Armeniaprepared by Rolandas Liutika
26th July, Monday [63 km]
Route: GE/AM border – junction to Noyemberian (9.4) – Ayrum (11.5) – Shnogh (20) – turn to Akhtala (25.7-32.2) – turn to Haghpat (42.3-52.3) – Alaverdi (Tamara bridge) (56.7) – turn to Sanahin (58.3) – Sanahin (63)
To castle-monastery Akhtala detour through the bridge 6.4 km, 125 m up.
To monastery Haghpat detour 10 km, 250 m up.
Sleeping place: N41 05 26.1 E44 39 59.5; in Sanahin, in tents around the Mikoyan school (close to the Mikoyan Museum)
From Alaverdi to reach the sleeping place you can take a cable car. It climbs the lip of the inner canyon from the mine up to Sadahart and the nearby village of Sanahin. After the Tamara Bridge turn to the left, go under railways: the down station (N41 06 02.4 E44 39 18.8) is located close to a church within the copper mine complex (~800 meters from Tamara bridge). It runs according to work shifts at the mine: 7:15am to 10:00am, 11:00am to 2:00pm, 3:00pm to 7:30pm and 11:15pm to 12:30pm. One cable car takes 10 people (one bike like one person), ticket 70 AMD. 220 m up.
From the up station turn to the right, after 100 m to the left and up to the main square, then to the left and you will see the sign to the Mikoyan school. From the up station to the school ~ 1.5 km.
Telephones: +374 94 473 834 (Sigitas)
This canyon manages to pack in more history and culture than just about anywhere else in the country. Nearly every village along the Debed River has a church, a chapel, an old fort and a sprinkling of khatchkars somewhere nearby. Two World Heritage-listed monasteries, Haghpat and Sanahin, justly draw most visitors, but there are plenty more to scramble around. Soviet-era infrastructure is noticeable, however, with electric cables and railway lines running through the canyon, plus an ugly copper mine at Alaverdi. The road through the canyon is also busy, as this is the main artery linking Armenia to Georgia. Tourist facilities include a highly rated Tufenkian Hotel, but there is a dearth of quality budget accommodation; most travellers base themselves in Vanadzor and make day trips.
N41 09 05.8 E44 45 49.3
The Akhtala fortress with its temple complex is situated in Akhtala village of Tumanyan region in a high valley. The fortress’ territory is surrounded with rocky deep canyons from three sides, and the north side joins the plain. Besides the natural advantages, the fortress was protected by tall pyramid gates mutually connected with the picturesque environs which are preserved to this day. The main entrance opens from northern side, which has a roomy hall with vaulted roof and a three-storied pyramid tower. The fortress was built in the X c by the Bagratuni dynasty’s Kyurikid branch.
The XIII c historians Kirakos Gandzaketsi and Vardan Areveltsi mention the fortress as Pghndzavank. As the above historians inform us the temple’s main church – Holy Virgin was built in the XIII c by long-armed Ivane Zakaryan, turning the Armenian foundation into Chalcedonian. The church is situated in the middle of the fortress’ territory along the longitudinal axis. It belongs to the domed basilica type of churches, where the bearings join with the side-chapels of the apse. Two pairs of arches divided the longitudinal stretched prayer hall into three naves, the central one of which (with double side-chapels) on the eastern side ends with low staged, half-rounded apse and the side-chapels end with sacristies.
The Holy Virgin’s church is famous for its first-rate and highly artistic frescos, with which are covered the inside walls, the partitions, and the bearings. They are characterized with perfect iconography, richness of theme and variety of different colours (where blue rules).
In the territory of the temple on the north-western side there is a one-nave vaulted church and its half-rounded apse going out from the eastern wall’s borders. The only entrance is from western side, surrounded with a trench. There used to be a vestibule with a gable roof, which has not survived.
Parallel to the north of the Holy Virgin’s church the two-storied building of the temple friary stood, whose walls are preserved. It was a roomy hall with wooden roof, for which the exterior fortress wall served also as its eastern wall.
