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  24/05/2017   3:25



Armenia Tourist Attractions
 Noravank
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Noravank: Magic Monastery of Armenia 

Noravank Monastery is one of the most spectacular tourist attractions in Armenia. This magic monastery is located in the south of Armenia - in Vayots Dzor province. NORAVANK means NEW MONASTERY in Armenian.

Noravank is situated in a narrow gorge made by Amaghu River and encircled by fantastic red rocks. The beauty of this monastery is appreciated by thousands of visitors not only because of it’s architecture and history, but also for it’s harmony with the surrounding fabulous nature.

Noravank Monastery is a masterpiece of the Armenian architecture. It was founded in the year 1205 by Bishop Hovhannes - the former abbot from Vahanavank Church.


In the 13-14 centuries Noravank was a residence for Armenian bishops from Syunik. It was residence also for Orbelian princes. Owing to its Orbelian benefactors, the monastery was also a fulcrum in the political developments of the time, its bishops influencing Mongol, Georgian and Orbeli decisions during in 14th c. One of its most famous bishops was Stepanos Orbelian, author of History of the State of Sisakan (ca. 1299), and largely responsible for forging the Syunik bishopric into a powerful political, cultural and religious center.

Mongols looted the monastery in 1238, but a truce between the Agha Khan and Prince Elikum Orbelian brought peace to the region and the chance to rebuild the monastery, establishing a new golden age that lasted until the Timurid invasions in the late 14th c. Noravank was a major cultural center of its time, closely tied to spiritual and educational centers like the universities and manuscriptoriums at Gladzor and Tatev Monastery, among others.

Noravank Monastery is connected to the sculptural work of one of the most prolific and accomplished Armenian figures of the Middle Ages, the artist, architect and sculptor Momik (1250 -1339).


Armenian Architect Momik

Momik began his career as an artist of manuscript miniatures in Cilicia (Kilikia), where he was exposed to the art of the late gothic style, introduced by crusaders. In 1299 bishop Stepanos Orbelian brought Momik to Vayots Dzor, where he quickly found fame, especially for his sculptural work, creating khachkars (stone crosses) that are among the greatest of its time.

Momik was the architect and sculptural artist for St. Astvatsatsin in nearby Areni (1321), the same year he created the exquisite bas relief sculptures over the gavit portal at Noravank. He also added a number of khachkars to both complexes, which are stilt considered masterpieces of the art form. His last work Was at Noravank, where he created the Orbelian sepulchre church of Astvatsatsin ("Burtelashen"), two striking bas relief sculptures on its west and south walls, and a small, simple khachkar for his tomb, which is at the south side of the building.

Noravank Monastery Complex

The Noravank Monastery Complex includes the 1339 St. Astvatsatsin (Burtelashen) sepulchre-church, St. Stepanos Nakhaveka and gavit, the St. Grigor Church and Orbelian Sepulchre, the remains of medieval apels and residential quarters and a modern office and hall.

The semicircular tympanum of the entrance has a relief with the icon of the Blessed Virgin with baby Christ and two saints facing her. The saints are pictured narrow-eyed so as to please the Mongols who conquered Armenia in 1236 and thus save the monastery.

In the corners of the inner framing there are four sirens, birds with crowned human heads. Such heraldic symbols were widely used in medieval Armenian art, in carvings, miniatures, embroidery, jewelry, pottery and ceramic ware. The exact origin of the siren symbol is unknown, but examples have been uncovered in Urartian, Phrygian and Greek excavations, and they are mentioned in the Bible, Indian mythology and even in the Greek myth of the Golden Fleece. They are also widely used in heraldic emblems and on church carvings throughout medieval Europe and the Near East.

The tympanum bas relief sculptures were both done by Momik, at the same time as the church (1339). The lower relief depicts an enthroned Holy Virgin with the Christ child in her lap, flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Michael. The Armenian letters on either side of Mary's head are meant to read "Mair Astvatsatsin" or "Mother of God”. Akin to high gothic sculptures of the period, the scene combines iconic poses with lifelike folds in the garments and a beginning sense of perspective. The child's figure is especially expressive in the way his legs cross and in the movement of his arms.

Noravank: St. Astvatsatsin Church (BURTEIASHEN) and Momik Grave

This impressive three story building is the first church you reach entering the complex from the main entry, though it is not the main church. Burteiashen (also spelled Burteghashen; "built for Burtel") was built for prince Burtel (Burtegh) Orbelian, who reigned in Syunik in the early-mid 14th c.
The building is considered a masterpiece, and was the last significant work by the 14th century artist, sculptor and architect Momik, whose simple grave lies next to the church on its south side. Astvatsatsin follows the same layout as that of its contemporary in nearby Areni Village, which was decorated by Momik. Momik's design like othes of its type is similar to the Shepherd.

The enclosed first floor was reserved for the family tombs, marked by elaborately carved khachkars (stone crosses) and votive plates. There are four small carvings representing the evangelists in the corners of the support system pendentives. Leaning against the western wall are two large khachkars; the one on the left is attributed to Momik, early 13th c.

