Occupying a commanding position overlooking the gorge, this monastery has atmosphere and architectural splendour in spades. Founded around 966 by Queen Khosrvanuch, who funded construction of the domed Surp Nishan (Church of the Holy Cross) at the centre of the complex, it saw a building boom in the 12th and 13th century. Surp Nishan's frescoes and the porch, gavit, bell tower, library and chapter house were added at this time. The monastery's name means 'huge wall', acknowledging its hefty fortifications.
Other buildings in the complex include two 11th-century churches and a freestanding 13th-century gavit at the rear of the site. This has glorious acoustics and frames a magnificent view over the landscape. An inscription on Surp Nishan's gavit reads in part: ‘You who enter through its door and prostrate yourself before the Cross, in your prayers remember us and our royal ancestors, who rest at the door of the holy cathedral, in Jesus Christ.’