The main entrance and the pillars were repaired; the ramshackle wooden belfry built in XIV c was taken away from the yard. In 1975-78 the top parts of walls on the church were repaired, the tin of the roof was replaced with basalt slabs.
Haghpat Monastery (Հաղբատ)
GPS: 41 05.62n x 044 42.69e
Retracing steps across the Debed river, take the main road North, passing the Sanahin bridge, built in 1192. The bridge is elegantly decorated with stone cats. About one km after crossing back to the E side of the Debed on leaving Alaverdi Town, a cluster of large modern buildings, the transport terminal , marks the turn-off right to Haghpat and Tsaghkashat (149 v., till 1935 Khachidur). Take the left fork which winds up to Haghpat (448), with one of Armenia’s most beautiful monasteries perched atop the rim of the gorge.
This fortified monastery was founded, like Sanahin Monastery, by Queen Khosrovanush around 976. It has a S. Nshan church finished in 991 by Smbat Bagratuni and his brother Gurgen, and served as the religious headquarters of the Kyurikians. The gavit was built in 1185. A smaller S. Grigor church was built in 1025 and rebuilt in 1211. There is a huge, self-standing gavit of the Abbot Hamazasp built in 1257, a “grand and marvellous bell tower” of 1245, and a library built in 1262. There is a large dining hall incorporated in the defensive wall, and several other picturesque chapels and mausoleums. Haghpat was major literary centre, and maintained rich feudal lands until the monastery properties were confiscated by the Russian Empire in the 19th c.
UNESCO Heritage since 1996.
(Ալավերդի – in Armenian means red-stone)
The city situated in the northeast of the Armenian province of Lori, not far from the border with Georgia. This mining and industrial city with approximately 13,000 inhabitants – down from the 1989 census showing 26,300 – situated at the bottom of the Debed river gorge, is one of the commercial and industrial centres of the district.
During the Georgian rule over Alaverdi region, the Alaverdi Copper Facctory was founded in 1770, by the order of king Erekle II. At the end of the XVIII c when the area was annexed to the Russian Empire, the Argoutinski-Dolgoruki family “imported” many miners from Greece to start exploiting the copper mines in the area. Soon, about a quarter of all Russian copper was mined in Alaverdi. At the end of the XIX c, the concession to exploit the mine was sold to the French. The region was flourished even more through the new Russian and French investments in metallurgical business. In 1903, the amount of copper produced in Alaverdi region made around 13% of the total copper production in the Russian Empire. During control by the Soviet Union through the XX c, the city acquired today’s typical socialist industrial appearance. The mine and metallurgical complex are now privatised and serve as a major employer for the city and its surroundings. Recently, new plans were introduced for the expansion of copper production in Alaverdi Smelter and the development of new copper mines within the project “Armenian Copper”. Currently, 500 workers and administrative staff are employed in the copper factory.
The quiet, conservative mining town of Alaverdi is tucked into a bend in the canyon, with rows of apartment blocks and village houses cut into strata by the highway and the railway line. The town is rather poor with few jobs besides those at the half-open copper mine.
Many important cultural monuments are situated in the vicinity of the town. A medieval XII c bridge (N41 05 57.8 E44 39 27.5) about 1km down from the Alaverdi bus stand. It was built by Queen Tamara of Georgia. This humpbacked stone bridge was used by road traffic until 25 years ago. There are four kitten-faced lions carved on the stone railing. Legend tells that when a ‘real’ man finally walks across, the lions will come to life.
N41 05 15.9 E44 39 56.6
The exact date of the foundation of Sanahin is unknown. Documentary evidence and monuments of material culture suggest that these structures date back to the middle of the X c. The formation of Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom of the Kyurikids in 979 and the great attention paid to Sanahin and Haghpat by various rulers of Armenia and their vassals favoured the construction of many religious and civil structures there. In these monasteries, especially in Sanahin, humanitarian sciences and medicine were studied, scientific treatises written and paintings, most miniatures, created.
