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 bishops of Syunik built the main church of Surp Poghos-Petros (St Paul and St Peter) 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 Surp 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.
Outside the main gate, have a look at a newly constructed oil press exhibit, an excellent display of seeds, tools and ancient machinery used in the process of oil extraction.
Just uphill from the monastery is a cafe and an Information Centre, run by the English-speaking Anna Arshakyan. This is the place to ask about hikes in the area or B&Bs where you can spend the night. More information can be found at www.tatev.org.
The scenery around Tatev is gorgeous and there is plenty of scope for short hikes. One trail leads to Svarants (population 250), a hamlet 20 minutes’ walk away on the other side of the valley. Another trail heads north to the top of Petroskhatch mountain, 4km from Tatev (the round-trip hike takes under three hours).
The most popular walk is downhill from Tatev to Mets Anapad, an overgrown 17th-century church. The cable car soars directly over Mets Anapad so you can get an idea of its location on the way up to Tatev.
The Information Centre has a copy of Hiking in Armenia, which describes this and other routes in the area. A knowledgeable hiking guide in Tatev is Saro Martirosyan
Another attraction in the area is Satan’s Bridge, located deep in the canyon below Tatev. Legend tells that centuries ago, villagers fleeing a rebel army 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. There are also beautiful natural pools and caves in the canyon below the bridge but at the time of research the canyon was off-limits. Local authorities plan to build a staircase down to the canyon.
Satan’s Bridge is on the road, halfway between the cable car and Tatev village.