Access to one of Armenia’s most famous building complexes just got a little easier. A new cable car, which at 5.7 kilometers (3.5 miles) is the world’s longest, opened in October, enabling year-round access to the country’s ancient Tatev Monastery.
The Tatev Monastery dates to the 9th century and is built along the Vorotan River Gorge on a remote promontory with sheer cliff faces on three sides. The only accessible side has been fortified with walls and towers, creating a formidable defensive complex. It is one of the country’s most important religious centers and a major tourist attraction. The complex contains the St. Paul and St. Peter church, built in 895-906; the Church of St. Gregory, built in 1295 on the site of an earlier church; the over-gate church of Astvatsatsin (11th century); and the Gazavan, built in 904.
The Gazavan pillar is one of the site’s most fascinating features. It is an octahedral column eight meters (26’) tall, crowned with an ornamented cornice. It is also a marvel of Armenian engineering: in response to seismic activity – or the touch of a hand – the structure will sway but return to upright position. (It was also sensitive enough to indicate when enemies were approaching, which may have been its intended purpose.) Armenia is in an active seismic zone and the Gazavan pillar has survived numerous earthquakes. The rest of the complex has not been so lucky. A severe quake in 1931 seriously damaged the bell tower and dome of St. Paul and St. Peter church. The dome has been reconstructed, but the tower is still in ruins.
The cable car is a major heritage tourism development initiative for Armenia, which is hoping to showcase its architectural and other heritage. The fare for visitors is 3,000 Armenian drams (eight dollars/six euros.); local residents ride free. If you go, be sure to send us photos!
Note: You can help the people of Armenia preserve their architectural heritage by joining AiP’s volunteer project in Gyumri in June 2011.