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  25/02/2018   0:09

Armenia Tourist Attractions
 Tatev Monastery
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Tatev: marvel of architecture and nature

Tatev Monastery (Tatev) is a masterpiece of confluence of ingenious medieval architecture and fabulous nature of Armenia. There is no doubt, that Tatev is one of the most spectacular tourist attractions on the Planet. Tatev was also widely regarded as one of the most famous spiritual and educational centers of the Middle Ages.

Tatev Monastery is located in the southern part of Armenia (Syunik region), on the edge of a giant gorge. The walls of the monastery Tatev seem a natural extension of the rock that raises it so high. The road to the monastery goes through a gorge with very steep slopes.

The road to the monastery goes through a gorge with very steep slopes. At the bottom of the gorge is the rough Vorotan River that goes a few dozen meters into the cliffs. Nature here is both mysterious and wonderful. Visitors can reach Tatev Monastery by car (or small bus) through the gorge, or by cable car. Super-modern cable car of Tatev is the longest in the world (5.7 km) and registered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The longest non-stop double track cable car is 5,752 m (18,871 ft) and was achieved by the Tatev Aerial Tramway in collaboration with National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, in Tatev, Armenia, on 16 October 2010. An incredible view - merge of heaven and earth opens from the cabin of cable car, from height of 320 m above the gorge.

Syuzi Azoyan - happy for Tatev cable carArmenia cable car in TatevTatev ropeway stationTatev ropeway

Tatev Monastery seems enormous and unattainable to all those who look at it. On the southwest is the sky-piercing peak of the mountain that bears the name of the chief pagan Armenian god, Aramazd. There are stories that some hidden passages in Tatev can take one to the very bottom of the gorge and then lead up to the other side of the gorge. Tatev is very impressive, as though soaring over the surrounding mountains. The maze of narrow passages that lead from large halls to a range of buildings in various destinations that becomes faintly visible from their outlines. There are rock stairways everywhere, an archway that takes one’s breath away when approached, because the land disappears and an abyss expands underneath, somewhere far deep the river flows and velvet-green hills tower up crowding each other. To those who have first climbed up to Tatev, it seams that it is on top of the world and that there truly is not a place higher than Aramazd.

The plateau on which Tatev Monastery is erected is a matchless miracle created by nature. Prior to the Christian era, Pagan temples were built on this plateau.

Tatev: origin of the name

There are many stories as to how the name for Tatev Monastery originated. One of which is that when the construction of the main church was completed, and it was time for placing the cross on the dome, one of the students prepared a cross, which corresponded to the church in its beauty. He then attempted to secretly place it on the dome in the middle of the night. However, he did not manage to come down unnoticed by his master. When he saw his enraged master he threw himself into the abyss asking God for wings (“tal tev”- “to give wings”). According to a second story, it was a group of endangered Christians who asked God for wings: “tev”.


Tatev Monastery: construction & architecture

St. Grigor Lusavorich (the Illuminator), which was built by Prince Philip in 848, was the first church. However, it was destroyed during the invasion of the Seljuk-Turks. It was reconstructed in 1138 and was once again destroyed by an earthquake. In 1295, in the same place, a similar church of the same architectural style (one arched hall and semi-circle alter) with a vestibule from the backside was built with the same name: Grigor the Illuminator. St. Grigor the Illuminator church is located southeast from the main church.

In the context of exterior simplicity of the architecture of the church, the cross-shaped paired windows on the eastern façade and the western entrances are outstanding. The main church of the monastery is the St. Poghos-Petros (Paul-Peter) church. It was founded next to St. Grigor the Illuminator from 895 to 906. In 895, Father John with the support of the Syunik Prince Ashot and his wife, Shushan, destroyed the old church and built a new one in its place. He took out the relics of Poghos (Paul) and Petros (Peter) from the walls of the old church and put them into the newly built church.

