Once the summer residence of the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, the still-functioning Harichavank is located in the old town of Harich, about 4km from the town of Artik. Its chapel dates from the 7th or 8th century but was dramatically expanded with the addition of a gavit (antechamber) and domes in the 13th century. There is some beautiful geometric stonework over the main church door and around the dome of the gavit.

If you ask, the church’s caretaker can point out the anteroom/storeroom with a hole in the ceiling leading to a secret upstairs room. During times of invasion, the room was used to house women and children and sometimes even important local officials. A stone would be fitted exactly into the ceiling hole once everyone had climbed to safety.

Direct buses depart Gyumri’s bus station for Harichavank (AMD400, 50 minutes) a few times daily. If you have your own vehicle, the monastery is about 15km off the main Yerevan–Gyumri road.

When you are in the area, consider checking out the well-preserved 7th-century Lmbatavank church on a hilltop (open 10am to 6.30pm) southwest of Artik; it contains important early frescoes.

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