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Harichavank monastery is in the sturdy old town of Harich, about 4km from the town of Artik. To reach this large and important Monastery turn left in Artik after crossing the railway and then turn right up the hill. Just before the prison turn right for the village of Harich: the monastery is at the far end of the main street. It is situated on the edge of a small ravine.

This complex was the summer residence of the Catholicos of Echmiadzin for a period after 1850 and is surrounded by 19th-century buildings. Harichavank is one of those monasteries where a 7th- or 8th century chapel has been dramatically expanded with 13th-century gavits and domes. Most of the ancillary buildings were added after 1850 when the Katholikos moved his summer residence here. There is some beautiful geometric stonework over the main door church and around the dome of the gavit.

The original 7th-century church, St Gregorys, has a round dome. From the southwest corner room a secret passage leads down into the gorge and a secret room is concealed above the roof of the same room. Inside, the church’s caretaker can point out the anteroom/storeroom with a hole in the ceiling leading to a secret upstairs room. During times of invasion, the room was used to house women and children and sometimes even important local officials. A stone would be fitted exactly into the ceiling hole once everyone had climbed to safety.

Its bell tower, resting on large columns, is a 19th-century addition as are the small chapels which adjoin it. The much larger Mother of God Church of 1201 has an unusual 16-sided umbrella dome and much elaborate decoration around the tambour. Inside, cantilevered steps lead to the upper storeys of the western corner rooms which are unusual in having arcaded windows looking onto the nave. In between the two churches is a very large gavit whose porch is particularly finely decorated with small twisted columns and inlaid carved red and black stones which show a striking oriental influence. On the east facade of the Mother of God Church is a relief showing the founders of the church and also one of a lion. An unusual feature is the small chapel perched on top of a high pillar of rock in the gorge; it owes its present inaccessible location to an earthquake.

A direct bus departs Gyumri’s avtokayan for Harichavank (50 minutes) at 11.30am. If you can’t catch it there are marshrutkas and buses to Artik (30 minutes, hourly), from where you can wait around for another marshrutka to Harich or take a taxi from Artik. If you have your own vehicle, the monastery is about 15km off the main Yerevan–Gyumri road. If you are in the area, check out the wellpreserved 7th-century church of Lmbatavank southwest of Artik; it contains important early frescoes.

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