Noravank is a 13th century Armenian monastery, located 122km from Yerevan in a narrow gorge made by the Amaghu river, near the city of Yeghegnadzor, Armenia. The gorge is known for its tall, sheer, brick-red cliffs, directly across from the monastery. The monastery is best known for its two-storey Surp Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) church, which grants access to the second floor by way of a narrow stone-made staircase jutting out from the face of building. The monastery is sometimes called Noravank at Amaghu, with Amaghu being the name of a small and nowadays abandoned village above the canyon, in order to distinguish it from Bgheno-Noravank, near Goris.
In the 13th-14th centuries the monastery became a residence of Syunik's bishops and, consequently. a major religious and, later, cultural center of Armenia closely connected with many of the local seats of learning, especially with Gladzor's famed university and library. Noravank was founded in 1205 by Bishop Hovhannes, a former abbot of Vahanavank near the present-day city of Kapan in Syunik. The monastic complex includes the church of S. Karapet, S. Grigor chapel with a vaulted hall, and the church of S. Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God). Ruins of various civil buildings and khachkars are found both inside and outside of the compound walls. Noravank was the residence of the Orbelian princes.
The architect Siranes and the miniature painter and sculptor Momik worked here in the latter part of the thirteenth and early fourteenth century. The fortress walls surrounding the complex were built in the 17th--18th centuries. The grandest structure is Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God), also called Burtelashen (Burtel's construction) in the honour of Prince Burtel Orbelian, its financier. It is situated to the south-east of the Surb Karapet church. Surb Astvatsatsin was completed in 1339, a masterpiece of the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik, who designed it, and was also his last work. Near the church there is his tomb khachkar, small and modestly decorated, dated the same year.
In recent times the fallen roof had been covered with a plain hipped roof. In 1997 the drum and its conical roof was rebuilt, with the form based on existing fragments. The ground floor contained elaborate tombs of Burtel and his family. Narrow steps projecting from the west façade lead to the entrance into the church/oratory. There is fine relief sculpture over the entrance, depicting Christ flanked by Peter and Paul. Burtelashen is a highly artistic monument reminiscent of the tower-like burial structures of the first years of Christianity in Armenia. It is a memorial church. Its ground floor, rectangular in plan, was a family burial vault; the floor above, cross-shaped in plan, was a memorial temple crowned with a multi-columned rotunda. Burtelashen is the dominant structure in Noravank.
The original three-tier composition of the building is based on the increasing height of the tiers and the combination of the heavy bottom with the divided middle and the semi-open top. Accordingly, decoration is more modest at the bottom and richer at the top. Employed as decorative elements are columns, small arches, profiled braces forming crosses of various shapes, medallions, interlaced banding around windows and doors. The western portal is decorated with special splendour. An important role in its decoration is played by the cantilevered stairs that lead to the upper level, with profiled butts to the steps. The doorways are framed with broad rectangular plaitbands, with ledges in the upper part, with columns, fillets and strips of various, mostly geometrical, fine and intricate patterns.
Between the outer plathand and the arched framing of the openings there are representations of doves and sirens with women's crowned heads. Such reliefs were widely used in fourteenth-century Armenian art and in earlier times in architecture, miniatures and works of applied art, on various vessels and bowls. The entrance tympanums are decorated with bas-reliefs showing, on the lower tympanium, the Holy Virgin with the Child and Archangels Gabriel and Michael at her sides, and, on the upper tympanium, a half-length representation of Christ and figures of the Apostles Peter and Paul. As distinct from the reliefs of Noravank's vestry, these ones are carved on a plain surface, which gives them greater independence.
The figures are distinguished by their plasticity of form, softness of modeling, and accentuation of certain details of clothing. A group of the founders of Burtelashen is depicted on three columns of the western part of its rotunda. The picture consisted of relief figures of the Holy Virgin with the Child, sitting on a throne, and two standing men in rich attire, one of them holding a model of the temple.