Notes From Hairenik

On Sunday I called my friend Hovik from work and asked him if he wanted to go on an adventure. A week ago I finally picked up my new, nevertheless used, blue Niva and I was itching to get out of the city and try it out on some rough roads (even though many streets in Yerevan are fairly hazardous). We decided to trek to Dilijian, which has to be one of if not my favorite areas of Armenia. The town is in a valley flanked by forested hilltops—it is absolutely gorgeous all year long (except for early spring when the trees are naked and when it is only splendid). Unfortunately the trees deep in the forests there are being cut illegally, but that’s a different story which I do not want to get into since it is extremely frustrating and no one in the government cares since those in charge are apparently in on it.

Anyway, we went to Haghartsin monastery, built in the 13th century, situated on a mountain side as are most of these places, but this area is forested and is simply a fantastic place to be in the autumn especially. I must have been there at least a dozen times in the last seven years and I have never been tired of the place. Each time I go in fact it is as if I have been there for the first time.

When you approach the complex on the left is a large hall, which must have served as a meeting and dining area for the monks several centuries ago, before the Arabs made their way up there somehow and sacked the place. The monastery has been restored several times and is going through yet another facelift, this time to repair the domed steeples of the church which were covered by copper cones during the Soviet years. On the dining hall itself there are two small domes on the roof which serve as skylights for the building’s interior. The roof was trampled on by about a dozen construction workers who were attacking the centuries’ old stones with picks and even jackhammers. According to the caretaker of the monastery they were repairing the roof, but they seemed to have been doing a rather sloppy job. I saw quite a few relief stones from the façade on the ground which were smashed. Hovik made the point that there should have been an archeologist or historian on site to supervise the work, but in Armenia that initiative may be too logical to fathom. Repairs are being done to the three churches there as well as scaffolding has been erected around all of them, but what kind of restorative work will be done is not exactly clear. In any case I am sure the place will look wonderful when they are finished, although it always left a sublime impression on me. Haghartsin is by far my most favorite monastery in Armenia.

I suggested we go to Goshavank which is about a dozen or so kilometers up the road in the direction towards Ijevan. It was my third trip to the monastery, also erected in the 13th century, within the last 12 months. That site is also amazing, again surrounded by forested hills and is located in an actual village called Gosh. There is also a captivating walnut tree which has been standing for several hundred years. If memory serves there are four churches on site as well as a hall which I believe was used as an archives repository. I remember hearing from the elderly woman who is essentially the storyteller of the place that the archives were of course burned by either the Turks or the Arabs at one point.

On the opposite hilltop is a small chapel which is a bit hard to get to since the path is oozing with mud. There was also a considerably tall fruit tree in the rear garden which was in bloom being caressed by bees.

This site is more off the beaten track and is not as frequented as Haghartsin based on personal experience, but it is equally a fantastic place to visit without a doubt.

Photos Copyright © Christian Garbis 2008

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Blogger Danielbeast said...
I actually conquered Goshavank's oozing-with-mud hill in my quest to find the tomb of Mkhitar Gosh way at the top. Once you get up the hill you are at a chapel which some had said was his tomb, but then I found a little kid who took me to a hill with steps leading up it and there was found what appeared to be ruins and a more modern grave marker for Mkhitar Gosh.
I only surmounted the mud because I thought it was my only choice, it was quite an ordeal. I had seen members of my group already up there, who I thought must have used the mud path and therefore it couldn't be that bad (it was), but in fact they took a long way around on a paved road! So yes there is some alternate route to get up there, I don't know exactly where but the mud bath is not something I would recommend to anyone. Haghartzin-Goshavank is also one of my favorite areas of Armenia.

Blogger Danielbeast said...
Also it bears mentioning that when I was at Haghartsin a priest there (vicar of Tavush I think) told us that an emir had visited and loved the monastery so much he was going to donate over a million dollars to its renovation. I looked up who this guy was and it is apparently "His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah." I was told about this in the summer and that renovations would begin in a few months so that's what is going on. I hope they don't do too much damange in the name of "restoration" as you pointed out...
Here's an article about what is actually being done:

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
I don't know, $1.7 million being spent by the Sheikh to renovate the site seems excessive. In terms of widening the roads--part of the charm of Haghartsin was that it was a bit challenging to reach, although lately people from Yerevan are trekking up there in droves. I can't imagine what lighting and additional parking they are talking about since the place is surrounded by hills. Armenians like to suppress subtle nuances for the sake of "progress," which more often than not is done with poor planning and yields unfavorable results. Hopefully the same mistake will not be made there.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
The Sheikh should donate the money to build a clinic in the area, not rennovation work on the church.The site will be ruined!!!!!!(Arapo)