After the institution of the bishops throne in Sanahin in 979, the eastern, facade of Amenaprkich church, and the parts of the southern and northern facades adjacent to it were decorated with arcatures which enriched the outward appearance of the building. The triple and twin semi-columns with variously ornamented flat capitals and representations of fantastic creatures at the bases, imparted plasticity to the arcature and added to its artistic expressiveness. As a result of earthquakes, reconstructions and numerous repairs, the high dome was replaced by a low one.
The interiors of Astvatsatsin, Harutyun and Amenaprkich churches in Sanahin, dating back to the early XIII c, is interesting from the point of view of its composition. Its interior is distinguished by two identical altar apses.
Grigory chapel, of the same church is a miniature concentric domed structure of the late X c. Its plan is circular on the outside, and four-petal inside, with horseshoe-shaped apses which impart plasticity to the interior. A high three-step stylobate imparts a certain amount of grandeur to the small chapel.
Sanahin bridge across the Debet river (1192) stands out among all the bridges found within the confines of the monasteries. This engineering structure of high artistic merits, integrity and perfect harmony is in a class by itself among the numerous bridges of the Transcaucasus. A single-span bridge, it has an original composition prompted by the local terrain: its right side is horizontal, and its left side terraces down to the bank. The parapets of the bridge are decorated with tiny spiked helmets at the edges and with the roughly hewn figures of lying wild cats in the central part.
Sanahin and Haghpat complexes are especially rich in khachkars (more than 8 of them have survived), which were intended not only as memorials. Some of them were installed to mark various events: in Sanahin, one was put up on the occasion of building a bridge in 1192, another one, of building an inn in 1205, and others are Tepagir (1011), Tsiranavor (1222), etc. In Haghpat, khachkars were built to perpetuate philanthropic activities of the persons whose names are inscribed on them (Amenaprkich, 1273).
UNESCO Heritage since 1996.
GPS: N41 05 24, E44 40 01
Artem Ivanovich Mikoyan (August 5, 1905 – December 9, 1970) was a Soviet aircraft designer of Armenian descent. In partnership with Mikhail Iosifovich Gurevich he designed many of the famous MiG military aircraft. From 1952 Mikoyan designed missile systems to particularly suit his aircraft, such as the famous MiG-21. He continued to produce high performance fighters through the 1950s and 1960s. He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.
Open 11am – 17pm, ticket – 100 AMD.
27th July, Tuesday [61 km or 36 km]
Route: long: Sanahin – junction to Odzun (8.5) – Odzun church (14.3) – Aygehat (20) – Arevatzag (23.8) – Dzoragyugh – Dzegh (44) – Merts (51) – camp before Lorut (61)
main road asphalt, other roads damaged asphalt or gravel; [+1236/-909]
short: Sanahin – junction to Odzun (8.5) – stairs to Kobayr (17) – Tumanian (18) – junction to Lorut (20.2) – Merts (27) – camp before Lorut (36)
18 km asphalt, then gravel; [+754/- 453]
From the sleeping place down to the main road, then through a bridge to the left in direction of Vanadzor. If you go the long route or want to visit Odzun church you must turn to the right from the main road, go up, and in the village on the roundabout turn to the right. If you choose the short route you should visit the Kobayar monastery. You have to leave your bike at the railway and go up by stair path (~20 min.). After Tumanian when the main road crosses the river turn left from the asphalt road and continue on the country road across the forest, along the river.
Sleeping place: camping place on the right side of the road, at the river before road junction to Ahnidzor; GPS: N40 54 58.7 E44 46 36.1
Telephones: +374 94 473 834 (Sigitas)
GPS: N41 03 03.2 E44 36 54.9
Dated stylistically to the first half of the VII c, according to medieval historical tradition the church was built by Catholicos Yohan of Odzun (717-728).
