Medieval Armenian monasteries are an integral element of the Armenian landscape – they are merging with the mountains in such a way that they cannot be distinguished from afar. Position, proportions, color – all fit the local landscape.
Vorotnavank located near the town of Sisian, Syunik Province, is one of the creations of Armenian architectonics – it seems to have grown into a small cape wedged into the gorge of the Vorotan River.
Once the center of religious thought, the monastery is abandoned today – bells do not ring here, and no services are held. The monastery is included in some tourist routes, but not as often as it deserves.
The Tatev Monastery located further down the gorge overshadowed Vorotnavank with its fame. But it was in Vorotnavank that Grigor Tatevatsi, founder of the Tatev Monastery, wrote and translated Latin treatises, devoting his work to his teacher Hovhan Vorotnetsi.
The history of Vorotnavank dates back to the Baptist of Armenia Gregory the Illuminator. According to historian Stepanos Orbelian, the first church in Armenia – the St. Gregory Church – was founded here by the Illuminator himself in the 4th century. At some point, it would be rebuilt by hermit Father Stepanos. The church has served as a place of pilgrimage – it has been renowned for its magical ability to heal snakebites.
In 1000, the wife of Syunik ruler Smbat Orbelian Queen Shahandukht (from the Bagratid dynasty) built the vaulted church of St. Stepanos near the ruins of the St. Gregory Church. The church had two chapels, a prayer hall, and a vestibule.
In the courtyard of the monastery, Queen Shahandukht installed an octagonal column similar to the one in the courtyard of the Tatev monastery. The column – a symbol of episcopal authority – indicates that monks have been ordained and princes have been crowned in this monastery.
Unfortunately, the column was destroyed in an earthquake in 1931.
In 1007, Prince Sevada, the youngest son of Shahandukht and brother of Syunik ruler Vasak, built the Surb Karapet Church.
This was a cross-domed temple with three altars. The church was decorated with frescoes. One of the church fragments restored in 2011 by Belgian restorer Christine L’Amour depicts a starry blue sky with an angel in the center.
Porches used to be attached to both churches, serving as the family burial vault of local princes. The founders of the monastery, Shahandukht and Sevada, are still buried here.
The monastery survived the invasion of the Seljuk Turks and the Tatar-Mongols led by Tamerlane. After that, it would be renovated more than once but would be badly damaged by the 1931 earthquake. The most recent restoration works in the Vorotnavank monastery were carried out in 2013.
Not far from the monastery is a bridge built in 1885 by Melik Tangi, over which the Vorotnaberd fortress, popularly referred to as the David Bek fortress, rises.