Must see attractions in Northern Armenia

  • Sights in Debed Canyon

    Haghpat Monastery

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

  • Sights in Debed Canyon

    Sanahin Monastery

    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.

  • Sights in Debed Canyon

    St Astvatsatsin Church

    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 century but had considerable additions in the 8th century. The current building features plenty of carved bas reliefs, a central cupola, a handsome external pillared arcade on its southern side and two 19th-century belfries. The unusual funerary monument next to it is thought to date from the 6th century. The priest lives nearby, and is always happy to show visitors through the church. He can often be found in the small garden cafe opposite, which serves tea, good Armenian coffee and home-made cakes. One and a half kilometres to the southeast of the church, at the edge of the canyon, is the three-chambered Horomayri Monastery, the well-camouflaged remnants of which are visible below the cliff on the right.

  • Sights in Debed Canyon

    Mikoyan Museum

    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 in the Politburo, outlasting even Stalin. Artyom was the designer of the USSR’s first jet fighter in WWII, the MiG. There’s an early MiG jet outside the museum (no climbing allowed!) and plenty of photos, medals, uniforms and aircraft plans and drawings inside. The museum also acts as a de facto information centre with details about hikes in the area. Find it downhill from Sanahin Monastery.

  • Sights in Debed Canyon

    Hovhannes Tumanyan House Museum

    Those who have already visited the Hovhannes Tumanyan Museum in Yerevan will find this timber house where he grew up interesting, but those unfamiliar with his life and work will find the lack of English-language labelling frustrating. The house itself gives an interesting glimpse into local life during the tsarist era. The museum is located near Dsegh's central square, which sports a statue of Tumanyan, a sculpture garden and a shop.