As Lake Sevan (formerly Gökcha, but
renamed after the monastery) comes into view at 1890 m, it
is important to remember that since the mid-1930s the water level
has dropped some 19 m, turning Sevan Island into a peninsula and
creating a series of flat shelves and gravelly beaches around the
lake. Under Stalin, Soviet
engineers had concluded that Sevan’s large surface area meant
wasteful evaporation. They
decided to reduce the surface area of the lake to one-sixth is
original size, farming the new land at the S end and using the
excess water for hydropower and irrigation. Public outcry and the realization that completing the plan would
turn the Sevan basin into a desert killed the plan, but
Armenia’s engineers have continued to believe in massive
intervention, digging huge tunnels to bring water north from the
Arpa and (this tunnel not yet completed) Vorotan rivers, so as to
allow fuller exploitation of the Hrazdan hydroelectric cascade.
Continuing straight past the Sevan city turn-off,
passing various hostels, one crosses the Hrazdan river and, about
2 km later, reaches a wide parking area with the road (right)
leading to the Sevan peninsula.
Ignoring the red “no entry” signs and bearing right,
one comes to the parking area and restaurants at the foot of the
steps to Sevanavank (once also known as Sevank, "Black Monastery").
Here on the then island, Princess Mariam Bagratuni
sponsored construction of a monastery, first post-Arab example of
an important religious/architectural regional school, under the
spiritual guidance of the future katholikos Mashtots.
As the 13th c. Bishop/historian Stepanos
Orbelian describes it:
time, the venerable Mashtots shone for his amazing virtue on the
island of Sevan. ... He received the order in a vision to build a
church in the name of the twelve apostles and to set up a
religious community there. In
his trance, he saw 12 figures walking toward him on the sea, who
showed him the place for the church.