Great for: Architecture, Monasticism, Armenian History, Armenian Church
The Church of Surp Gevorg (St George) is a medieval monastery complex built on the shores of Lake Van, separated from the settled lands of the Göllü plain by a small mountainous ridge. While in a semi ruinous state, the church is still an excellent example of the region’s Armenian architecture, with high vaults, khachkars, and a unique cupola.
Gomkivank is one of dozens of Armenian Monasteries in the region, for more about those sites see Armenian Churches and Monasteries of Vaspurakan and Lake Van
On the south shore of Lake Van is a rather unusual plain, hemmed in by a ring of low mountains. The plain is utterly flat (the village on the north edge is called Çanakdüzü which means “The Flat of the Dish”) and is watered by the surrounding hills and a creek that enters from the south. This fertile plain was home to a number of Armenian villages, and the ruins of a church can still be found in the village of Göllü.
The monastery of Surp Grigor was built on the shore of Lake Van, to the north of the Göllü Plain, just outside of the low ring of mountains that create the bowl. The monastery was said to have a relic: the head of St George, from which the name Surp Gevorg likely was derived. The church was also referred to as “The Monastery of The Great Head” or “Jojglukh Vank”.
In its final form the monastery complex consisted of a walled site, approximately square in layout. In the southeast and southwest corners, you can still see round towers. The space between the walls and the church itself is choked with dirt and rubble, making it difficult to make out the layout of the monastic buildings. The door appears to have been in the northeast corner, though its possible that there was something in the west wall, which is now partially buried.
The church is predominately built with pale limestone, with the more artistic elements made of dark basalt. On the exterior the church building is rectangular, with pediments spanning the width of the east and west facades as well as pediments centered on the cupola. Inside the church is a cruciform with a long vault, the apse, and two transversal vaults radiating from the high dome. Lower transversal vaults open off of the main western vault to fill the rectangular space. The dome and drum are irregular, being a squished oval rather than the usual circle. The drum sits on a set of four basalt squinches with a trio of scallop shells carved into them.
While the interior of the church is still in fair condition, the site is overall ruinous. The conical top to the dome has been lost and part of the dome has collapsed. The tightly fitting stonework of the roof has fallen away exposing the more sensitive mortar to water, frost, and plants. While these threats are serious, the worst may come from Lake Van itself which has risen over the centuries (there is an island monastery now under water). The rising waters have caused erosion to the hillside on the north of the monastic complex and the outer wall is threatened by the weakening bank of loos gravel and stone.
To the southwest of the complex there is a long flat space built into the hillside. This was likely a patch of cultivated land worked by those at the monastery.
To reach Surp Gevorg Monastery you will pass through the village of Göllü which sits on the south side of the Göllü Plain. In the village there is the ruin of an Armenian church next to the large mosque in the center of the village. For more on this site read Churches and Monasteries of Lake Van Region.
How To Get There
To reach the complex, you will need a car or be prepared to do a lot of walking. Start by heading to the village of Çanakdüzü which is in Bitlis Province, not far from the Van border, a short drive north from the Van-Tatvan (D300) highway. Continue past the village of Çanakdüzü, keeping the mountain on your right and the fields on your left. Once you’ve come around the first mountain spur that juts out into the plain, you will see a trail that works its way up to the ridge. Follow this trail, at the crest it will head right and take you over a spur that juts north into the lake. On the other side of this, in the curve of the shoreline you will find the monastery of Surp Gevorg. In this case the location on Google Maps is correct.
Climbing directly over the mountains from Çanakdüzü will leave you atop a set of cliffs, which will force you westward back onto the above mentioned route.
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Where To Stay
Van and Bitlis are in short supply of hotels compared to other provinces. Your best options are to stay in the larger centers of Tatvan (43 kms to the west) or the city of Van (90 kms to the east).
Gomkivank is one of many remote and lesser known Armenian churches and monasteries that have been left among the hills and island of this region. For a list of all the sites that we’ve researched so far see The Churches and Monasteries of Lake Van and Vaspurakan and don’t forget to stop at the ruins of the Armenian church at Göllü.
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