigger church. Besides, several buildings on the territory of the monastery testify that the Arakelots temple has once been in a center of a densely populated area. There are numerous khachkars here as well.
The Kirants Monastery
Within easy reach of the Arakelots Monastery is another one named Kirants, which is located in the village of the same name. Like its neighbor, the Kirants Monastery was built in the 13th century.
The complex is comprised of three brick churches. The main church has dome construction. To the sides of its altar are chapels. The vertical drum is ornamented with colorful glazed tiles with images of stars and the moon. Two smaller churches adjoin the main building from the north and south. The interior of the main church and the refectory is decorated with frescos.
The Kakavaberd Fortress
Also known as Geghi Berd, Kakavaberd is a fortress located on a ridge with a view of the canyon of the Azat River in the Khosrov Forest State Reserve. The fortress was mentioned for the first time by Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi in the 9th-10th centuries. According to him, the fortress belonged to the Bagratuni dynasty.
The rugged terrain makes the Kakavaberd Fortress inaccessible from three sides. To get to the fortress, one would need to drive and then walk for quite a long time.
The Artavazik Church
1km west of the Byurakan village in the Aragatsotn Province is the Artavazik Church, which was built in the 7th century. The church is of crossed-dome architectural style. Its eastern wing is semicircular while the rest are rectangular.
There is a small chapel in the northeastern corner of the church. In the 13th century, a bell tower was attached to the western side of the church’s roof. A huge 13th-century khachkar is located nearby. Today, the church is partially ruined.
The Akhtala Monastery
The Akhtala monastic complex and fortress is located in the canyon of the Debed River at the foothills of the Lalvar Mount. The complex was constructed in the 10th century and was mostly used as one of the outposts of the Kingdom of Tashir-Dzoraget. Before the 14th century, the complex was known as Pghindzavank (Armenian: Պղնձավանք, English: Coppermine Monastery). The main temple has frescos in a quite good condition. Above the altar is an image of the Mother of God with her Child.