Thought you had seen enough Armenian monasteries here on the blog, did ya? Nope nope nope: here’s yet another. One different from the rest, located in a gorge with tall red cliffs.

On the road to Noravank – and past the mysterious Nakchivan

In this post, we’re at Khor Virap monastery, where Armenia was founded as the world’s first Christian country in 301 CE. About one and a half hour drive further south-east is Noravank, located in a narrow canyon.

The last half hour or so (from ca. Yelpin), we drive along the border with Azerbaijan, which might at first glance seem odd, as Azerbaijan borders Armenia in the east, not the west. Except – it does! Specifically, an exclave, landlocked, and far from Azerbaijan proper, known as Nakchivan Autonomous Republic.

You will have heard of the disputed territory Nagorno-Karabakh, at regular intervals causing strife and warfare between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Once Nakchivan was heavily contested between the two neighbouring countries as well. But that seems no longer to be the case. Still, it’s something deliciously cryptic about it. Nakchivan is on my wishlist.

For now, however, I delight in being so near this mystical land. It reminds me of driving along the Pamir Highway, where the river Panj forms the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. For days on end, the forbidding country is within stone-throwing distance: so near, yet so far away.

Nakchivan in the very near distance, above and below, in the midst of rugged, craggy nature.

Noravank monastery

We’re now near the Armenian town of Yeghegnadzor.

Major player is Mother Nature.

To get to Noravank, we cross a bridge and enter a winding canyon created by the Darichay river. Not that we see the Darichay. It’s still here, but is now all enclosed in piping. We pass caves high up on the walls and hear stories of children being buried in them 5000 years ago. It’s a spectacular drive.

These days, bats have taken over the caves, lots and lots of bats. If you want to get up close with them, that is possible in the Magil Cave. There’s a metal wire you can hold on to as you climb in. Don’t go far in, you could get lost.

About 8 km later, we’re out of the canyon and a small car park appears. And Noravank.

Surb Astvatsatsin Church (Holy Mother of God Church) at Noravank.

The facade has a very narrow, very steep stone staircase with no railing along either side of the front door, leading up to a second floor door. It’s also very dangerous – and very tempting, so keep a close eye on your children, and don’t attempt the climb, if you have even the slightest touch of vertigo. Can’t help but wonder what the Holy Mother of God – or any mother, really – would think.

Not many visitors at Noravank this hot July afternoon, but everyone there, was, well right there. I didn’t have time/patience to wait for them to disperse. Should have snapped a photo anyway. Live and learn. But now you’re curious about those stairs, right? Now you want to see Noravank for yourself, don’t you?

However stunning the setting, it’s not all about location, location, location. As with any self-respecting monastery, Noravank has a story. This one relates to the small Surb Pokas Church – a ways from the two major buildings, where there is a holy well with miraculous curative waters. Or curative oil rather, seeping out from the remains of Saint Pokas himself, a first century bishop who could heal the blind.

Sub Karapet Church (dedicated to John the Baptist) – blending with the surroundings

OK, that’s it for Armenian monasteries here on Sophie’s World. Probably. Possibly. Although, I haven’t yet talked about Garni… Hmm, we’ll see.

Here are the other ones we have covered:

  • Khor Virap, the spot (more or less) where Armenia was founded.
  • Tatev, precariously perched on the brink of a deep canyon; reachable by cable car, and thus, the most exciting of the lot.
  • Akhtala, copper mine monastery with lovely frescoes.
  • Haghpat and Sanahin, Byzantine monasteries with evocative grave stones, a World Heritage site.
  • Zvartnots Cathedral, ruins with the legendary Mt Ararat as backdrop, only a short taxi ride from Yerevan – and also a World Heritage site.
  • Geghard Monastery, cut into towering rock and – you guessed it – another World Heritage site.


PS Wondering why some of the monasteries are included on the coveted list, while the others aren’t? I did. The answer in the case of Noravank is over restoration. A UNESCO listing hangs high. Noravank remains on the tentative list, though (along with Tatev), so Armenian authorities must remain hopeful.

World at a Glance is a series of short articles here on Sophie’s World, with a single photo (I really should stop saying that), portraying curious, evocative, happy, sad or wondrous, unexpected little encounters.