Noravank, Armenia – Amaghu Valley + the Stairs of Death 2

Armenians have a knack for building churches in the most scenic, most uplifting, most spiritually pleasing landscapes they can find. And the monastery of Noravank, set in the dramatic Amaghu Valley of southern Armenia, is no exception.

The approach to Noravank, Armenia

If you look closely you can make out Noravank in this picture; it’s on the left side of the road, half-way up the mountain. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Armenians build their churches on the tops of mountains. They build them on promontories that jut into lakes. They build them in narrow ravines; they build them atop sheer cliffs.

The approach to Noravank, Armenia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

This one, Noravank, is set at the end of a long, winding gorge; perched halfway up the mountain, surrounded by steep, rugged cliffs.

Noravank, Armenia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Does the sombre grandeur of Noravank monastery accentuate the drama of the rocky gorge? Or is it the drama of the rugged gorge that highlights the architectural finery of the monastery?

Or is it the two together that does the trick?


Noravank, Armenia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Noravank, which means New Monastery, was built in 1205 CE – which means use of the word new here is strictly a relative term.

Noravank, Armenia

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The monastery was financed by the Orbelians, an affluent family from southern Armenia that became the movers and shakers of the times (the Orbelians also built several other churches in the region, and were the financiers of Selim Caravanserai).

Noravank is the final resting place for numerous members of the Orbelian clan (they even have their own family mausoleum within the monastery).

Noravank, Armenia

Inside one of the mausoleums. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Surb Astvatsatsin Church, Noravank

Surb Astvatsatsin Church, the largest of the churches at Noravank, was designed by an illustrious Armenian architect, sculptor, and painter who went by the moniker of Momik.

Noravank, Armenia

Surb Astvatsatsin Church with its stairs of death leading to the second floor. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Surb Astvatsatsin Church is famous for its stairs of death: a set of narrow stone steps that jut out of the exterior of the building. The stairs of death are the only way to reach the second floor of the church.

Climbing the stairs has become a popular thrill for tourists and pilgrims alike. Keep a firm grip on the rope railing provided and you should be able to climb to the top of the stairs without falling to your death.

The way back down is a little more tricky though .

Noravank, Armenia

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Practical information and how to reach Noravank:

Noravank is 120 kilometres from Yerevan and can be accessed from the capital as part of a long day trip (expect a 1.5 to 2 hour drive each way). More transport info here.

A more relaxed way to do it is to base yourself in nearby Yeghegnadzor (20 kilometres away; a 20 to 30 minute drive). If you stay in Yeghegnadzor you’ll also be able to visit Noravank during the late afternoon when the monastery is looking its best.

The monastery of Noravank and the upper Amaghou Valley are on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status.

More on Armenia:

The Temple of Garni – a much smaller Parthenon, built for the sun god Mihr

Tanahati Monastery – as good as Tatev without the crowds

Zorats Karer – 223 standing stones in a grassy field. Is it linked to Stonehenge?

Selim Caravanserai – built by the Orbelian Dynasty at Vardenyats Pass in 1332 CE.

The geological marvel of Garni Gorge: Symphony of the Stones

Yerevan – celebrating 2800 years as a city

Posts on the Caucasus:


Vardzia – 400 room, 19 level cave city. Watch out for falling rocks.

Ushguli – watchtowers on every house; even Genghis Khan was deterred

Uplistsikhe – cave city that housed 20,000; destroyed by Mongols


Sea Stone Hotel, Vank – a lion head carved into the hillside. Pure genius!


Gobustan – stone age petroglyphs that inspired Thor Heyerdahl

Baku – at 28m below sea level, it’s the world’s deepest capital

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2 thoughts on “Noravank, Armenia – Amaghu Valley + the Stairs of Death

  • Karen White

    What a spectacular location for the monastery.How do they get all the materials for the church to such an isolated site? Beautiful photos. I’m glad you didn’t fall down the stairs on the way down!!