After finding a place to stay on the outskirts of Dilijan we took a ride down to the bus station to lunch by the pond, and then walked to the Dilijan-Vanadzor road. A couple from the city of Vanadzor offered us a ride out of the city and dropped us off under the road sign to Jukhtak Vank and Matosavank. Following the Abovyan street through the houses of the villagers, we soon left the settlement behind.
A worker of the Dilijan Mineral Waters factory gave us a lift to the beginning of the hiking trail to Jukhtak Vank. The trail that ran up the hill and deep into the forests of Dilijan National Park was nothing but puddles and mud. It was a 20-30 minutes hike until we finally saw the ruins of the monastery behind the trees.
The Jukhtak monastery derives its name from the word ‘jukht’ which means ‘twin’. The complex consists of two churches, khachkars and a cemetery. The exact date of the foundation of the Jukhtak monastery is unknown. The inscriptions preserved on the walls of the church of Saint Grigor, the larger of the two, suggest that the church was built much earlier than its ‘twin’, probably in 11th or 12th century. Its dome and tholobate had collapsed long ago, while the main walls and the foundation of the structure were reinforced with metal beams during the Soviet time reconstruction attempt in 1973-1977.
The smaller church of Saint Astvatsatsin (Mother Mary) was built in 1201 AD by the abbot Hayrapet of St. Petros Monastery, who left an inscription on the walls of the church stating that he built the St. Astvatsatsin hoping that every sunrise one mass will be offered for him and one for his brother Shmavon in both vestibules, and for his parents in all the churches.
We spend some time wandering around the churches and exploring the tombstones of the medieval cemetery, and then headed back to the main road. We had to hurry a bit, since we wanted to visit the Matosavank monastery that was situated across the river on the opposite slopes of the mountain. We crossed the river and upon reaching the information board we realized it’s not going to be easy, since the slopes were way more steep and the trail was more muddy. Following the paint marks on the trees we walked into the forest and soon got lost. It was getting dark, and there was fog all around, the atmosphere was spooky, and we had a good chance of becoming a tasty meal for wild animals. Bears. Nane, my soul mate, was mostly scared of meeting a bear. But when we finally reached the Matosavank monastery, our fears were left behind… well, at least, for some time.
The monastery of Matosavank was built in 13th century and its structure actually consists of adjoining small churches, gavit (narthex) and book repositories with vaulted ceilings. A medieval cemetery is located southeast of the complex. The church of Saint Astvatsatsin (it’s sometimes also called the church of St. Astvatsatsin of Pghndzahank) was built in 1247 AD by Avag Zakaryan, the son of Ivane Zakarian of the Orbelyan dynasty.
Inside, the monastery was dark and we barely could see anything. The only light penetrated into the churches through the small window on the western wall, the large crack on the slowly collapsing wall and through where once used to be the dome.
Although the Matosavank monastery is listed among the monuments under the government’s protection, today it’s in a poor state. It’s hard to say whether this is because of the remote location of the monastery, or the lack of attention from church and government officials, but it made me feel sad to realize how endangered it is.
Meanwhile, the mist was thickening, and the forest around us was filling up with all sorts of sounds: cracking of wood, wind, howling and barking, birds screaming. We decided to walk down from the mountain while the trails was still visible, but all the way down the muddy slope we couldn’t get rid of the feeling that something, or someone kept following us, and it was such a relief to finally reach the river. We crossed it over to the road and soon got a ride from a mid-aged man who took us back to Dilijan.
The ancient monasteries and churches are one of the top tourist destinations in Armenia, which is understandable given the history of the country and the role of Christianity in it. Monasteries and churches are spread all over the mountains, and Jukhtak Vank, Matosavank and Makaravank (‘vank’ is the Armenian word for monasteries) are just the few of them. While we have heard of the latter, the first two were mystery to us, and these monasteries made the itinerary for our next trip to Tavush province of Armenia. It took us about 2 hours to get to the city of Dilijan from Yerevan, with a short stop by the lake Sevan. And sometimes we didn’t even need to stretch our hands out with thumbs up – the drivers would stop upon noticing us walking along the road with our backpacks.