Noravank monastery lies in the Gnishik Gorge around 6 kilometres from the main road. The gorge is known for its sheer, brick-red cliffs, directly across from the monastery. The monastery’s best known feature is the two-storey Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) church, built by Prince Burtel Orbelian in 1339. He was the descendant of Georgian families who’d moved into the area around 130 years earlier after the Georgian army had won a decisive battle in Armenia.
The way to the second floor is via a very narrow stone staircase at the front of the church, so be careful if you attempt to climb these steps as there is no room for people to pass each other. These steps are at an angle of around 55 degrees and gave me the impression that the church had been squashed taller and thinner by a giant hand. The cupola is almost as wide as the body of the church and this is presumably why some historians believe Norovank resembles the burial towers built in early Christian times.
At the top of the steps the doorway, into what was the second storey of the church, is around 20 feet off the ground and is not a good place to find you suffer from vertigo as there’s little to hold on to. Above the door lintel, an ornate cross about two metres high has been carved into the stone, though presumably not when the stone was in situ.