Tatev Monastery ArmeniaTatev ChandelierInside Poghos-Petros Church in TatevLighting candles in Tatev Monastery

Along the external perimeter of the church, both on the eastern and the western sides, sacristies with semicircle niches are placed. Though it has a composition similar to a dome basilica, it has its differences. In the rectangular prayer hall, 3m from the main altar there is only a pair of dome pylons. From the western side, the corners of the sacristy of the prayer hall play the same role. The architectural solution to the above mentioned double pylon version, which was an innovation at the time came forth. The earthquake of the 1138 destroyed the initial dome of the church; it was restored in 1274.

The main entrance to the cathedral is on the western side. There is another entrance from the southern side, and during the later ages a chapel was built over it. The windows are rather large, which was typical in the middle Ages. The windows above have chiseled images of people, which are of particular interest. From both sides serpents are directing their heads towards these images (protective meaning is ascribed to snakes).

At the end of the last century the old destroyed bell-house was replaced by a new bell-house that is located on the western side.

In 930, by the initiative of Father Hakob Dvinetsi, the internal walls of the cathedral were covered by frescos, some of which were painted by foreign painters. These frescos of high esthetic value have been partly preserved. The fresco on the western wall, “The Judgment Day” and the mural on the northern wall, “Christ’s Birth” was of particular significance.

The next church of the monastery, St. Astvatsatsin (Godmother), is under vault chambers (presumably burial vaults) in the northeast corner of the monastery. The church was built in 1087 when the senior priest of the monastery was Father Grigor. As the church was located on a height it also served as an observation post.

Along all sides of the rectangular outline, except the western side, a structure with two alcoves and without sacristies is built. The entrance is from the west. The internal architecture is typical considering the time period. It has a high dome cylinder that is elevated over the façade and is adorned with simple architectural solutions; it is covered by ornamental patters, and embraces two semicolons that are crowned by a plicate mantle.  

Stick-Column of Tatev

One of the renowned structures of Tatev Monastery is the “Stick-Column” or the “Vardapet Stick” (Archimandrite Stick), which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. It was erected in an octagon crevice bordered by rocks. The “Vardapet Stick” has three parts and is about 6 meters high. The first and second parts of the monument end with cornices, which form a solid rocky pedestal for the third part which is a cross stone.

From architectural point of view the column is of exceptional importance. The column has a rocky covering and lime-concrete core and is resistant to any whims of nature and even jolts. However, because of this, it is mostly known as the “Tilting column”. This unprecedented phenomenon still begs for an explanation. Some scientists believe it is because of swing joints at the base of the column, while others believe that the column can be tilted thanks to the shape of the bottom of the column. It is believed that the column was at one time known as “Vardapet Stick” because the seminary students took their exams near the column. If the columns started to tilt from their impressive voices, from their religious songs (sharakans), they were ordained to various religious dignities: priest, deacon, celibate priest, etc. The column also served as a system of notification that tilted, and warned them of approaching troops belonging to the enemy.

TatevTatevTatevTatevTatevTatev Basement of Tatev stick-columnPoghos-Petros main Church in Tatev

Tatev: civilian facilities

During the later ages (from the XVII to the XVIII centuries) a range of public buildings, such as a library and a religious seminary, were built within the protected territory of the monastery. The refectory table, with rocky seats for 80 people, is very well known. The communal buildings were in the southern part of the monastery complex. The dwelling of the abbot and the cells of some of the monks were in this part of the monastery. The walls of these cells are basically the continuation of the Tatev gorge and their balconies are hanging right over the precipice.     

In addition to these mundane and religious buildings, which were built inside the ramparts, there were other buildings such as the threshing-floor, the barn, the bathhouse, the school, and the dairy, that were built outside. From these later ones only the dairy has been preserved.

Fr. Mikayel in TatevTatev Monastery roomsTatev candlesArmenian Flag in Tatev Monastery

Tatev: cultural and educational activities

Tatev monastery was famous not only for its beauty, grandeur, inaccessibility and for its unique natural location, but also its significant cultural and enlightenment activities.