Perched on a broad shelf which terminates at a sheer plung down to the Debed, Odzun is a substantial settlement of about 6000 with a magnificent VII c church in the centre of village. The unusual monument next to it is a memorial but locals say it has the power to inspire fertility – approach with caution. The sturdy church features magnificent aerches outside the main entrance. Teachers once used this outdoor area as a school. There was also a library, a scriptorium where books were copied, and a refectory. The custodian turns up sooner or laterto unlock the church. There’s another church on the edge of the cliff. 1 km south of Odzun, at the edge of the canyon, is the three-chambered Horomayri monastery, the well-camoupflaged remnants of which are visible below the cliff on the right.
Odzun Funeral Monument
Standing on a tiered base and constructed in polished stone in the form of two arcades, this monument has a delicate harmony of symmetry. In the opening of each arcade is a rectangular stele, four meters high. On its four faces are finely carved bas-reliefs of scenes depicting the propagation of Christianity. These sculptures are remarkable specimens of the older Armenian religious art.
Poet Hovannes Tumanian was born in the village. There is his museum-house. Church from VII c. in front of it.
The masterpiece of Dsegh’s monuments is the convent of Bardzrakash St. Gregory (XII – XIII c), which is situated 2 km towards north east from the village, in thick forest on the left side of Marts river’s narrow. One can get down to the river by the ascent and rocky narrow path taking to the Dsegh ravine from its eastern side plain (GPS N40 58 39.6 E44 39 32.4). The complex co nsists of two churches, a vestibule, a chapel, the ancestral cemetery of Mamikonyan and remainders of khachkars. The two churches and the vestibule that make the main group are placed near to each other in one line. The preserved oldest construction is the one-nave hall type church from north, from which only the wall (3-4 m high) preserved. In the eastern side it finishes with half-round bay near which are the two rectangle sacristies with entries placed in front of each other. In the middle part and western corners preserved the remainders of rectangle cut pillars on which leaned the cemicylindrical arches. The main church is the St. Virgin (it is mentioned by this name in the inscription preserved on the walls), which is situated between the previous church and the vestibule.
It was partly restored in 1939, and was cleaned in 1950 and 1969.
GPS: N41 00 18.0 E44 38 06.0
XII – XIII c
Just North of the modern industrial town of Tumanian (1389 v.), on the West side of the main Alaverdi road, almost invisible in the trees, is the tiny hamlet of Kober. About 80 m before the elevated little train station, a little paved spur leads up beside the railroad tracks. Crossing them, a flight of steps leads up and back, finally climbing up steeply up the side of the gorge. The reward for the strenuous (and sometimes muddy) 10-minute scramble is one of the most beautiful places in Armenia, Kobayr Monastery. Perched on a shelf of the gorge, in an ancient and sacred place where springs seep out of the rock, trees and vines twine among the intricately carved blocks of the monastery. The Catolic church at the South end, partly fallen into the gorge, was built in 1171 by two Kyurikian princesses, but became a property of the Georgian Orthodox Zakarian family soon after. Shahnshah Zakarian is buried here. Most of the beautifully carved inscriptions are in Georgian, as is the manner of the splendid (albeit restored) fresco decoration in the churches. The bell-tower/mausoleum in the middle of the complex was built in 1279 to house the tombs of Mkhargryel and his wife Vaneni. Note the little sacred spring flowing within. On the ledge above is the refectory building. The name of the monument is connected with the word ayr-cave (Georgian – kob).
Note: Be sure to climb up above the first level of ruins to see it from above, to see the second layer of ruins, and to get a closer view of the large cave. Also, park near the railroad tracks, since going under the low bridge leads to a very steep and short road, difficult to turn around on. Walking the whole way is just easier.
Tumanyan (Թումանյան; also Romanized as T’umanyan and Tumanian; formerly Dzagidzor)
A city in the Lori Province renamed in honor of writer Hovhannes Tumanyan.
28th July, Wednesday [~45 km]
Route: camp before Lorut – Shamut (5) – Atan (10) – Apaga camp (~45) (before Yenokavan)
country gravel roads, off-road track through mountains
[from camp to Atan +453/-84, after that?]
