The thousand-year-old Tatev monastic complex is located in the south of Armenia in a beautiful and strategically advantageous natural setting. It overlooks the Vorotan River Gorge and is flanked by steep, rocky slopes and lush forests.
During the Middle Ages, Tatev was one of Armenia's most important spiritual centers. It also had great academic and political significance. It housed Tatev University, whose legacy lives on today through a wealth of preserved manuscripts, and was the political stronghold of Syunik principality. Within its walls, the eminent Grigor Tatevatsi and his successors wrote missives to the world leaders of their time and penned scholarly treatises that are as much a part of the world's cultural heritage as are the architectural monuments of Tatev Monastery.
Tatev was highly self-sufficient. It had an oil mill, flour mills and a traditional bread-making oven, or tonir. All food for the hundreds of monks, students and clergy who resided at the monastery was grown and prepared on premises or on the surrounding plots. The surplus was used for trade and bartering.
Tatev had a highly advanced water supply and irrigation system, with clay pipes transporting fresh spring water from the mountains above to the monastery and its surrounding area. This allowed for the cultivation of orchards and vineyards in the Vorotan Gorge, where a wide range of fruits and vegetables were grown, including olives, which were very uncommon in the region. There was also a winemaking facility close to Mets Anapat, a cloistered monastery deep in the gorge, which was administratively and economically linked to Tatev. Villagers cultivated the orchards and operated mills and other production facilities. They gave a percentage of their harvest and yield to the monastery.
Tatev underwent a major academic and cultural revival in the 14th century, with the introduction of Tatev University. The university was founded in 1390 by Hovhan Vorotnetsi and later flourished under the leadership of Grigor Tatevatsi. It was a highly advanced academic institution, which consisted of three different schools, each divided into faculties, including theology, philosophy, architecture, astronomy, manuscript-writing and miniature-painting.
Tatev University's academic tradition came to an end in 1435, when the monastery was invaded by Shah Rukh, one of Tamerlane's successors, and the remaining monks reestablished themselves at Sanahin Monastery in the north.
In the centuries to come, Tatev would undergo periods of religious revival and several restorations, but would never return to its medieval glory. In 1931, an earthquake left the monastery in ruins. Restoration efforts were undertaken during the late Soviet era but they were incomplete and flawed, resulting not only in historical and architectural inaccuracies but also in ongoing water damage. Today, the definitive restoration of the monastery and rejuvenation of monastic life are major components of the Tatev Revival Project, continuing a centuries-old tradition of protecting, preserving and enhancing Armenia's cultural heritage at Tatev.