In the XIV-XV centuries, foreigners constantly invaded Armenia. The exhausting wars led the country to political and cultural crisis. Only the Syunik Kingdom, thanks to its geographical location, was able to temporarily maintain its stability and prevent cultural decline. In the XIV century a university was created adjacent to the Tatev Monastery. Many subjects, including theology, humanitarian, sciences, creative writing, miniature, and music were taught in the university.
The founder of this famous source of written Armenian language and culture was Hovnan Vorotnetsi (1315 -1386) a graduate of Gladzor University. After Gladzor University stopped to function, he moved to Vorotnavank and pursued the task of creating a new school. Since the princely family supported him, the Orbelians moved to Tatev (in the 1340’s) and committed himself to educating. Within a short period the school of Vorotnetsi, changed into a complete university. People came to study in Tatev from all over Armenia, Cilicia, and other places that had Armenian population.

The fascinating growth of Tatev University reached its peak by the guidance of Grigor Tatevatsi (1346 to 1409) a talented student of Vorotnetsi. Grigor Tatevatsi’s time was the most productive and flourishing time during all of this university’s life. Immense gratitude is given to these talented men and their students who have left an unimaginably great scientific heritage behind, for which the university became a major scientific-cultural center in its time. The university is more impressive when the political situation during that time is taken into consideration; monks, and seminary students were forced by foreign invaders to live like wanderers. Tatev University had a major influence on social life and was able to make a nation-wide campaign against Unitarian sectarian movement. The heads and students of the university had great commitment in relocating the Catholicos’s Chair to Echmiadzin from Sis (1441). This relocation was one of the greatest events in Armenia during these times.

After Grigor Tatevatsi, who was canonized for his patriotic deeds, Tatev University started to lose its significance. Although the new leaders of the university Matevos Jughayetsi, Mkhitar Tatevatsi, etc. made large commitments, Tatev University started to weaken. In the 20’s of the XV century it finally shut down, due to continuous complications of political and economic conditions in the country.

Tatev University and the schools led by it, protected the cultural traditions of the past and made considerable amount of investments in the treasury of medieval Armenian culture for eight centuries.

Tatev monastery is a masterpiece of architectural school of Armenia and, in particular, Syunik region. It is in good harmony with the majestic mountains around - an incomparable sample of human creative talent.


Dzit-han means oil mill in Armenian. Dzit-han of Tatev Monastery was restored in 2010 under the Tatev Revival Project. The project was support by number of Armenian philanthropists from the Armenian Diaspora and by the Government of Armenia.

The Tatev Oil Mill is Armenia's most beautifully designed traditional oil mill. Truly a unique artifact, it takes visitors back hundreds of years and offers insight into Armenia's monastic, culinary and cultural heritage.

Once the primary source of oil for several villages surrounding Tatev Monastery, the 17th century oil mill has undergone some natural damage over the centuries, but it is now fully restored as an interactive museum, allowing visitors to understand the fascinating mechanics of medieval Armenian oil extraction.

The oil mill, or dzit-han as it is known in Armenian (literally "oil-extractor") was one of the most prominent of its time and was known for its high-quality engineering. It primarily produced flaxseed and rapeseed oil, though Armenian oil mills of its kind also commonly produced sesame oil from sesame, hemp and other plants. Although part of the Tatev complex, the oil mill was actually built outside its walls so that private clients could access it without disturbing the serenity of monastic life.

To accomplish the sound and historically accurate restoration of the oil mill, a group of professionals, including local and international experts in the fields of restoration, architecture, archaeology, and ethnography were involved in the planning and execution of the project. During the excavation phase, a second pressing room was discovered, which is extremely rare for oil mills of its kind. This has led expert to reevaluate their theories about the extent of the dzit-han's contribution to the monastery's economy.