Narrow cantilever stairs above the western entry lead to the second floor, the hall of which has a semicircular apse on the east end, above which is carved an effigy of Christ flanked by two angels and a symbol of the Holy Sprit just above the east window.
The dome is supported by an open air rotunda, which both brightens the hall inside while its relatively light weight allowed builders to top the church with an extremely tall feature. Rotunda details include pairs of birds above each of the exterior capitals of the 12 support columns, and carvings of the donors on three columns on the western side.

The facade of the church has bas relief sculptures worked within the stone facing. Bas relief sculptures predominate on each wall, breaking up the wall mass with rounded moldings, arches and large crosses. The east wall has stepped framing over the top heraldic emblem of the Orbelian family, with three cross designs underneath, the central surrounding a sun disc ornament. The north and south walls frame windows with rounded moldings forming an arch over large crosses and bas relief columns that lighten the effect of the monolithic lower walls.

The tympanum bas relief sculptures were both done by Momik, at the same time as the church (1339). The lower relief depicts an enthroned Holy Virgin with the Christ child in her lap, flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Michael. The Armenian letters on either side of Mary's head are meant to read "Mayr Astvatsatsin" or "Mother of God". Akin to high gothic sculptures of the period, the scene combines iconic poses with lifelike folds in the garments and a beginning sense of perspective. The child's figure is especially expressive in the way his legs cross and in the movement of his arms.

The upper relief carving depicts Christ holding a tablet with his right index and middle finger extended in a sign of blessing. He is flanked by St. Petros and St. Poghos (Peter and Paul). The Armenian letters on either side of the Christ head stand for "Isus Kristos" (Jesus Christ). Like the lower carving, the figures in the lower scene stand out from their background in an almost three-dimensional way. Momik had so mastered his craft he was able to project his figures out from the stone, and may have been experimenting with a complete separation of statuary in these, his last carvings.

Above the doorway arch, in the top frame, an inscription reads "ՉԸԹ", which means "In the year (ԹՎ) 789 ՉԸԹ” the date of the church's consecration using Mesrop Mashtots' method for counting, where each letter in the Armenian alphabet had a numerical value. The dating is in the old style calendar, which changed to the "new style" in 550. To fix the date in our calendar, add 551 (the first year of the new calendar) to medieval Armenian dates. Thus, St. Astvatsatsin was consecrated in the year (789 + 551) 1339 of the new calendar.


Noravank: St. Stepanos Church

The main church of St. Stepanos was built for Prince Liparit Orbelian (1216-1221). An earthquake destroyed the original dome and the building was rebuilt at least twice.

The church is a domed cruciform with two story annexes in the comers. The second story chambers were used by monks for prayer, study and to create manuscripts, while lower chambers were used as shrines, vestry and to keep the church treasury.

St. Stepanos domed church, the main building in the complex, was rebuilt by the architect Siranes on the initiative of Prince Smbat Orbelian, in 1261. An earthquake in 1321 damaged the building, and was rebuilt possibly by Momik, who had just finished Astvatsatsin Church in neighboring Areni.

An 1840 earthquake destroyed St. Stepanos' dome and damaged the complex. Remaining foundations include part of the old wall, chapels, monk quarters and the academy.

The 1931 Syunik Earthquake destroyed much of the site, including the dome of St. Stepanos. Repairs to the roof of the church were made in 1948-1949, with a renovation of the entire complex begun in the 1980s and completed in 2001.


Noravank: St. Karapet Church

This small basilica church (9th c) that adjoins the southern wall of the large St. Stepanos and is still in ruins. It is the oldest structure in the complex; according to the historian Stepanos Orbelian, the history of Noravank dates back to as early as the 4th and 5th centuries, where the churches of St.Pokasanda St. Karapet were located.

Remains include a three step platform, traces of three arches that supported a vaulted roof, and a southern antechamber. Built from rough blocks of stone, the church was plastered over and thought to have had frescoes, none of which survive.

The surviving arches are extensions of the north wall, and built from multi-color tufa stone. The arches show the vaulting ran perpendicular to the eastern apse, unusual for the period and pointed out by some to show a more ancient lineage. However, the use of the round arch, once reserved for secular buildings, became a feature of early medieval Near East, Byzantine and Romanesque Church architecture, making St. Karapet's arches and vaulting typical for Christian structures of its time.

The space was very small; no more than a handful of worshippers would have been able to fit into the space at a time, suggesting it was reserved primarily for the clergy, and acted as a shrine.

St. Karapet anchored a monastery that was renowned for its art works; the famous Echmiadzin Gospel of 989 was created at the site when the church was still standing, one of the relatively few manuscripts that survive from this period.

