The Vorotnavank monastery is located 4 kilometers east of the city of Sisian on the edge of the canyon of the Vorotan River. The road to it lies through picturesque mountain canyons. Due to the scarcity of vegetation and the harsh appearance, it seems that the monastery has not been visited for many years.
Ruben Hovhannisyan, a resident of Sisian, told us about the sights and the history of the monastery.
“The monastery of Vorotnavank is more than 1000 years old. It lived through a lot of raids and attacks of the Mongol-Tatars, Turks, and other nomads. It’s good that the defensive wall was preserved.
But to get into the monastery of Vorotnavank, you need to drive a few kilometers on a stony road, but beware of constant landslides that go along the slope of the canyon,” Hovhannisyan said, “The road is winding, not simple. Most tourists come here to get acquainted with the ancient temple.”
According to Hovhannisyan, earlier on this site was a Christian shrine built under Gregory the Illuminator (Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ) (252 – 326). The shrine was built in the form of a rectangular square and was decorated with cornices with ornamental motifs of vegetation and animals. Nowadays, this church is in ruins, and the broken basalt walls of small round or rectangular houses surround the entire territory of the fortress.
In the 10th century, the wife of the Syunik king Smbat, Queen Shahandukht, built the vaulted church of St. Stepanos not far from the ruins of the church of St. Gregory. Seven years later, her son built a nearby church of St. Karapet.
The complex became more extensive. It consisted of two churches, porches, and auxiliary buildings. Its high stone walls once defended this majestic complex from foreign invaders. Inside, there were workshops, warehouses, seminary, cemetery, and almshouses.
“The column in the courtyard symbolized that priests were ordained here while the kings and princes were crowned. Although Vorotnavank monastery is currently in ruins, everyone can walk along the roads of history and feel like a monk or a king,” Hovhannisyan said.
In the early Middle Ages, the monastery was an educational center and also a place of pilgrimage known for its miraculous power of healing through the bites of its snakes. In Vorotnavank, Hovanes Vorotnetsi (Հովհան Որոտնեցի), a great Armenian philosopher of the Middle Ages and the founder of Tatev Monastery, carried out his activities. This place was named after Vorotnetsi.
In 1931, Vorotnavank was badly damaged by an earthquake. Now, the monastery vividly represents the genius of Armenian architects.
“I am amazed by the engineers and builders of this complex. What combination of flairs, skills, and materials was this building constructed with? After so many years of destruction and earthquakes, the walls still withstand the load of the entire complex,” Hovhannisyan said.
“Not far from the monastery, there is an ancient bridge that is almost 200 years old. It is located under the ruins of the once powerful fortress of Vorotnaberd. The fortress was repeatedly attacked by the Seljuks, later by Tamerlane. Eventually, David Beck recaptured it. ”
And in fact, it is amazing how Vorotnavank has remained unharmed until now. One could say that the healing powers of the monastery have been the factor preserving it until today.
It is known that in addition to the church complex itself, a gallery was built inside, which served as a family crypt for the local princely family still keeps their remains.
Whom they belonged to, nobody knows, but we know one thing – the ancient monastic complex of Vorotnavank is surrounded by a wall with a magnificent view of the Vorotan valley. It strikes with its antiquity, architecture, and breathtaking views. So if you suddenly find yourself on the way to Sisian, do not forget to visit this unique place.