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Haghpat Monastery

This pearl of a monastery perched on the lip of the Debed Canyon has Unesco World Heritage status, along with Sanahin. This place has atmosphere and architectural splendour in abundance and the views around the canyon alone are worth the trip.

Haghpat Monastery is contemporaneous with Sanahin and very similar in style. Pilgrims in the monasteries' heyday were inevitably driven to compare the two and from this comparison derive the present names: Haghpat means 'huge wall' because that was one of its striking features, whereas Sanahin means 'older than the other'. Although Haghpat can be seen from Sanahin, to reach it requires a return to Alaverdi. Then head east along the main road for about 5km and turn right up the hill. A left fork leads to the monastery which can be seen high on the hillside. It is nowadays much more attractively sited than Sanahin, and consequently more pleasant to visit, as the approach is not through an area of rundown Soviet-era buildings. It is, however, also touristy.

The main church with its huge dome is dedicated to the Holy Cross and was built between 976 and 991 at the behest of Queen Khosrovanush, also the founder of Sanahin. From the exterior it appears rectangular but internally is cross-shaped and, as at Sanahin, there is a relief of Smbat and Gurgen holding a model of a church on the east facade. The church really took off in the 12th century with a magnificent bell tower, library and refectory. An inscription on the gavit of Surp Nishan reads in part 'You who enter through its door and prostrate yourself before the Cross, in your prayers remember us and our royal ancestors, who rest at the door of the holy cathedral, in Jesus Christ'.

Further around past a cute Surp Astvatsatsin chapel is the freestanding gavit built by Abbot Hamazasp in 1257, which has glorious acoustics. Uphill is the bell tower, and off by the wall a stone refectory. Khatchkars and study halls surround the central church.

Unlike Sanahin the buildings, which were gradually added, do not lead directly off each other. A smaller church, dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator, was added in 1005 at the southwest side of the site and a domed Mother of God Church was added on the northwest side in 1025. The St Gregory Church lost its dome during rebuilding in 1211. A gavit was built in 1185 to the west of the cathedral and the cathedral itself gained a magnificent porch in 1201.

The three-storey bell tower was built in 1245, a much more substantial structure than at Sanahin. Its ground floor has the plan of a cross-dome church and serves as a chapel. The second storey by contrast is rectangular with the corners cut off thus turning into an octagonal shape. The transition between the two shapes is ingenious. The third storey, the belfry, is unusually seven sided and supported by seven columns. Another gavit, called the Hamazasp building after its donor, was built to the north of the cathedral in 1257 and is unusual for a gavit in being freestanding. The library, originally built with a wooden roof in the 10th century, was rebuilt with a stone roof in 1262. One of Armenia's most famous and beautiful khachkars, the Holy Redeemer khachkar of 1273, is in the passage leading to the library. This amazing work shows Christ crucified surrounded by saints and Apostles with angels looking down and God the Father raising his hand in blessing. Haghpat's library became a store room after invaders had taken the manuscripts and the floor now has many storage jars sunk into it. The 13th-century refectory is an isolated building on the north side of the site. There is a separate entrance from outside the perimeter wall. It is therefore normally locked but the caretakers wife will happily open it up when she is around - the caretaker himself has to stay at ihe main part of the site. The refectory is a long building whose tall roof is borne by intersecting arches supported by pairs of free-standing columns. The central section is crowned by octagonal domed vaults which admit light. This unusual structure adjoins the defensive wall of the monastery. Also notable to the west of the refectory is the spring. It is in a three-arched structure built in 1258. There are stone troughs along the back wall for watering cattle and a reservoir for general use.

Getting there Marshrutkas from Alaverdi run at 10am, noon, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 4.30pm and 5.30pm. Alternatively, walk to Sanahin Monastery if you are headed there anyway. It's 7km via Akner village.

Taxi one way from Alaverdi is AMD1000, they will try their best to persuade you to take taxi both ways maybe for AMD1500-2000 and this will include 1 hour wait at Hagpath. You can take the taxi one way, stay as much as you like at Hagpath and hiked back 8-10km (all downhill) to Alaverdi.  6km signpost at the main road pointing towards Hagpath is aimed at cars, as it is possible to take shortcuts (it's fun!) from Hagpath to the junction with the main road: first follow the thick yellow/red gas tubes; go down when you reach the statue surrounded by green fence; follow the road then walk towards the WWII memorial and turn left just before you reach it; then follow the wooden fence and there you go, a few KMs saved. 30mins to the crossroad and then 4km easy hike down the main road to Alaverdi.