You know the scenes with the knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Indy goes inside a rock-hewn church and the inside is all dark and lit by candles. That’s exactly what Geghard—a monastery in the hills southeast of Yerevan, Armenia—reminded me of. 

At Geghard there is one church that is built right up against a cliff, and then there are connected churches that were carved right out of the rock itself. The monastery was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator—the guy who brought Christianity to Armenia. The churches and caves seen today were created in the 13th century. Geghard is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The monastery is up the road from Garni. Once I’d seen the temple and gorge in Garni, I needed to find a taxi to take me to Geghard, which I found soon enough. We agreed on a price (2000 drams or $4.90 USD) and I hopped in the car—as did two women who were standing nearby, who we ended up giving a lift to and dropping off at a village down the road. The driver’s name was Ludwig, and we had a pleasant chat as we drove the 15-20 minutes further into the hills to Geghard. The arrangement was that Ludwig would wait for me and then take me back to Garni, where I could get a marshrutka back to Yerevan.

I spent about half an hour exploring Geghard before going back to the parking area to find that Ludwig had disappeared. Some older men sitting under a tree came up to me and said that the enterprising Ludwig had taken someone else back down to Garni and that he’d be back for me soon. I sat and talked with the men for a few minutes, and then they busted out some flutes and a drum and started playing. I went and bought a fruit leather and nut roll-up to eat while listening to the men play, and by the time they were done, Ludwig had returned. We went back down the hill to Garni, where I hopped in a marshrutka to Yerevan, where I got a taxi back to my apartment.

More southern California-esque scenery en route to Geghard.

More southern California-esque scenery en route to Geghard.

The rocks and cliffs surrounding Geghard

The rocks and cliffs surrounding Geghard

The main church and steps leading up to some smaller church cells

The main church and steps leading up to some smaller church cells

Inside the main church

Inside the main church

Candles inside the main church

Candles inside the main church

The chapel of the main church

The chapel of the main church

This is a spring in one of the rooms/churches that's been carved out of the rock. The basin was carved out of the stone floor, and there is a

This is a spring in one of the rooms/churches that’s been carved out of the rock. The basin was carved out of the stone floor, and there is a narrow channel running along the floor of the room (you can kind of see it in this pic) that takes the water outside. Very cool. The water is supposedly lucky or holy.

Inside one of the rock-hewn churches. Note the basin from the previous photo in the bottom-left corner.

Inside one of the rock-hewn churches. Note the basin from the previous photo in the bottom-left corner. This whole room was carved out of solid rock.

Some details in one of the rock-hewn chapels. Are you feeling the Indiana Jones vibe?

Some details in one of the rock-hewn chapels. Are you feeling the Indiana Jones vibe? A single hole in the ceiling provides some light.

The carved dome ceiling of one of the churches/rooms

The carved dome ceiling of one of the churches/rooms

Some detail on one of the columns in one of the chapels

Some detail on one of the columns in one of the chapels. (Again, very Indiana Jones-y.)

Khachakars are intricately carved stone crosses that are unique to Armenian orthodoxy (there aren't any in Georgian churches, for example).

Khachakars are intricately carved stone crosses that are unique to Armenian orthodoxy (there aren’t any in Georgian churches, for example).

Some more cells/churches below the khachkars

Some more cells/churches below the khachkars

Beautiful crosses inside one of the carved passages

Beautiful crosses inside one of the carved passages

Inside another one of the carved churches

Inside another one of the carved churches. Again, this was carved out of solid stone.

More khachkars

More khachkars

Details

Details

A door of the main church

A door of the main church

Another entrance to the main church and a side church

Another entrance to the main church and a side church

The mountains around Geghard

The mountains around Geghard

The guys with the flutes and drum

The guys with the flutes and drum

The lady I bought the fruit leather/nut roll thing from

The lady I bought the fruit leather/nut roll thing from

The apricot fruit leather that I bought. It had nuts of some kind in there, and it was really good

The apricot fruit leather that I bought. It had nuts of some kind in there, and it was really good.