Before the sign “Lorut” turn to the right, having a monument on the right hand. We should pass a post and monument in Atan and go up.
Sleeping place: N40 54 56.2 E45 04 45.0; before Yenokavan, in tents on the territory of Apaga-Gomer-Tour Active Leasure Club, +374 (263) 60702, -3, (10) 277 880, mob.: +(374) 91 290799
Telephones: +374 94 473 834 (Sigitas)
A small church, a medieval settlement, kchachkaras. Shops.
On the southern edge of Yenokavan is a small church perched on a rock overlooking a gorge. Inside the gorge is the XIII c Surp Astvatsatsin church.
N40 54 11.4 E45 03 42.6
Near the village of Yenokavan lies the lush, wild, deep Yenokavan Canyon. With the river rushing through it, there are cliffs, caves, forests, waterfalls and rapids to explore. A part of the canyon has been privatized, which has helped open it up to visitors.
N40 54 11.4 E45 03 42.6
The cave has a style of pre-Christian carvings which are unique in Armenia. One wall is covered solid in figures of people and faces. Later carvings included crosses and altars.
It is hard to access on a cliff face, and the entrance has been partially protected with an ancient wall. There is a pond taking up most of the cave, whose water level is supposed never to change – even if you remove water it immediately returns to its previous level.
29th July, Thursday [62 km]
Route: Agapa camp – Yenokavan (3.5) – junction with main road (9.8) – Ijevan (junction to Berd) (13.2) – the Sarum pass ~1840 m (32) – small village (41) – stone bridge (45) – Itzakar (51) – Navur (53) – camp after Navur (62)
From Yanokavan asphalt, after Ijevan some parts of asphalt but mostly gravel road.
In Ijevan near the sign “Berd” go through a bridge and to the right, then to the left through the city looking another sign “Berd”. Only one small village before Itzakar. When you reach stone bridge in forest, go across and to the right. There are two shops in Itzakar. On the crossroad with asphalt turn to the right up. You will see a monument of horseman on the hill.
Sleeping place: wild camping on the left side of the road, near hut with donkey
Telephones: +374 94 473 834 (Sigitas)
Surrounded by forested mountains and with the Aghstev River running through its centre, Ijevan is the attractive capital of Tavush Marz. Ijevan means ‘caravanserai’ or ‘inn’ and the town has been on a major east-west route for millennia. The local climate is warmer than Dilijan, and the town is the centre of a wine-growing district with some very acceptable white table wines. The town has some handsome early XX c buildings, a big shuka, a winery and a little museum. Outside the town there are opportunities for horse riding and hiking.
The local authorities are trying to encourage tourism, though the process has been slow: no one in the tourist office speaks English and most of the dozen or so listed B&Bs seem to only exist on paper. Still, there are some decent cafés in town and a friendly local populace.
Ijevan wine factory. Adress: 9 Yerevanyan Poghots. Open: 9:00-18:00, Tue-Fri.
Much of the local vintage into dry white and sparkling wines under the Haghartsin, Gayane and Makaravank labels. It offers free tours and tastings with advance notice, and has cellar-door sales. The winery also puts on lunches overlooking the river. It’s about 1.5 km from the town centre toward Dilijan.
Ijevan local Lore museum. Adress: 5 Yerevanyan Poghots. Open: 9:00-17:00, Tue-Sun.
Couple of rooms of ethnographical displays.
Sculpture park is short way up the left bank of the Aghstev river from Melikbekyan.
Internet club (a couple of doors down from the Tourist information centre), 5a Melikbekyan Poghots. Open: 10:00-23:00. Price: 500 AMD/h. (1.25 USD)
GPS: N40 53 00.0 E45 18 45.0
XII – XIII c
Turning North in Navur, just before reaching the town of Bred, an adequate dirt road leads to Chinchin (587 v). The XIII c (or maybe 1151) Kaptavank Monastery lies West of the road, only about 1 km North of Navur but a stiff hike over the ridge. Alternately, there is a dirt track from Itzakar, towards the end of the long village, that rises up and again gets you pretty close to the monastery.
