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The Sanain and Akhpat Monastery

      The Sanain Monastery       At Alahverdi Station the motorway crosses to the right side of the river Debed. A new bridge spans the river now, though an 800-year-old bridge is still intact. It is a one-arch structure, 18 metres long and built of basalt slabs. The cupolas of the Sanain Monastery (10th-13th centuries) can be seen beyond the gorge. The monastery comprises several churches and chapels. Amenaprkich (the Saviour) Church was built in the reign of Queen Hosrovanush in 967-72 and is the principal church in the monastery. Next to it is the Astvatsatsin(the Mother of God) Church. The theological academy used to be housed in a vaulted gallery between the two churches. One of its instructors was the eminent Armenian scholar, philosopher and writer of the 11th century Grigor Magistros. The library building is still intact. Niches in the thick walls were used for storing books and the semi-columns are covered with fine carving depicting reptiles and birds.
      Another major attraction in these parts is the Akhpat Monastery (10th-13th centuries). The central structure here is the 10th-century Church of St. Nshan. The building is massive yet elegant. Its ceiling is decorated with sculptured ornament, and the inner walls are covered with frescoes. The church is one of the outstanding samples of medieval Armenian architecture.The Akhpat Monastery The architect is believed to be Trdat, who built Ani, the former capital of Armenia. Just as in Sanain, there was a wonderful library in Akhpat Monastery. The learned monks tried to acquire everything written in the Armenian language and, whenever the need arose, they made copies of books found in other monasteries. Akhpat Monastery was plundered several times by invaders, and in the 12th century, during the invasion of the Seljuks, part of the library was hidden away in caves. The manuscripts were again hidden during a Persian incursion in 1795. Whatever was rescued was subsequently transferred to the Matenadaran in Yerevan. The refectory, the largest structure of this kind to be found in Armenia— 340 square metres — stands next to the monastery library.
      The Akhpat and Sanain monasteries are quite visible in fine weather. But in fog you may hear the chiming of their bells. Sanain and Akhpat are linked with the name of the great poet and singer Sayat-Nova. It is believed that he was born in Sanain which was the birthplace of his mother. After his exciting life in Tiflis and his fame as a court minstrel, Sayat-Nova fell into disfavour and in 1775 he was exiled to Akhpat Monastery. Even as a monk, he continued to play his favourite stringed instrument — the saz — in his monastic cell.
      There is a remarkable church in the village of Odzun which was built in the 6th century. It is an elongated structure with four pylons supporting a central high dome. An arched gallery runs around three of its walls. To the north of the church there are also a 6th-century memorial and two medieval cemeteries with khachkars and tombstones.


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