If you build it, they will come.
As the new millennium began the future of the Tatev Monastery in Armenia’s Syunik province was looking bleak. Tourism was at an all time low due to the 9th-century grounds’ desperate need of renovations and the monastery’s hard-to-reach location. Resting atop a plateau at the edge of the dramatic Vorotan Gorge, Tatev Monastery required a difficult drive on a less than stable road, which had been ignored as tourism dwindled.
Ruben Vardanyan, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of the IDEA Foundation, told Smithsonian.com:
“In theory at least, Tatev had potential to become a key point on a tourist route that would connect Yerevan with Artsakh and South Armenia—but because of its remote location, there was little likelihood of it being included in organized tourism drives. Local authorities did not have the funds to reconstruct the road to the monastery and, given the harsh winters and sparsely populated surrounding villages, did not consider it worthy of being earmarked.”
This all began to change, however, when Vardanyan and his friends with the IDEA foundation began an effort to revitalize the monastery, as well as the surrounding area. Dubbed the Tatev Revival project, it enlisted the Austrian-Swiss company Doppelmayr/Garaventa to build the Wings of Tatev tramway, which has since been recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest non-stop double-track cable car.
The cable car travels over 3.5 miles from Syunik to Tatev, hanging 1,000 feet over the Vorotan River Gorge. For the duration of the 12-minute ride visitors are treated to a breathtaking view of the river and surrounding mountains.
Vardanyan noted that before the cable car, there were not many visitors that would brave the dangerous mountain road to reach the monastery. In 2009, they only recieved about 5,000 tourists, but today the site accounts for 20 percent of Armenian tourism. Now, more than 640,000 people have come from Russia, the USA, Europe, and Asia.
A round-trip ride on the tram costs about $10 and the majority of the proceeds are being put towards the revitalization of the monastery grounds, its frescoes, and building renovations. The renewed interest in the site has also drawn new sources of public funding, allowing the IDEA foundation to bring their efforts to other aspects of the communities in the surrounding area.
“Along with the various stakeholders,” Vardanyan explained, “we are developing logistical, technical and educational infrastructure in the nearby villages: improving the water supply and street lighting system, improving road safety, building children’s playgrounds, repairing schools and pre-schools, opening engineering laboratories in local schools, etc. The thrust of our commitment is also environmental conservation: planting trees, rubbish collection and installing litterbins in settlements, and general upkeep of natural monuments.”
The good works of the Tatev Revival project have allowed the important historical site to re-open its doors to the community and once again become the important cultural center it had been for over 1,000 years. Smithsonian.com reports that Church holidays are once again celebrated within its walls, and the Tatev Monastery Choir performs regularly. The facility also hosts theater performances, concerts, festivals and even sporting events.