When most people hear the name “Tatev,” they think of Tatev Monastery, one of the top things to see and do in Tatev, Armenia. But there is, in fact, a small village with the same name nearby. The Armenian word “tatev” translates to “gives wings” or “he who gives wing and inspiration” in English. It’s not hard to see why, as the monastic complex this area is famous for was once an inspiring school of enlightenment and a spiritual center.
Located in the Syunik Province in southeastern Armenia, the area around Tatev is rich in history and culture. I dove head-first into as many immersive experiences as I could when I visited in October of 2019. From the churches of the monastery to the grottos of the nearby ancient cave village, this history buff was in heaven! This is what to see and do in Tatev, Armenia.
Visit Tatev Monastery
The most popular thing to see and do in Tatev is Tatev Monastery. This stunning 9th-century monastery stands proudly on the edge of a deep gorge cut long ago by the Vorotan River. This complex, which isn’t far from the nearby town of Goris, was home to roughly 1,000 monks and many artisans during the 11th century.
The History of Tatev Monastery
Unfortunately, a large chunk of the monastery’s history was lost after Seljuk Turks invaded, severely damaging the monastery and destroying the 10,000 manuscripts housed there. The practice of destroying manuscripts is one reason why medieval Armenians began carving important documents into the walls of their monasteries—they’re a lot harder to destroy than paper!
The monastery was rebuilt by the end of the 13th century, and became the home of the University of Tatev in the 14th and 15th centuries. A place to study science, religion, philosophy, the development of miniature painting, and the reproduction of books, it was one of Armenia’s most significant medieval universities.
Arriving at the Monastery
The entire area around the monastery is breathtaking. Just to get there, you have to drive along a winding, cliffside road up, down, and between the nearby mountains is a great place for aspiring bikepackers to experience the basics of bikepacking. My guides and I arrived early in the morning, and the early yellow light gave it a real medieval look.
Inside the monastery, you’ll find the 9th-century Saints Paul and Peter Church, a school area, refractories, a chapel, a residential area, and the 11th-century Holy Mother of God Church. You’ll also find a spring there! The water that gushes out is safe to drink and is very cold and refreshing!
The Holy Mother of God Church
The Holy Mother of God Church is small and cozy. It’s similar to many other churches I had seen within Armenian monasteries, which were meant for one person to pray inside at a time. Don’t miss the blooming crosses and Armenian script on the outer walls, which details a mix of contracts and history.
You also shouldn’t miss the opportunity to climb to the top, where you’ll get a glorious view of the Vorotan River Gorge and surrounding landscape. Here, you can see that the church has been restored, not only after attacks in the past, but also after an earthquake in 1931.
Saints Paul and Peter Church
Relics belonging to Saints Paul and Peter were discovered under the church’s columns, so the church was named in their honor. There, you can see the grave of the monastery’s leader and main scholar, as well as the 14th-century bells. Through the 14th-century belfry, you’ll find lots of gorgeous frescoes on the walls. Though this church wasn’t built in the Gothic style, it reminded me of Gothic churches I had visited around Europe. Some of the frescoes were painted by exchange students from France!
I learned there that this monastery and university was extremely developed and powerful. It owned and collected taxes from 600 villages. The monks then invested that money into building the monastery and creating manuscripts.
When you visit Saints Paul and Peter Church, men should remember to take off any hats they’re wearing. Meanwhile, women must cover their heads. It’s a way to respect the church, which is quite beautiful and gives off the air of a very old, holy place.
Before you leave Tatev Monastery, take a few minutes to take in the pendulous column known as Gavazan Siun. The 8-meter-high column dates back to the 10th century. At its very top is a khachkar-style (Armenian cross-stone-style) cross. Dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Gavazan Siun sways to alert the resident monks of earthquakes.
Gavazan Siun also shows the exact position of the three stars of Orion’s Belt—Alnitak, Alnilam, and Minaka—on August 11 of every year. The belt was very important in pre-Christian times, and August 11 marked the start of a new year!
Ride the Wings of Tatev Cable Car
When you want to get back down from Tatev Monastery, you have a couple of options. You can take the winding road back through the mountains, or you can ride the Wings of Tatev Cable Car. My advice: always take the cable car!
Stretching 3.5 miles over the Vorotan River Gorge between the monastery and the village of Halidzor, the Wings of Tatev is as magnificent as it sounds. For starters, it holds the Guinness World Record for the longest nonstop double-track cable car in the world. It’s also the best way to get pristine aerial views of the gorge and surrounding mountains and forests.
It only costs $11 USD for a one-way ride and $15 USD for a round trip. The cable car leaves every 15 minutes, so you have plenty of opportunities to catch it.
However, I highly advise taking the first ride of the day when it opens at 10 a.m., and one of the first rides back to Halidzor. My guides and I did just that on the way back and had a car all to ourselves. But because Tatev Monastery is such a popular attraction, the car gets packed as the morning wears on, and you won’t be able to fully enjoy the breathtaking views of the gorge and surrounding area.
