Going to the Geghard Monastery is a big tour. You will see a whole monastery complex built in the rock, but before you get to the monastery itself, at the entrance you can experience the locale by browsing through all kinds of sweets, souvenirs and snacks. You will certainly want to buy gata -Armenian sweet bread, that is decorated with all kinds of scripts, including “Geghard.”
Monastery Dug into Rock
The Geghard Monastery was founded around 4th century, but the existing structures are dated back to the 12-13th centuries. According to an ancient legend, the spear that pierced Christ was brought to the Geghard Monastery.
The main monuments of the Geghard Monastery take up the middle of the monastery court thats surrounded by fortifications on three sides and blocked by a steep cliff on the fourth one.
The main structure of the monastery is the overground main church, built in 1219. It is distinguished by exuberant decoration, especially its southern portal, the rosette-embellished drum and the eastern elevation with plant-like ornaments. There are also a three-dimensional representation of animals and images of household articles, birds and animals.
To the west of the main church there is a rock-attached vestry; it is linked to the main church. It is called gavit in Armenian, an entrance hall used for teaching, meetings and for receiving pilgrims and visitors. There are pieces of bas-relief in the walls of the gavit. On one of them, there is a lion head with a chain in its jaws; the chain is slung around the necks of two lions with their heads turned to the viewer; instead of the tail tufts there are heads of upward-looking dragons; between the lions and below the chain, there is an eagle with half-spread wings and a lamb in its claws. These are symbolic images that had remained from the heathen traditions.
The main church is a roughly square chamber with the north side blocked by the rock wall that has two openings leading you into the churches cut into the rocks.
Nature or Nurture?
When you are inside the in-rock churches you might feel that nature has carved them into the hard rock. It feels magical inside the chambers knowing that you are inside the rock.
The first in-rock church is sometimes called Avazan (reservoir). You can enter it from the northeastern angle of the gavit. A reservoir is built at the northern wall of teh church, where underground waters, said to be sacred and medicinal, flow into. From the northeastern angle of the gavit you can walk into the second in-rock church called Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God). The most spacious in-rock chamber is the upper zhamatun dug into the rock on a level higher than the other in-rock churches. You can enter this chamber through the in-rock tunnel-corridor whose entrance is outside the rock wall of the Avazan Church.
An Outing to See Many Landmarks of Armenia
A trip to Geghard from Yerevan may take you 5-6 hours, but you can see the Garni Temple, an ancient bridge, the Havuts Tar Church, the Khosrov Reservation and two caves. By a taxi it will take you not more than an hour to get to Geghard. The fare will be about 2500 AMD (~6 USD). There are also minibuses running to Geghard from Bus Station on Gai Street in Yerevan.