Akhtala (Arm: Ախթալա), Lori Marz
Crossing the Debed on an unsignposted bridge to an industrial appendage of Akhtala (14322 p), heading N, then bearing W, you reach the 13th c. monastery* and fortress at Akhtala =95= (41 09.13n x 044 45.83e), with an Arakelots or S. Gevorg church inside the 10th c fortress and two more W of it. Also, a 13th c. spring monument. The fortress is surrounded with rocky deep canyons on three sides, and the north side joins the plain. Besides the man-made extensions to the three canyon walls, the fortress is protected by tall pyramid gates. The main entrance opens on the northern side, which has a roomy hall with vaulted roof and a three-storied pyramidal tower. The fortress was built in the X c by the Bagratuni dynasty's Kyurikid branch. Being one of the outstanding defensive spots of medieval Armenia, together with Lori, Kayan, Kaytzon, Gag and other fortresses, Akhtala played a great role in protecting the northern regions and the main road taking from Armenia to Georgia (through Gugark).
The Holy Virgin's church is famous for its first-rate and highly artistic frescos, with which are covered the inside walls, the partitions, and the bearings. They are characterized with perfect iconography, richness of theme and variety of different colors (where blue rules). Especially outstanding are the Virgin on a throne, the sacred communion, Hovanes Karapet frescoes, as well as pictures of saints till the waist or standing in whole length, on the pillars and the bearings. Find a villager to help unlock the church door in case nobody is around.
On the northwestern side of the Holy Virgin Church there is a one-nave vaulted church and its half-rounded apse going out from the eastern wall's borders. The only entrance is from western side, surrounded with a trench. There used to be a vestibule with a gable roof, which has not survived. Parallel to the north of the Holy Virgin's church the two-storied building of the friary stood, whose walls are preserved. It was a roomy hall with wooden roof, for which the exterior fortress wall served also as its eastern wall. The northern wall is half-rounded, and an entrance to the underground tunnel opens here. Beyond the territory of the temple in Akhtala village, there are many churches, chapels, and defensive erections standing or destroyed (X-XIII cc). Among them are temple of the Holy Trinity (consisting of two connected churches, a chapel, outside hall, and underground constructions), St. George church, the pair of churches in the western part of the temple the chapel of Barsegh, etc., which in their turn evidence Pshndzahank-Akhtala's medieval eventful (rich) past.
The monastery complex's main entrance and the pillars were repaired; the ramshackle wooden belfry built in XIV was taken away from the yard. In 1975-1978 the top parts of the walls on the church were repaired, the tin of the roof was replaced with basalt slabs. By the village was a large Early Iron Age cemetery. In 1763, King Herakli II brought Greek miners to work the ore deposits nearby. Upper Akhtala has a Greek church.
Source: Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook