Sanahin Monastery

Northern Armenia

Sanahin is a World Heritage site packed with ancient graves, darkened chapels and medieval study halls. The inner sanctum of the cross-shaped Surp Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God Church) is the oldest structure, dating back to 934. Its adjoining gavit was built in 1181. In its heyday, the monastery was renowned for its school of illuminators and calligraphers and also for its medical school. Its name means ‘older than that one’, referring to nearby Haghpat Monastery.

Sanahin's large library (scriptorium) was built in 1063. Square in plan and vaulted, it has 10 niches of varying sizes in which codices and books were stored. At the southeastern corner of the library is a small church dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator. The 11th-century Academy of Gregory Magistros is located between the two main churches. The cemetery, located to the southeast of the main buildings, contains a 12th-century mausoleum housing the Zakarian princes.

Opened in 1978, a cable car was constructed to bring as many as 15 people at a time up to Sanahin. Unfortunately, it closed in 2015 and there are no plans to reopen it.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Northern Armenia attractions

1. Mikoyan Museum

0.19 MILES

This Soviet-era museum is a shrine to brothers Anastas and Artyom Mikoyan. Anastas was in charge of administering food in the USSR and survived 60 years…

2. Haghpat Monastery

2.41 MILES

Occupying a commanding position overlooking the gorge, this monastery has atmosphere and architectural splendour in spades. Founded around 976 by Queen…

3. St Astvatsatsin Church

3.81 MILES

Built on the site where legend tells us St Thomas buried Christ's swaddling clothes in the 1st century, the core of St Astvatsatsin dates from the 5th…

4. Kobayr Monastery

5.88 MILES

Perched above the hamlet of Kobayr is the 12th-century monastery of the same name. The main church has some partially restored Georgian-style frescoes and…

5. Akhtala Monastery

6.74 MILES

Akhtala, a small village 20km northeast of Alaverdi, has one major claim to fame: the magnificent frescoes in its 13th-century church. These include a…

6. Hovhannes Tumanyan House Museum

8.64 MILES

Those who have already visited the Hovhannes Tumanyan Museum in Yerevan will find this timber house where he grew up interesting, but those unfamiliar…

7. Hnevank

10.22 MILES

Travelling between Stepanavan and the Debed Canyon, one of two possible routes passes the monastery of Hnevank, located on a winding road 7km from Kurtan…

8. Lori Berd

13.62 MILES

On a promontory between the gorges of the Dzoragets and Miskhana Rivers, this ruined fortress has huge towers and massive stone blocks along its exposed…