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Goshavank monastery

Goshavank Monastery stands in the mountain village of Gosh, founded in 1188 by the saintly Armenian cleric Mkhitar Gosh, who was buried in a little chapel overlooking the main complex. Mkhitar Gosh (1130-1213) established the monastery with the support of Prince Ivan Zakarian to replace the Monastery of Getik, about 20km further east, where he had previously worked but which had been destroyed in an earthquake.

Goshavank features a main church (Surp Astvatsatsin) and smaller churches to St Gregory and St Gregory the Illuminator. Originally called Nor ('New') Getik, it was renamed in honour of its founder immediately after his death. The earliest part of the complex, the Mother of God Church, dates from 1191; its gavit was completed in 1197 followed by the two St Gregory chapels, the free-standing one with its particularly fine carving in 1208 and the one attached to the gavit in 1237. The library and the adjacent school buildings were built in 1241 of large rough-hewn stones. The tower on the matenadaran (library) was once taller than the main church. In 1291 the Holy Archangels Church with bell tower was added on top of the library, access to the church being via the external cantilevered steps. The belfry later collapsed and the building is now protected by a conical transparent dome. At its peak the library held 15,000 volumes until Mongol invaders set fire to it in 1375. It was at Nor Getik that Mkhitar Gosh first formally codified Armenian law (partly as a defence against the imposition of Islamic sharia law) and also wrote his fables which make moral points using birds as the protagonists.

Another feature of the monastery is the particularly fine khachkar by the door which dates from 1291. Poghos, its sculptor, carved two identical khachkars for his parents' graves and the other is in the History Museum in Yerevan. The delicate filigree of his carving led to his soubriquet Poghos the Embroiderer. The two small rooms to the south of the gavit were used as studies by religious students. There is again a walnut tree, at the north of the site, and of similar age to the monastery.

Mkhitar Gosh spent the last years of his life as an ascetic in a retreat at some distance from Nor Getik. Although it was normal for founders to be buried at the monastery they had established, he requested that this should not be done and a mausoleum was built away from the site.

In the grounds of the monastery is a small museum which the caretaker will open for you on request. By far the most interesting items there are large pottery bell-shaped objects which were hung from the dome with the open end downward to try to improve the acoustics by reflecting sound back downward into the church. The solution to the problems of some more recent concert halls such as the Albert Hall, London, was clearly anticipated at Goshavank! After the monastery has been explored a variety of refreshing herbal teas, made with local mountain herbs, can be enjoyed on the veranda of the village's new hotel.

Considered one of the principal cultural centres of Armenia in its time, historians believe Goshavank was abandoned at the end of the 14th century. Goshavank then appears to have been reoccupied in the 17th to 19th centuries and restored from 1957 to 1963.

The local custodian, Zarik, is a delightful guide and loves to demonstrate the acoustics in the main church with an old prayer. She may also show you a museum filled with artefacts collected from the area.

A very pleasant walk is to continue along the path beyond the chapel opposite the monastery for about 45 minutes to reach the small lake of Goshalich which lies deep in the forest. The trees offer welcome shade in the summer heat and the setting of the lake is very beautiful with trees rising on the hillside behind. Goshalich is audibly home to some of Armenia's noisiest frogs.

Zarik’s son Armen Grigoryan organises guided hikes to Gosh Lich (Gosh lake; 2.5km away), caves and forgotten forts in the mountain forests. A trek to the little known remains of Ak Kilise (Turkish for ‘White Church’) takes about six hours. Another walk leads 6km to Parz Lich along a marked trail. However, most hikers usually take a taxi to Parz Lich and start the walk there, as it’s easier to get transport out from Gosh. There are usually some people at Parz Lich who can show you the trailhead.

Getting There & Away - Goshavank is 5km off the main Dilijan–Ijevan highway. You can ride on a local bus or marshrutka to the turn-off and walk or hitch the rest of the way. One bus serves the monastery; on Tuesday and Friday it goes to Dilijan at 9am and returns from Dilijan at 1pm. On Monday and Wednesday it goes to Ijevan at 9am and returns at noon. A taxi from Dilijan or Ijevan(both 23km away) is the easiest option.

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