In October 2013, on our way to Tbilisi, Georgia, a 40-45 y.o. man gave us a lift, and it was him who told us about the monastery. He didn’t know the name of it, nor he visited it himself. He showed us the ruins, pulling his car over at this very same spot where we were dropped off at by a young driver who gave us a ride from Tumanyan. I was both surprised and impressed at how well is the monastery camouflaged for I’ve travelled this road many times but never noticed the ruins.
We cross the road and follow the muddy road hoping it will get us to the ruins. But the road ran a different direction and soon merged with the terrain. There is no visible path, so we just climb up. The sun disappears behind the plateau above us. The way up isn’t very hard, but with our backpacks we move rather slow, making short stops to catch our breaths. On the way, we come across a wooden shack where shepherds spend their afternoons or hide from rains. Next to it is a covered shelter for the animals. There’s no one inside. “Well, we can spend the night here in case of urgent need,” I think to myself. It takes us about 40-45 minutes to get the ruins.
The architectural complex of Saint Nshan monastery of Horomayr, first mentioned in the 7th century, consists of two parts – the lower one situated on the cliffs of the Debed canyon, and the upper one on the vast plateu above. The monastery derives its name from the main church of the lower part – the Saint Nshan, built in 1187 by princes Zakare and Ivane. Its bell-tower was built later in 1290. Other structures of the lower part of the complex are the ruins of Saint Arakyal chapel (1216), a small chapel built in 1201, to the north is the square-schemed chapel built in 1301. The cemetery of the monastery with cross-stones and tombs dating back to 13th century is spread around the complex.
Frankly speaking, we had no idea that the monastery consisted of two parts. We read about it on the tourist information board, and as we do, we begin to search for a path to get to the upper part. From there we hope to walk to the village of Odzun to spend the night. But after several attempts we fail to locate the trail, so we decide to explore the ruins of the lower part and then return to the main road. There are many caves cut at different heights in the rocks that stretch behind the monastery. These caves once served as abodes for the monks. The rocks north of Saint Nshan church are rich in 13-14th century inscriptions. From the texts we learn about donations people made to the monastery.
By the time we get back to the road, it’s already dark. We are tired and exhausted. But we are lucky this time. It takes us about 2-3 minutes to hitch a ride all the way to the Armenian-Georgian border. “Are you Armenian, or a foreigner who speaks good Armenian?” asks the driver, a 24-25 y.o. young man as we get into his car. We laugh. He drives fast – not the best idea on the narrow road through the Debed canyon. In about an hour we say our goodbyes, leaving the guy behind us as we cross the border into Georgia.
How to get to Horomayr monastery:
The easiest way to get to the Horomayr monastery is to walk (take a taxi/hitchhike) about 2-3 km southeast of the village of Odzun. Follow the road than runs from Odzun to the village of Aygehat until you see the ruins of the upper part of the monastery. The path down to the lower part of the complex starts left of the ruins. Since we didn’t take this path, I can’t say if it’s an easy hike, or not. You can also follow the way we took, but you’ll have to be attentive not to miss the monastery from the road. We started the ascension approximately 6 km after the village of Tumanyan.
I can’t help the feeling of unease that fills me up as the sun slowly sets down. Here we are on the road somewhere between the cities of Vanadzor and Alaverdi in the Lori province of Armenia. And above us, sitting on the cliffs, are the ruins of the Horomayr monastery. We have two options to get there: either climb up the steep side of the canyon right from the road, or get to the nearby village of Odzun first, and then walk down to the ruins from there. We end up choosing the first for it also seems more interesting and less complicated. What worries me is that we may not manage to come down to the road before it gets dark. But Nane seems confident, and so I decide to let go of my worries and follow her.