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Spitakavor monastery

The Monastery of Spitakavor ('White-ish') can be reached from Gladzor University Museum either by car or on foot. Driving definitely needs a 4x4, good weather and a driver experienced in this sort of terrain. Even then it is a difficult 8.4km drive. The track to the monastery goes off left a few metres beyond the museum. The determined can also visit the fortress of Proshaberd although there isn't much to see. If walking, park by the museum. The walk of about 6km is very pleasant, if rather steep at times. The road is rough so hiking is a good idea; just bring plenty of bottled water. The first short section is through the village, after which the stream is crossed. The main track turns left but walkers should ignore the sign in Armenian instructing vehicular traffic for Spitakavor to turn left and should carry straight on while keeping the stream and a small dam on the right. The rocky path then ascends up the side of the ever-narrowing and dramatic gorge until it angles left and emerges into an alpine meadow as the gorge widens out. There are caves on the hillside in which presumably live the bears whose droppings can be seen along the path. The next section of the path is through a summer village where farmers from the villages below come to pasture their stock during the warmer months. The only way any visitor will ever be allowed to pass through here without accepting hospitality is by promising to stop on the way back. Beyond the summer village keep right and you will soon see Spitakavor high above you. In places the path has been washed away but it is fairly easy to follow the stream, which flows down the steep mountainside from the monastery. There is a very welcome spring at the top. Watch out for interesting reptiles on the way such as the nose-horned viper and Caucasian green lizard. Drivers will follow the main track left at the sign mentioned above. The track winds up round the hillside, giving magnificent views over the mountains and the valley in which Yeghegnadzor lies. It appears to go past the monastery but then doubles back to a small car park.

The church, dedicated to the Mother of God, dates from 1321 and was built by Prince Prosh of the Proshian family on the site of a 5th-century basilica. The bell tower was added in 1330. The gavit has seen some restoration with the result that it now has only three doors rather than the unusual four it had previously. The church itself is a cross-dome church with cylindrical tambour and conical cupola. It has apses on the north and south sides but just arches on the east and west. There are carvings in the apse and high up in the apex of the dome. The tympanum is richly carved in a style similar to Areni and Noravank: stalactite decoration arches over a beautiful Madonna and Child. On the east facade is a curious irregular and asymmetrical cross.

The 20th-century Armenian fighter Garegin Nzhdeh was buried at Spitakavor in 1983. He fought in the Balkan Wars and, in WWI, went into exile and lobbied the Nazis to restore Armenian territory, before being handed over at the end of the war by the Allies and dying in a Soviet prison. Outside the church the modern grave is that of Garegin Nzhdeh.

The track behind the monastery continues uphill. Passing another summer village on the right-hand side, it bears left and on the hilltop to the right can be seen the remains of the small fortress of Proshaberd, also built by Prince Prosh. A rectangle of walls survives with a tower at each corner and a deep pit inside. Only the very determined should bother making the ascent.


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Spitakavor monastery
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