In the upper reaches of the Agstev river, there are Haghardzin and Nor-Ghetik
, the monastery ensembles of the Dilidian district. They are situated in dense oakwoods, in the gorges of small but turbulent mountain rivers. The local terrain and scenery determined the compositional peculiarities of these ensembles. Neither Haghardzin, nor Nor-Ghetik had curtain walls, and their structures are surrounded with verdure and peasants' homes, some being a rather long distance away from the main temples of the ensembles.
Numerous religious and monumental civil buildings show that in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries the monasteries were throbbing with life. It would be appropriate here to note that Nor-Ghetik was erected in place of an older monastery Ghetik, which had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1188 Mkhitar Goshe, a statesman, outstanding scientist and writer, an author of numerous fables and parables and of the first criminal code, took part in building the monastery which was also known as Goshavank in his honour. In Nor-Ghetik Mkhitar Goshe founded a school. One of its alumni, Kirakos Gandzaketsi, an Armenian scientist wrote "The Hostory of Armenia". The architect Mkhitar the Carpenter and his disciple Ovanes also took an active part in building the monastery.
The main churches belong to the types widespread in the tenth to the thirteenth centuries - the domed hall or the cross-winged domed building with four annexes in the corners of the central crossing. The small chapels are vaulted, with a semi-circular apse on the eastern side. The Bagratids burial vault in Haghardzin has two isolated chapels. The only exceptions are two of Nor-Ghetiks churches – Gngory Lusavorich, which is a small vaulted structure, and St. Hripsimeh chapel (1254), situated south-west of the main group - a domed building, square in the plan, of an original composition.
The churches are decorated in accordance with the traditions of the epoch. As a rule, the door portals and windows are framed in rectangular or arched platbands some of which are profiled. The facade niches have multifoil or scalloped tops like those of the niches of Geghard's main church. The unusual and artistically framed sun dial on the southern facade is an eye-catching decorative element.
The church of St. Astvatsatsin in Hagzardzin (1281) deserves special mention. This is the biggest building of all, the artistic dominant of the ensemble. The tall sixteen-faceted dome, dominating all the other structures, is decorated with a graceful arcature, the bases of whose columns are connected, by means of triangular ledges and spheres, with the band around the drum's bottom. This adds to the optical height of the dome and creates the impression that its drum is weightless. The platband of the southern portal is framed with rows of trefoils, arranged in depth, which give it a picturesque look.
The church of Grigory Lusavorich in Nor-Ghetik, started in 1237 and finished by Prince Grigor-Tkha in 1241, while being true to the type of Armenia's fifth-century basilicas, is distinguished by the beauty of its decoration. The bottom of the altar apse is trimmed by a graceful arcature topped with a band which is ornamented with an intricate geometrical pattern and garlands of alternating trefoils and spheres. The columns of the interior lining the sides of the apse and supporting the wall arch of the arched floor are covered with twisted flutings and fillets; a floral ornament of an ingenious design fills the middle of the lintels of the doors leading to annexes.
The refectory of Haghardzin, built by the architect Minas in 1248, is a structure of a rare composition. Just as Hagh-pat's refectory, the structure is divided by pillars into two square-plan parts roofed with a system of intersecting arches.
The book depository with a bell-tower in Nor-Ghetik is a structure of a most unusual composition. Originally, before 1241, there had been in its place a small building with niches for keeping books in and with a wooden "glkhatun" type ceiling. Adjacent to it on the western side was a vast premise which probably served as a refectory and an auditorium. It also had a wooden roofing which, judging by its size, had three tents and four internal wooden abutments.
The outer appearance of the building is marked by the gradation of its bulks from the heavy bottom part to the openwork top which emphasizes the domination of the vertical in the building's composition. The architectural peculiarities of the composition of the bell-tower influenced the design of the structures like the two-storey sepulchral churches in Egvard and Noravank built in Armenia in the second quarter of the fourteenth century.
Among the memorial khachkars of Haghardzin and Nor-Ghetik there are unique and highly artistic ones. Of interest is the ornamental carving of a thirteenth-century khachkar placed next to the southern door of St. Astvatsatsin church in Haghardzin. The khachkars created by the carver Pav-gos in Nor-Ghetik stand out among the rest. The best of them is a 129r khachkar with the maker's name carved in the bottom left star. This is a unique and highly artistic work.
The finely carved lacy ornaments are arrenged in layers in which the basic elements of the composition - a cross on a shield-shaped rosette and eight-pointed starr filling the corners of the middle-cross section-show clearly. The intricate openwork ornaments vary - a clear-cut geometrical pattern constitutes the background, and the accentuating elements form a complicated combination of a floral and geometrical ornament which never repeats itself.