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An ancient monastery in Armenia is attracting tourists from around the world with its unusual architecture. Carved into the stone mountains, the Geghard monastery is decorated with memorial stones all bearing the sign of the cross.
High in the mountains around 40 kilometers South-East from Yerevan, Armenia, is Kotyak Province, where an ancient Geghard monastery is tucked away.
Every day, this stone marvel attracts people from all over the world.
The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique construction. It was partially carved out manually from the basalt mountain, giving it the original name 'Ayrivank', meaning 'the Monastery of the Cave'.
The monastery's main chapel was built in 1215. Its additional buildings were built in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Ruzanna Khachikyan, historian, said, "The only thing we know is that the workers started from a hole for light and then carved everything. And only then, at the final stage, an exit was carved, or a connection with the churches downstairs, or just an exit like here."
The whole monastery complex was built at the site of the sacred spring inside the cave. And even today visitors drink its water, believing it has a special power.
The monastery is famously known as 'Geghard', or more fully 'Geghardavank', which means "the Monastery of the Spear". It got this name from the relics it housed. The most well-known relic was the spear which, as the saying goes, wounded Christ on the Cross and was brought to the monastery by the Apostle Thaddeus.
For centuries, this legend made the monastery a popular place of pilgrimage for Armenian Christians.
The spear is now kept in another place, but the name of the monastery remains.
Today, Geghard is famed due to its numerous caves, several churches within the monastery that were entirely dug out of the cliff rocks, and the engraved and free-standing "khachkars".
Khachkars, which are the cross-bearing carved memorial steles covered with botanical motifs and abstract knotwork patterns, were erected for the salvation of the soul of either a living or a deceased person, or to commemorate a construction of a church, or as a form of protection from natural disasters.
Today ancient Geghard khachkars remain a main attraction for people of all ages and different cultures.