Gandzasar

Gandzasar monastery is a 10th-13th century Armenian monastery, which is 48 km north from Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) Republic. "Gandzasar" means treasure mountain or hilltop treasure in Armenian. It holds relics believed to belong to St. John the Baptist and his father St Zechariah. The construction of Gandzasar's Cathedral of St. John the Baptist last more than 20 years (1216-1238), under the patronage of the local Armenian prince, Hasan-Jalal Dawla. In the 14th century Gandzasar monastery became the headquarters of the Catholicosate of Aghvank (Caucasian Albania) and Artsakh. It had an active role in the Armenian defense wars against the enemies during hundreds of years, was en educational centre religion and philosophy, reproduction of books and development of miniature painting.

The complex is protected by high walls. The drum of its dome has exquisite bas-reliefs that depict the Crucifixion, Adam and Eve, and two ministers holding a model of the church above their heads as an offering to God. The bas-reliefs have been compared to the elaborate carvings of Aghtamar, and some art historians consider the monastery to represent one of the masterpieces of Armenian architecture. It is a pearl of architectural art. This is a unique monument of medieval architecture and monumental sculpture, which by right ought to be regarded as an encyclopedia of 13th-century Armenian art." Gandzasar's cathedral of John the Baptist church shares many architectural forms with the main churches of two other Armenian monasteries also built in the mid-13th century, for instance, Harich monastery.

Gandzasar is located in Vank village, which is right in the center of the mountains and the forest. This beautiful scene is very impressive from late spring through the autumn. Nearby it there are Khokhanaberd and Kachaghakaberd fortresses. One of the tourist attractions is the lion-shaped rock with an open mouth, showing its formidable fangs. There is a feeling that the lion will just roar at you. Lion's right hand with long clutches sunken into the ground may give you a feeling that the lion has noticed his prey and is going to attack it. Lion was a symbol of local Armenian principal family. In front of that rock, a nice gorge is located. You can find Sea Stone hotel and restaurant, which is located on the banks of it. There is a ship made on that river as well, and it's a part of that restaurant.

Artsakh is best known for its traditional vegetarian "Zhengyal" bread. It is truly considered the hallmark of Artsakh cuisine. "Zhengyal" is a dialectic word meaning wild grass (in Persian zhangyal - jungle or forest). This bread is special because of the number of wild grasses used to bake it; up to 17 wild herbs found in Artsakh are used in this bread. This traditional bread is baked with different types and quantities of herbs depending on the province where it is baked. However, the most unique source of the herbal ingredients are considered to be the forests of Artsakh. The main herbal ingredients used for are green onion, nettle, spinach, parsley, coriander, leaves of beetroot, etc. You can taste it either in that restaurant, or at local bakery right on the way to Gandzasar Monastery.

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