Geghard Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its ancient rock-cut architecture.
Dating back to the 4th century, it features ornate chapels and caves, some with stunning frescoes.
The name “Geghard” means “spear,” as it once housed the Holy Lance, a Christian relic.
It’s located in the dramatic Azat River Gorge, about 35 km from the capital Yerevan. You don’t need expensive organized tours to get there as there’s a public bus which is quick and easy to take.
Here’s everything you need to know to visit Geghard Monastery by bus from Yerevan
Bus from Yerevan towards Geghard Monastery
From the city center of Yerevan, grab bus #63 (100 AMD/0.25$) to get to Gai Avenue where tucked away between two small patches of a park is the so-called Gai Bus Station. This is the location on Google Maps.
Only two buses use this station and both are viable for this trip – 266 and 284. The timetable on the official site is a bit unreliable but according to it, there are 3 buses departing at 11:11, 12:11 and 12:59.
However, one bus for sure goes at 10 AM as this is the one I took. It goes all the way to the village of Goght (250AMD/0.65$).
Goght is the buses’ terminus and no buses go all the way to Geghard Monastery.
From Goght you can either walk to Geghard Monastery (3.8km; 1hr) or hitchhike. You won’t have to wait for longer than 5 minutes to get picked up on the road towards the monastery.
I started walking and got picked up by the first old Lada that passed. An old lovely couple were going for prayers and drove me the last 3 km to the Monastery.
Why visit Geghard Monastery?
For one, it’s a UNESCO heritage site. For two, I bet you’ve already been to Khor Virap and now you have to finish your “In the Steps of Gregory the Illuminator” pilgrimage, right?
Sometime after getting freed and becoming the king’s favorite new friend, St. Gregory the Illuminator founded Geghard Monastery at a sacred spring (well, aren’t all springs sacred and holy, am I right…) within a river gorge. The Azat River to be precise.
It’s quite a magnificent place.
Some of the churches are built into the rocks behind them. The main place of worship – Katoghike Chapel – is exquisitely decorated, its doors finely carved and walls inscribed.
What to see in Geghard Monastery
Geghard is a unique place and deserves its UNESCO Heritage site status. Here’s what to look out for when you visit it.
1. Katoghike Chapel
This central structure of Geghard is a beautiful example of Armenian medieval architecture. It was built in 1215 after the recapture of these territories from the Ottomans by Queen Tamar of Georgia.
You can find many places named in her honor in Georgia, for example, the main hall in the Uplistsikhe Cave Town.
The central nave of the cathedral is surrounded by several chambers and chapels, each with its own historical and architectural significance.
There are intricate carvings on most walls: crosses, trees, pomegranates, arches, leaves, doves, a lion attacking an ox, birds, human faces, rosettes, jars, really, you name it.
2. The Geghard Gavit
Linked to the main chapel is a hall that serves as an assembly room in the church. It’s called a vestry, narthex, or in this case more specifically a Gavit.
In the Gavit, there are four huge columns that support the stone roof. A hole in the center lets some light in, but in general, the site has a dark medieval vibe.
The central space has a dome with outstanding stalactites.
3. Rock-cut Church
Northwest of the Gavit is a church entirely built into the rocks behind. It’s intricately carved with crosses, trees, and pomegranates.
The Zhamatun is a square chamber cut into the rock. Take a look at the reliefs on the walls as they are the truly unique thing here.
There’s a ram’s head in the center with a chain in its jaws that is wrapped around two lions’ necks. There is also an eagle with half-spread wings with a lamb in its claws.
This is most probably a coat-of-arms of some sort.
5. Chapel of St. Gregory the Illuminator
After all, Geghard Monastery was founded by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, so it makes sense to visit the Chapel in his honor.
It stands high above the road, a hundred meters away from the entrance to the monastery. There existed a cave there which is no more.
The chapel is rectangular with passages and annexes at various levels and even one on top of another.
Getting back to Yerevan
Unfortunately, there’s no public bus that goes all the way to Geghard Monastery so all the vehicles you will see in front are organized tours and private rides.
Go out of the Monastery and walk back towards Goght. Hitchhiking is really easy in Armenia, so if you’re tired, just raise your thumb. Nonetheless, the views of the surrounding area are pretty cool, so walking is pleasant.
In Goght you have three options:
- Wait for the direct bus back to Yerevan to come. There are buses at 9:00, 13:30, 14:20, 15:50, 19:30 and cost 100AMD/0.25$.
- Hitchhike. Practically all cars going west are bound for Yerevan, so you should have no trouble getting back at least to the outskirts of the city.
- Hitchhike or take the bus but only to Garni village so you visit the Symphony of Stones and Garni Temple.
Don’t forget to visit all the must-see places in Yerevan I’ve included in my 2-day guide for the Pink City when you go back to it!