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Dadivank monastery

Dadivank, one of the largest medieval monastery complexes, is on the northern route to Armenia from Nagorno Karabagh. Take a picnic and if your car is dual-fuel, fill up with gas before leaving Stepanakert: the last gas station at the time of writing was just beyond Mamik yel Babik, although it looked as if one might be being built at Drmbon. The road to Dadivank bears right after the junction with the Gandzasar road just after the Khachenaget bridge. The main road continues north through the hills until eventually Sarsang Reservoir can be seen with the village of Drmbon in the foreground and the Mrav range forming a backdrop. Until Drmbon the road is mostly in good condition. Drmbon is an important mining area and the signposted road to Dadivank goes off left beside the large white-and-green building of the Base Metals Mining Company. The road deteriorates rapidly from here. Initially mining activities are evident along the Sarsang Reservoir but eventually these are left behind and then the rest of the journey is extremely beautiful along the gorge of the fast-flowing Tartar River as far as the monastery.

It is possible to drive up to the monastery in a 4x4, the road winding round what look like two slag heaps. (Take the track to the right just after the yellow sign to Dadivank.)

Dadivank is traditionally believed to be on the site of the grave of St Thaddeus who was martyred in the 1st century for preaching Christianity, 'Dadi' being a phonetic transposition of his name. Although there was probably a church here by the 4th century, the oldest surviving remains date from the 9th century. The church was pillaged in 1145-46 by the Persians but reconstruction started in the 1170s. The monastery went into decline in the 18th century and the monastery estates were only half occupied when the Khan of Shushi invited the Kurds to move on to them from Yerevan. The late 18th century saw further Persian military action, and plague and famine in 1798 saw the final abandonment of the site. Restoration is underway.

The layout is exceedingly complex and there are buildings on two levels. The 9th-century Church of St Thaddeus, built over his grave, is at the north side of the complex. Less than ideal restoration work following excavations has resulted in some loss of atmosphere from this ancient church. To its west lies a chapel built in 1224 and there are further contemporary buildings to the west of that within the wall. Southeast of St Thaddeus is the main cathedral which dates from 1214. The 16-sided tambour has graceful arcatures and the cupola is conical. On both the south and east facades are two figures holding a model of the church. In front of it is a 14th-century arcaded gallery which extends as far as the bell tower of 1283. New steps at the bell tower enable the two intricately carved khachkars to be fully appreciated. To the south there is a small-domed church with circular tambour and a tiled dome; its date is uncertain. The restoration of this church is also somewhat insensitive but the remains of frescoes can still be seen high on the north wall. On the lower level are the kitchen, refectory and wine press, as well as various accommodation quarters. The building with four round pillars on square bases is, according to an inscription of 1211, the temple.

There is a spring at Dadivank and the monastery is a pleasant place to have a picnic.