The 12-minute ride with only a handful of people in the car gave me the chance to get unparalleled, 360-degree views of my surroundings. It was insanely beautiful to ride upwards of 1,049 feet above the canyon floor. Riding the Wings of Tatev was one of my favorite experiences from my trip to Armenia. It’s easily one of the top things to see and do in Tatev, Armenia, for sure!
Check out the 5 Reasons Why You Must Visit Etchmiadzin, Armenia
Visit Old Khndzoresk Cave Village
Roughly a 45-minute drive from the nearby village of Goris will take you to another extraordinary historical site, Old Khndzoresk Cave Village. This mind-blowing abandoned community is made up of a connected network of natural and man-made caves. The caves can be found all over the walls and floor of a large gorge, and were inhabited from the Bronze Age all the way to the 1950s! Visiting was one of my favorite things to see and do in Tatev, Armenia!
Known as the Armenian version of Cappadocia, the Old Khndzoresk Cave village was home to between 15,000 and 20,000 people at its height! But this was no primitive settlement. The people there had their own economy, production, and agriculture. Within the caves that pockmark the gorge, there were churches, schools, shops, and mills! Some of the caves that served as homes had multiple bedrooms and even kitchens.
Because the inhabitants of Old Khndzoresk Cave Village carved out caves of their own in the rock and also expanded existing caves, they needed a special way to navigate their community. They used a system of ropes and ladders to climb up and down to different parts of the village! They also created tunnels between certain caves to use in case of an attack. But the community itself was considered very safe due to its isolation.
One of the best ways to reach the village is to cross the suspension bridge that connects Old Khndzoresk Cave Village to the modern village, New Khndzoresk. But if you want to come here, I highly recommend doing it early. The cave village is vast, and there are tons of sites within it to see, including three schools, 27 shops, and a beautiful 17th-century church. I suggest arriving at the village no later than 3 p.m. if you want to have time to see everything it has to offer.
While my guides and I lost the light of the sun before we really got a chance to explore, it was still worth it. It’s a site of breathtaking beauty and rich history, and is a must for anyone visiting Armenia. It’s high up on my list of things to see and do in Tatev, Armenia!
Check out the Things to Do in Garni and Geghard, Armenia
Stay at Harsanadzor Eco Resort
Of course, you’ll need a nice place to lay your head during your time in Tatev. After a long day of road trips and adventures, I was grateful to have a nice, cozy place to stay the night. My guides booked me at the Harsanadzor Eco Resort, an eco-friendly accommodation on the edge of yet another beautiful gorge.
The resort is made up of wooden cottages of different sizes, an open-air dining area, and an indoor dining hall. There are smaller, barrel-shaped cottages and some larger ones as well. The surrounding forest and mountains strongly reminded me of my time in Switzerland. It made me feel like I was camping!
The accommodations are very comfortable, and the meals offered there are quite wonderful as well. You can enjoy a simple Armenian breakfast of lavash (Armenian flatbread), eggs, cheese, jam, butter, and coffee to start your day.
I recommend wrapping some cheese and apricot jam in the lavash. The sweet and salty combination is out of this world!
You also can’t beat the traditional Armenian feast they serve for dinner. Our seven-item spread included lavash, barbecued chicken, fresh vegetables, bread, herbs, potatoes with fat inside them, red beans, fresh yogurt, and barbecued vegetable salad. And because we were in Armenia, we had some incredible wine as well! Virtually anything on the table can be wrapped in the lavash, so give it a go!
The beans were fantastic, and I couldn’t get enough of the barbecued vegetable salad. The eggplant and tomatoes in it made my mouth water! Don’t miss the opportunity to try some of the herbs by themselves. Like all of the meat I had enjoyed in Armenia, the crispy chicken was incredibly fresh and organic and had a bit of red pepper and salt on it.
Try some yogurt with the kale-like greens, which makes for a really yummy combination. And I can’t overstate how amazing the barbecued potatoes were. The dollop of tasty fat inside each one had melted throughout the potatoes and gave them a smooth, buttery texture on the inside, while the outside was nice and crispy! After you’ve tried everything by itself, take whatever you want and roll in up in the lavash. The combination is downright heavenly!
Check out my VIDEO: Trying Armenian Lavash for the First Time + Visiting the Matendaran | Yerevan, Armenia
I didn’t even realize it was possible, considering how much I had fallen head over heels for Armenia earlier in my trip, but everything I experienced in Tatev made me love this country even more. From learning about the history at the monastery and cave village to my amazing feasts and views high above Vorotan River Gorge, I am convinced the Tatev area is heaven for any traveler. There are new wonders to learn about at every turn, and you do it all while surrounded by some of the warmest and friendliest people on the planet. You must check out the things to see and do in Tatev, Armenia. It’s an absolute must. Book a trip to Armenia today to experience its magic for yourself!
Special thanks to my friends at Armenia Travel for their kindness, hospitality, and for arranging my trip. I couldn’t have done it without them!
Also, if you would like to visit Tatev, please contact my guide Lusine.
NOTE: If you need to check the visa requirements of a particular country, click here. To apply for a visa, find up-to-date visa information for different countries, and calculate the cost of a particular visa, click here!