Akhtala was built in the late tenth century by the Kiurikids, a branch of the Bagratunis. The fortress was built on an elevated rocky outcrop surrounded by deep canyons from three sides forming a natural barrier. The accessible parts between the cliffs are reinforced by towers and walls. The only entrance to the compound is on the northern side protected by walls with round, cone-shaped towers. The walls and towers of the fortress are built from bluish basalt using lime mortar.
The 13th c. tower, a three-story construction stands as the main entrance to the fortress and is built into the fortress walls; the main church St. Astvatsatsin is the most prominent building in the monastery; its portico with small chapel where, according to the medieval historians Vardan Areveltsi and Kirakos Gandzaketsi, Prince Ivaneh Zakarian and his son Avag are buried.
Akhtala remains one of Armenia's best intact examples of its great fresco period. Currently the monastery has its pilgrimage days on September 20–21. Armenians, Greeks and Georgians visit the monastery on this occasion.