Moss-covered Sanahin is a fascinatingly detailed church and monastery complex in the Lori Province of Armenia, packed with ancient graves, darkened chapels and medieval gallery schools (study halls where pupils sat on benches on either side of a corridor). The inner sanctum of the St. Astvatsatsin Church (The Holy Virgin), located in the middle of several buildings, is the oldest structure here, dating back to 928, while its adjoining gavit or entrance hall is one of the later buildings, built in 1211. A library was created at Sanahin in 1062, and a medical school flourished in the 12th century.
The name “Sanahin” literally translates from Armenian as “this one is older than that one”, presumably representing a claim to having an older monastery than the neighboring Haghpat Monastery. The two villages and their monasteries are similar in many ways, and lie in plain view of each other on a dissected plateau formation, separated by a deep crack formed by a small river flowing into the Debed River.
There are more than 50 khachkars in Sanahin. The most distinguished are the Grigor Tudevordi, located under the northern wall of the St. Harutyun Church (1184), and Sarkis (1215) khachkars. These khachkars are considered to be the finest examples of Armenian sculpture.
The complex belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church and Sanahin is on the list of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin were chosen as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites because the two monastic complexes represent the highest flowering of Armenian religious architecture, whose unique style evolved from a blending of elements of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture and the traditional vernacular architecture of the Caucasian region.
Next to the Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries, a part of the heritage is also the Bridge of Sanahin, built over the heavy waves of the river Debed. Owing to its firmness and the harmonic construction of all the parts, the Bridge of Sanahin has its unique place among the numerous bridges of medieval Armenia and an outstanding one in the whole Transcaucasia. There are high-reliefs of lions, which seem to have preserved the bridge and guarded the road from the bridge to the monastery for ages.