The church, built in the middle of the XII c (according to the inscription on the western wall was illuminated in 1151) is almost square outside (11.4 x 9.46 m), and has a rectangular hall inside. In the inscriptions it is referred to as the Church of the Holy Virgin. The church is primarily built of roughly trimmed and broken limestone of a bluish tint (most likely the name comes from here). The church has four side-chapels in the corners. Restoration work using smaller stones can be seen on the church.
30 July, Friday [~61 km]
Route: camp after Navur – slope of Mt Miapor (2993 m) – Ttujur (29) – Getik (31) – Martuni (33) – Aygut (41) – Dprabak (45) – Dzoravank (47.4) – Aghavnavank (50) – Khachardzan (53.5) – junction to Goshavank (57.5) – Goshavank (61)
gravel interchanging with asphalt; from Tjujur asphalt, from Dprabak good asphalt
[the first 20 km +465/-293, later down to Goshavank junction, then up 260 m]
Sleeping place: in tents behind the monastery Goshavank, GPS: N40 43 47.3 E44 59 48.5
Telephones: +374 94 473 834 (Sigitas)
The road from Berd to village Ttujur is one of the wildest and most beautiful in the country. There is winds over the summer pastures and through forests along the ridges and flanks of Mt Murghuz (2993 m).
GPS: N40 42 51.0 E45 14 09.0
You hike up the super steep mountain to unpronounceable Aghjkaghala for the views at least as much as for the castle. The small castle, surrounded is at the top of a deceivingly tall peak which takes an hour to climb. It is near the small village of Martuni, on the Getik River.
GPS: N40 43 47.3 E44 59 48.5
Goshavank monastery stands in the mountain village of Gosh, founded in 1188 by the saintly Armenian cleric Mkhitar Gosh, who was buried in a little chapel overlooking the main complex. Goshavank features a main church (Surp Astvatsatsin) and smaller churches to St. Gregory and St. Gregory the Illuminator. The tower on the matenadaran (library) was once taller than the main church. With a school attached, the library is said to have held 15 000 books before it was burned by Timur’s army in the XIII c.
Considered one of the principal cultural centres of Armenia in its time, historians believe Goshavank was abandoned at the end of the XIV c. Goshavank then appears to have been reoccupied in the XVII – XIX c and restored from 1957 to 1963. The local custodian, Zarik, is a delightful guide and loves to demonstrate the acoustics in the main church with an old prayer. She may also show you a museum filled with artefacts collected from the area.
31st July, Saturday [52 km]
Route: Goshavank – junction with Dilijan road (6) – Haghartsin (10) – Teghut, junction to Haghartsin monastery (14.1) – Dilijan (20) – Dilijan tonnel (34.5) – Tzovagyugh (43.2) – Sevanavank (52)
[till tonnel +1013/-322, after tonnel ~ 100 m down]
Sleeping place: camping at the Lake Sevan peninsula GPS N40 33 54.4 E45 00 26.4, before monastery, on the right side of the street, in front of restaurant “Parvana”
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
GPS: N40 48 09.6 E44 53 33.0
Haghartsin monastery is nestled in a temperate rainforest on a mountainside. It is one of those spots in Armenia that feels like you are walking through a huge, unreal movie set.
St. Astvatsatsin Church in Haghardzin (1281) deserves special mention. This is the biggest building of all, the artistic dominant of the ensemble. The tall sixteen-faceted dome, dominating all the other structures, is decorated with a graceful arcature, the bases of whose columns are connected, by means of triangular ledges and spheres, with the band around the drum’s bottom. This adds to the optical height of the dome and creates the impression that its drum is weightless. The platband of the southern portal is framed with rows of trefoils, arranged in depth, which give it a picturesque look. Of interest is the ornamental carving of a thirteenth-century khachkar placed next to the southern door of St. Astvatsatsin church.