The second pressing room has now been restored, bringing the dzit-han back to its original appearance. Several artifacts were found during the excavation, including the clay pots which held the oil and hand-made metallic parts which connected the huge pressing beams. Discreet information panels have been incorporated into the design of the restored oil mill so that visitors can learn its history and understand its mechanics.

Tatev Oil MillOil Mill Tatev MonasteryTatev Dzit-HanDzit-Han Tatev Monastery

Oil-making process in Dzit-Han of Tatev Monastery

1. ROASTING: Cleaned seeds were roasted, cooled and sieved to separate and dispose of the shells.

2. GRINDING: The seeds were then placed under the cylindrical grinding stone which was roasted along its axis by oxen.

3. PULPING: After being sieved for the second time, the crushed seeds were placed under the grinding stone again this time with hot water. The crushed seeds combined with the hot water to form a dough-like pulp, which was filled into urge porous sacks.

4. PRESSING: The sacks were then taken to the pressing room, were pressed by two large heavy beams. The beams were attached to the wall on one end, and to a corkscrew was turned, the beams would come down, pressing the pulp and extracting the oil. The oil trickled down towards a flat sub of rock with channels carved into it, and flowed through the channels into a large clay pot, which was buried underground.

5. DISTILLING: The oil was ladled out of the urge pot into smaller clay pots where it was naturally distilled.

Oil extraction in Armenia and traditions in Tatev Monastery

Armenians have a tradition of oil extraction that dates back to the Urartian era (9th-6th centuries BC). The oldest known oil extraction facility in Armenia is a 2700-year-old sesame oil mill in Karmir Blur, a fortress near Yerevan that was once an important center of the Urartian Kingdom.

Armenia is rich with oil-bearing plants and seeds, including flax, sesame, hemp, mustard, castor bean, safflower, rapeseed, lallemantia, poppy and case-weed. Armenians have traditionally used these natural resources in three ways: incorporating them raw or roasted into foods, pressing them into a pulp or pomade for medicinal purposes, and extracting their natural oils.

Extraction facilities and equipment varied depending on the types of plants or seeds used. While technologies advanced over the centuries, two production methods were most common. One type of oil extraction facility, the dzi-tatun (oil house), was used primarily for the production of sesame oil. Here, seeds were soaked and peeled before entering a water mill-like mechanism, and the pulp extracted from the pressing process was dissolved in hot water to obtain the final product. A second more common facility was the dzit-han (oil-extractor), where seeds were roasted, crushed, and pressed. This was the method used at Tatev Monastery.

Oil extraction became an important industry during the Middle Ages. Oil mills were usually owned by monasteries, which were not only religious centers, but were often the hubs of cultural, political and economic life. During the 17th and 18th centuries, due to the expansion of monastic lands and estates, there was a significant increase in the number of oil mills owned and operated by monasteries. This was when the Tatev Oil Mill was built.

The most common of Armenia's oil- bearing plants is flax. This plant has been cultivated since ancient times in India, China, Central Asia, Mesopotamia, North Africa and the Caucasus. In many of these regions, flax was not only used for its nutrient-rich oil, but for the production of linen, although there is little evidence of the latter in Armenia.

The Armenian highlands have extremely favorable conditions for flax cultivation-high altitude, temperate climate, sunny days, and moderate precipitation. There are 19 subspecies of wild flax in the Caucasus, 8 of which are found in Armenia.

Flaxseed oil, also known as linseed oil, is rich in essential (omega-3) fatty acids and has earned a solid reputation for treating a range of ailments, from heart disease to lupus. It can help lower cholesterol, regulate heartbeat, and thin the blood, thereby lessening the risk of cardiovascular illnesses and promoting overall health.

Linseed oil is also commonly used as a wood finish. It does not cover the surface as varnish does, but soaks into the pores, leaving a shiny surface that highlights the grain of the wood. It is said that the linseed oil produced at the Tatev oil mill was actually used as a sealing agent on the monastery's stone roofs and walls, to protect against rain.

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