Levon Arakelyan was 44 years old when his wife asked him to dig a photo storage place under their house in Arinj. He fulfilled his wife’s wish, however, even after finishing the work, he could not stop chiseling and continued working on it for 23 years. He is a builder by trade and was very drawn to the underground digging. His wife Tosya now runs the underground temple as a tourist attraction. She said that she was very motivated by a series of visions and dreams in which a voice told her to keep digging.
The voice said that Levon was going to create it and he listened to her and worked for 18 hours each day. Initially, the progress was really slow since he had to chisel through solid black basalt, however, after a few meters below the surface, he reached soft volcanic stone which made the work easier for him. The underground complex covers an area of 280 square meters and reaches up to 20 meters underground. It consists of 7 rooms which are connected by a network of corridors and staircases which are carved through sheer rock. The walls are decorated with a variety of artistic carvings, mosaics, sculptures and a small altar.
Tosya said, “My husband slept 3-4 hours a night, and really put his heart and soul into it, otherwise he could not have accomplished this”. During the 23 years which he spent digging the underground temple, Levon pulled out 450 truckloads of rubble exclusively using a metal bucket. He gave it to a local company which used the material for the construction of various projects. He also worked on his Magnus opus till he died in 2008 at an age of 67. He suffered a heart attack, however, his wife thinks it was the workload and lack of sleep that killed him. She said, “He ruined his health because of this hole”.
Tosya said that whenever she goes to the underground temple, she feels sad because it reminds her that Levon is no longer with her. But at the same time, she feels a sense of pride in what he has achieved. She told, “I feel proud of what he left to me and to our grandchildren. It’s a gift”. Levon’s lifelong project is now the main tourist attraction in Arinj. The first floor of the house has exhibits which are related to his work including his boots, hammers, and chisels. The metal buckets which he used to take the rubble out are also there. The couple have four daughters, 12 grandchildren but according to his wife, none of them is interested in expanding the underground temple.