The khachkars created by the carver Pavgos in Goshavank stand out among the rest. The best of them is a 1291 khachkar with the maker’s name carved in the bottom left star. This is a unique and highly artistic work. The finely carved lacy ornaments are arranged in layers in which the basic elements of the composition – a cross on a shield-shaped rosette and eight-pointed Starr filling the corners of the middle-cross section – show clearly. The intricate openwork ornaments vary – a clear-cut geometrical pattern constitutes the background, and the accentuating elements form a complicated combination of a floral and geometrical ornament which never repeats itself.
It is a city in the Tavush region of Armenia. Called by locals the “Little Switzerland” of Armenia, it is a worthwhile place to see, and spend the night. The forested town has some great examples of traditional architecture of the region and is a brief trip to the beautiful monasteries of Haghartsin and Goshavank. Sharambeyan street near the bus stop has been preserved and maintained as an “old town Dilijan”, complete with craftsmen workshops, a gallery and a museum. The cool green forests are a nice contrast to Ararat Valley, especially in the hot summer.
A big wealth in small town. Constructor Retkin and other labourers found various bronze age items on the Yerevan-Tbilisi highway in 1950’s. After that archeologists made excavations and transferred the found items to the museum of Dilijan. The museum consists of several departments: ethnography, arts, revolution, modernity, etc. An important department contains drawings of Gevorg Bashinjaghian, Vardges Sureniants, Martiros Sarian, Hovhannes Ayvazovski and others. All the drawings are original. Today two of Ayvazovski’s drawings are under repair at the National Gallery in Yerevan.
GPS: N40 33 49.8 E45 00 39.0
Near Sevan Town, Sevanavank monastery consists of two remaining rough-hewn churches built on the peninsula near the city of Sevan. The peninsula used to be an island until the USSR decided to drain a lot of the water from the lake and the water level dropped more than 30 m. The courtyard had some interesting green khachkars. They were carved from a plentiful local green stone and stood out from the others across Armenia which are virtually all made of tuff. The altar is one of the nicest in Armenia, and this is one of the few active monasteries in Armenia.
This huge mountain lake which takes up 5% of Armenia’s surface area and is about 2,000 m above sea level. On a clear and sunny day, the water is often a deep turquoise colour. The water is about 18-22 C in the summer, a very refreshing swim after a hot week in Yerevan. It is a freshwater lake, so you do not have any salt residue after swimming. There are fish in the lake, however there has been a ban on commercial fishing. The level of Lake Sevan has increased up to 2.44 m in the last 6 years, to its present mark is of 1,898.95 m. During the last year the level has grown 37 cm – almost twice more than expected. Sevan’s level is also conditioned both by efficient management of 29 rivers flowing into the lake, and favourable climate conditions. The level of the lake its volume dropped from the initial 58.5 billion cubic meters to 33, between 1933-2000, due to industrial exploitation. Within the period of intense water emission in 1949-1962 the level of water in Sevan dropped for 1 me per year. In the decade following 1991 more than 6.1 billion cubic meters of water was let out of the lake for energy and agricultural purposes. Since 2002, though, the level in Lake Sevan has been rising. The amount of water emitted from the lake in the last 5-6 years has dropped thrice – to 120-150 cubic meters, against the 500 billion cubic meters in previous years.
1st August, Sunday [~88 km]
Route: Sevanavank – Sevan (5) – Tsaghkadzor – Hrazdan (25) – to Makravan ~2.5 km (27.3) – Kaghsi (32.5) – Bjni (41.4) – crossroad Arzakan (47) – to Hot Mineral Springs (~1.5 km) – Karashamb (51.8) – Argel (56) – Nor Geghi (63) – Abovian (71) – to Ptghni ~3 km (74.5) – Avan (81) – Yerevan B&B (88)
Sleeping place: GPS N40 11 09.2 E44 30 59.6, B&B Anahit Stepanyan, Sayat-Nova ave. 5 apt. 25 (also possible apt. 6 and 22), tel. (37410) 527589, 568134, mobile 91502071;
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
GPS: N40 32 01.2 E44 43 03.0
The architectural and artistic complex of Kecharis is situated next to Tsaghkadzor Resort (Gorge of Flowers) eight kilometres northwest of the district centre Hrazdan. The monuments stand at the edge of a small site of the eastern slope of the Bambak Ridge.
