Built on a fairy-tale natural fortress of rock on the edge of the Vorotan Canyon, Tatev is as jaw-dropping as any of the World Heritage–listed churches in Lori. The views down the gorge reach to the peaks of Karabakh. The road to Tatev turns south of the main highway and reaches the northern edge of the gorge at Halidzor. Near the start of the descent is a gorgeous little cone-roofed stone shelter, at the end of a ridge; it’s well worth stopping to look.
At the bottom of the canyon are mineral springs and Satan’s Bridge. Legend tells that villagers fleeing to Tatev were blocked by the raging river. Before the invaders attacked, a bridge was magically created by a huge falling rock and the people were saved. The site includes two natural spring pools, so bring a swimsuit. Just past the second pool is a steep slope that leads down to the river. A rope and ladder are on hand to help you down, but it’s very dicey and potentially dangerous as you are putting your life in the hands of the rope. A caretaker may be on hand to help you down – if he is not then just forget it. If you do make it safely down the ladder, move to your right to find two limestone caves with rushing water and gorgeous pools. Local authorities are planning to build a staircase down to the caves but until then consider this a very dangerous little trip.
A steep climb up the south side turns left before Tatev village. The great fortified monastery’s main church of Surp Poghos-Petros (St Paul and St Peter) was built by the bishops of Syunik in the 9th century to house important relics. There are faint signs of frescoes, intricate carvings and portraits of the main donors on the northern side. The 11th-century Surp Grigor Church nestles next to it, and there’s a masterfully miniaturised chapel above the gatehouse. The fortifications, added in the 17th century, have been restored and are full of dining halls, towers and libraries. At the monastery’s peak some 600 monks lived and worked at Tatev, and national icon St Grigor Tatevatsi (St Gregory of Tatev, 1346–1409) is buried here.
In the courtyard, look for the 8m octagonal pillar topped by a khatchkar. The 9th century monument is said to have predicted seismic activity (or the roar of hooves by approaching armies) by shifting.
Just uphill from the monastery is a café and an Information Centre (
The scenery around Tatev is gorgeous and there is plenty of scope for short hikes. One trail leads to Svarants (population 100), a hamlet 30 minutes’ walk away on the other side of the valley. Another trail heads north to the top of Petroskhatch mountain, 4km away from Tatev (the round-trip hike takes under three hours).