NORATUS

One of Armenia’s most amazing sights is the medieval cemetery with a multitude of early khachkars located in the village of Noratus, in the Gegharkunik Province, near Gavar and Lake Sevan, 90 km north of Yerevan. Noratus Cemetery is near the western shore of Lake Sevan, south of the Sevanavank Monastery and an easy drive from there, passing the small monastery of Hayrivank.

The cemetery contains the greatest cluster of khachkars in the Republic of Armenia. It is presently the largest surviving cemetery with khachkars in the world, following the devastation of the khachkars in Old Julfa, in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (Azerbaijan) by the government of Azerbaijan.

Although there are many groups of khachkars in Armenia, nowhere can rival the impression made by the cross-stones at Noratus. It is quite impossible to do justice to the carved stones on a single visit and one can merely wander across the site gazing in amazement at the rows of khachkars, no two of them alike.

The oldest khachkars in the cemetery date back to the late 10th century. During the revival of the khachkar tradition in the 16th-17th century, many khachkars were built under the yoke of the Safavid Empire, when oriental influences seeped into Armenian art. The cemetery is spread over a seven hectare field, containing almost a thousand khachkars, each of them depicting unique ornamentation. Stones with single crosses, stones with multiple crosses, geometric patterns, naturalistic ones: it is quite impossible to take in the riot of carved detail. The majority of the khachkars is covered with moss and lichen. Several tombstones in the cemetery depict carved scenes of weddings and farm life. Adjacent to the old cemetery a modern cemetery has been built separated by a long fence. One of the khachkars from the Noratus Cemetery was donated to the British Museum in 1978 by the Catholicos of All Armenians Vazgen I.

A popular folk tale associated with the cemetery concerns the invading army of Tamerlane. According to one story, the villagers placed helmets on top of the khachkars and leaned swords against them. From a distance the khachkars looked like armed soldiers holding a defensive position, as a result of which Tamerlane’s army retreated.