Tatev monastery is situated near the village of the name in the high-altitude Gorissky District which is part of Zangezur - ancient Syunik. The monastery was founded in the ninth century in place of a tabernacle well-known in the ancient times. The strategically advantageous location on a cape formed by a deep river gorge with precipitous rocky slopes favoured the construction of a mighty defence complex there. Tatev monuments stand out for high quality of building work. At one time Tatev was the political centre of Syunik principality. In the 10th century it had a population of about 1,000 and controlled numerous villages. In the 13th century it owned 680 villages. The earthquake of 1931 caused considerable destruction, but the parts that survived enable us to judge about the artistic merits of the complex.
The main monument is the temple of Pogos and Petros (Paul and Peter) built in 895-906. It reproduces the type of domed basilicas of the 7th century.
The facades of the temple, just as those of the 17th-century monuments, are smooth and free of superfluous detailing. On the eastern facade there are two deep triangular niches crowned, just like the windows, with thin ornamented edges. Four of them are decorated with representations of human faces, to which snake heads with stings sticking out are turned. Armenians believed snakes to be the protectors of their homes. The oval-shaped faces, with long locks of hair framing them and with the eye sockets merely hinted at, are rather schematic. The only exception is the relief of the northern facade in which the carver tried to portray someone.
According to Stepanos Orbelyan, an Armenian historian, these are the portraits of the founders of the temple - Prince Ashot, his wife Shushan, Grigor Supan, the ruler of Gekharkunik, and Prince Dzagik.
The authors of the frescoes of Pogos and Petros temple, who probably worked together with West European painters, were connected with a school founded in Tatev at the beginning of the 10th century the students of which studied humanitarian sciences and illustrated manuscripts. The school was of great importance. Presently, similar schools were opened in various monasteries of Syunik, such as Gndevank, Tsakhats-kar and Bkheno Noravank. The school played an especially active role in the development of science and art in the 14th-15th centuries, under Ovnan Vorotnitsi (1315-1388) and Grigor Tatevatsi (1346-1411). The latter was not only a well-known nominalist philosopher, but a painter as well. His portrait, one of the rare portraits in Armenian book painting, can be seen in a 1449 miniature in "The Interpretation of David's Psalms". The scientist is shown among his disciples. At the end of the 13th century Tatevatsi created several miniatures for the 1297 Gospel. These miniatures are distinguished by the contrast between bright red and yellow tones and brown and blue ones selected with exquisite taste (the "Annunciation" miniature). The composition is severe and monumental. The faces are thoroughly detailed, and each bears a distinctive individuality. The fine floral and geometrical ornaments in some parts of the miniature add to the decorative value of the composition.
Tatev ensemble fits in perfectly with the mountaineous landscape around it. A large temple, dominating the surrounding structures and visible from afar, is the architectural and artistic centre of the ensemble.The residential and service premises, arranged in a single row on the perimeter, set off the polyhedral rock foundation and seem to be an extension of it. This gives the ensemble an original and majestic appearance.