The name translates to "fortress in the clouds" in Armenian. It is also the name incorrectly attributed to Vahramashen Church, the 11th-century Armenian church near the castle. The village of Byurakan is 6.4 kilometres from the site of Amberd.
The site started as a Stone Age settlement. During the Bronze Age and Urartianperiods, a fortress had been built that is now obsolete. Some sources say that Amberd used to be a summer residence for kings. The castle of Amberd and some sections of walls were constructed in the 7th century as a possession of the noble House of Kamsarakan.
Four centuries later the fortress and surrounding lands were purchased by the House of Pahlavuni and rebuilt by Prince Vahram Vachutian Pahlavuni, as is recorded in the manuscripts of Grigor Magistros Pahlavuni. Vahram built the Church of Surb Astvatsatsin in 1026, fortified the complex with thicker stone walls, and added three bastions along the ridge of the Arkhashen canyon. Despite being unusual for a military installation, a bath house was built in the same period and has remained moderately intact along with the water supply system.
Amberd was invaded in the 1070s by the Seljuq Turks who turned it into a military base. In 1197, a joint-army of Armenians and Georgians led by General Zakareh Zakarianliberated the fortress. Under Zakarian control during the 12th and 13th centuries, the walls were structurally reinforced and the castle and outer buildings were renovated.
The noble Vacheh Vachutian purchased Amberd in 1215, making it a key defensive site in the region. Within a short period of time, the Mongols captured and destroyed the fortress in the year 1236. The site remained abandoned and untouched until the 20th century, when reconstruction and archaeological excavations began.