There are a number of old gravestones in front of the old church carved with a small hole at one end. Their reason has been variously explained; one thought being they may have been used for burning incense, others suggesting the stones may in fact be prehistoric in nature. One noticeable stone shows a prone lion, dedicated to a certain Sargis. This type of grave is called a "medal" grave, the lion symbolizing the bravery of the deceased in battle. The inscription reads: "Here rests Sargis, like a victorious lion in battle, a son of Palka. May he be remembered in my prayers".


Khachkars of Noravank

There are some exquisitely carved khachkars (stone crosses) and khachkar fragments on the south side of the old church. The elaborate khachkars at Noravank include masterpiece works by Momik and his students, considered among the best Armenian carvings of the medieval period. Taught in Cilicia (Kilikia) and exposed to the Gothic Art of Europe via the Crusades, Momik introduced a plasticity and life to his carvings that were revolutionary for the time. He infused his works with extraordinary detail and patterns borrowed from the Near East while lifting his figures from the surface of the stone in a way that was never before seen.

Khachkars hold a special place in Armenian history, worshipped by pilgrims from the very beginning of their tradition. Their iconography is specific, combining the central Cross with a Tree of Life (a figure borrowed from Assyria and Sumeria) and geometric patterning. Sometimes the cross is depicted on top of an elaborate sun symbol, perhaps the oldest worship symbol in Armenian history.

Other khachkars (a few of which are at Noravank) combine the central message of the Resurrection and the Second Coming with carvings of specific saints or martyrs, who were believed to bring a special intercession to those who prayed before their stones. These include khachkars dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, St. Sargis (Sergius), Gevorg (George), Poghos (Paul), Petros (Peter), Stepanos (Stephan), Hovhannes (John), and Grigor (Gregory). A few include the phrase "Lord Jesus on this" in the inscription.

Following this tradition, khachkars dedicated to the Holy Mother of God sustain families and mothers white St Gevorg  Khachkars give strength and courage to soldiers and All-Savior  (Amenaprkich) Khachkars cure various ailments.


Noravank: Gavit

The Noravank gavit lies to the west of the main church of St. Stepanos, and was its formal entrance, an academy, manuscriptorium, and community center. The first gavit was built immediately after the church, and rebuilt in 1261 by the architect Siranes for Prince Smbat Orbelian. Following the 1321 earthquake, the gavit was rebuilt, possibly by Momik, adding a vaulted roof and two of Momik's most outstanding carvings on the tympanum for the door and the upper window arch.
Gavit Interior

About three meters of the walls survive from the original gavit. On them are written inscriptions carved between 1232, to 1256. The building was rebuilt in 1261 for Smbat Orbelian, by the architect Siranes, replacing the wooden roof with a new stone roof in the shape of an enormous tent with a central opening, its design mimicking the wooden roof styles of peasant homes (the "hazarashen"). The roof was replaced again in 1321.

Unique among gavits, there are no central columns to support the roof; wall piers and semi columns bear the entire weight of the support arches. The structure relies on the thickness of the walls and the pier system to keep the roof from collapsing, which explains why it did collapse in later earthquakes. The interior walls are lined with khachkars (stone crosses) and carvings. In the upper northeast comer there is a carving of a figure on a horse attacking a wild lion with his sword. The figure is allegorical, depicting an Orbelian prince.


Lower Sculpture in Noravank

The lower sculpture is of a seated Madonna and Child, set against a richly carved backdrop with large letters interwoven with floral designs of leaves, vines and flowers. Two saints gazing on the central figures, whose pose is typical of medieval figural carvings, while the rich embroidery especially of the throne cloth incorporates Armenian detailing into the design.


Upper Sculpture (GOD and ADAM) in Noravank

The upper window sculpture is a unique creation of God, Adam, Christ and biblical figures. The large carving is deeply engraved, lifting the figures off the background. As opposed to European artists who made associative depictions of the Holy Father (the right hand, a ray of light, etc.) the author of this magnificent sculpture (assumed to be the master Momik) depicted him in human form, as a bearded man. The scene shows God with His right hand lifted above a miniature scene of the crucified Christ, flanked by the Blessed Virgin and John the Evangelist and above the prone figure of the prophet Daniel.

God's left hand cradles the head of Adam receiving a breath of life from the Holy Spirit (the dove). For medieval Armenians (the vast majority who could not read), the meaning of this stone "picture book" was clear (God gave life with Adam, and then he gave life everlasting with the sacrifice of his son) and compellingly depicted.

This carving shows Momik at the height of his artistic powers, its deep carving said to have been done in part because of his deteriorating eyesight. As opposed to his earlier work at Areni and Gladzor, these relief sculptures fill their tympanums with figures and inscription, and their interplay creates a rhythmic tension that is echoed throughout the building.


Outer Tombstones in Noravank

Outside the gavit there are a number of tombstones paving the ground. Note those with large carefully carved holes; the holes resemble those found on Bronze Age standing stones that can be found throughout the region. A number of these stones are also inside the gavit and the churches. Standing stones were sometimes converted to khachkars and grave stones in later centuries, their use in cromlechs and ancient observatories granting them a special status by later generations that had long forgotten their original use.



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