torsdag 24. mai 2012

The mist-ery of Tatev

PLACE: TATEV, ARMENIA

Armenia is a country of spectacularly situated houses of worship. And the Tatev Monastery might just be the most spectacular of them all. 

The pictures on the web leave no doubt:

Creative commons-bilde av Alexander Naumov
Tatev on a clear day. Wikimedia Commons: Alexander Naumov
The monastery complex, that was built as early as 895-906 AD, has been put so dramatically in nature - balancing right above a vertical cliff - that the myth about how it got its name, gets an extra potency.

It says that the architect could not manage to climb down after he completed the cupola of the main church, and that in his desperation he shouted: "Togh astvats indz ta-tev" meaning "may God give me wings".

As a tourist in Armenia you can easily overdose on churces. But the photos left me without doubt. I was going to see Tatev.

That made the town Goris only 35 kilometers away a natural base. Bradt Guides describes it as "the most attractive town of southern Armenia", but everything is relative. At least when the fog and drizzle lay thicker than the smoke from old Soviet lorries in a long uphill.

That makes Goris a dirty, dismal town of Poor Armenia, with packs of skinny street dogs and wheel tracks as dirt stains on the asphalt. At night things gets even gloomier. Deserted streets with dreary apartment blocks, barely any street lights, and mud, gravel and pot-holed asphalt. At least, one of the restaurants was open. It looked like a class room decorated for a graduation ceremony. Then it was goodnight. That comes early on a foggy autumn day in Goris. Luckily.

An almost clear moment in the city park of Goris.
So what do you do, when the fog is as tight as a sausage also next morning? There can be no views from Tatev in such conditions.

I went nonetheless. What else could i do? Stay in Goris? 

The taxi driver did not hesitate. He was stearing past loose rocks and landslides, rolling down windy hills without railings with switch for the the gas engine on "off". I was crossing my fingers for two things: That we would stay on the road, and that the sky would clear.

One of my wishes came true. But at we reached Tatev, the clouds laid just as low as ever, if not lower.

Before long I was not so sure if it really mattered. Because the atmosphere was just as tight.

Tatev in fog. The main church's cupola is just visible.

An empty monastery, now almost invisible. Empty stone halls with no lights. Moist khachkars lying on the ground or leaning to the walls.

And the church had a mass. Red candles burning in a bin, two priests with deep voices and the same number of choir boys answering in high-pitched voices. .The smell of incence. And outside the fog was so thick that grey balls of it drift in every time someone opens the door. As incence too.

And the chanting. Clear. For the priests I guess that's more important that what the panoramic views look like.

You should also read my blog about Armenia's traditional memorial stones, khachkars



The market in Goris. Ladas are still the most popular car...
One of the lovely side streets of Goris.