The Gandzasar Monastery is located in the Mardakert District of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, and is about two hours drive from the republic’s capital city of Stepanakert. It stands atop of Mount Gandzasar (hence the name), a large green hill that rises above the historical town of Vank.
The name “Gandzasar” (Armenian: Գանձասար) is translated from Armenian as “Treasure Mountain.” “Gandz” (Armenian: գանձ) means “treasure” and “sar” (Armenian: սար) means “mountain,” which point to ancient copper and silver mines found in the vicinity. But there can be little doubt that the real treasure is the architectural and historical significance of the monastery that adorns the mountain.
Gandzasar is a walled abbey with both ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical buildings, the centerpiece of which is the Cathedral of St. Hovhannes Mkrtich ( St. John the Baptist; Armenian: Սբ. Հովհաննես Մկրտիչ), a large church with a cupola in the inscribed cross plan.
The foundations of the Cathedral were laid in 1216 by Prince Hasan Jalal Vahtangian, a powerful Armenian feudal lord who referred to himself as Grand Prince, Prince of Princes and King (tagavor; Armenian: թագավոր).