In the 11th c the settlement was a possession of the Princes Pakhlavuni who founded a monastery there, the construction of which continued till the middle of the 13th c. In the 12th – 13th cc Kecharis was a major religious centre of Armenia which had a higher school.
The main group of the complex consists of three churches, two chapels and a vestry, to the west of which, quite a distance away, there was another church with its own vestry at the side of a road leading to the forest. There still are many tombstones around these monuments.
Tsaghkadzor Resort – Ski resort
GPS: N40 32 00.0 E44 42 30.0
The Tsaghkadzor resort remains as Armenia’s only ski resort. It is located on Mount Teghenis, just east of the town, Tsaghkadzor. It is located in the Tsaghkadzor valley. In December, 2004, two brand new lifts opened to the public, replacing older Soviet ones. The 2500 m long lift has been renovated by a prominent Swiss company specializing in assembling aerial tramways and other construction works. The Tsakhkadzor resort is on the eastern slope of Mount Teghenis and is famous for its numerous lodges and sport facilities.
GPS: N40 31 27.6 E44 44 10.8
XI – XIII Century
Near the lake of Hrazdan, a spur road leads up to the left to Makravan (Turn away from the concrete umbrella-like bus station and drive along the park to the Administrative building a few hundred meters ahead, turn right to the big road and left onto it, in a few hundred meters it kind of ends at which point you can already see the monastery, and another quick left and right will get you to the village. Parking by the water trough and walking a minute may save some parking hassles.), now an outlying neighborhood of Hrazdan and site of the Makravank monastery. There is a half-ruined 11th c. chapel, a 13th c. domed St. Astvatsatsin church, and the lower walls of the gavit.
GPS: N40 27 38.3 E44 39 04.5
In the time of the Bagratunis Bjni fell under the domain of the Pahlavunis, who built a fortress and a church there in the 11th c. The church, dedicated to Surb Astvadzadzin (the blessed Virgin Mary), was erected in 1031 by order of Prince Grigor Magistros. Of small size, this sanctuary, planned as a cupola’d hall, presents a simple exterior architecture, crowned with a round drum and an umbrella-like dome. To the east of the church are some admirable khachkars. Of the impregnable fortress of Bjni still remain fragments of the north and the west fortified walls, the secret passage and some miscellaneous buildings.
Bjni Fortress Ruins
In the time of the Bagratuni(s) B’jni fell under the domain of the Pahlavuni(s), who built a fortress and a church there in the 11th c. The church, dedicated to Surb Astvadzadzin (the blessed Virgin Mary), was erected in 1031 by order of Prince Grigor Magistros. Of small size, this sanctuary, planned as a cupola’d hall, presents a simple exterior architecture, crowned with a round drum and an umbrella-like dome. To the east of the church are some admirable khachkars. Of the impregnable fortress of Bjni still remain fragments of the north and the west fortified walls, the secret passage and some miscellaneous buildings.
Arzakan Hot Mineral Springs
GPS: N40 27 12.6 E44 36 16.2
From Bjni in Arzakan turn right at the dead end over the bridge, then right on your first significant road, and take the left fork before (without crossing) the bridge. You will soon come upon at least one compound where your group can rent out the pool pictured for 5,000 AMD (about $10/hr). Both known locations that can be rented are on the “right” side of the river as you are travelling down this road. The first one is on your right across a small bridge over the river which you can drive your car over. There large blue gates and inside a courtyard in which you can park your cars. There are two pools here, probably about 4 x 6 m each. The prices are flat, no matter how many people are in your group, and you get the entire pool to yourself. I am not sure if there are places to swim other than this one, but the facilities here were quite nice, and the water was great.
GPS: N40 15 21.8 E44 34 55.4
V – VI Century
Ptghavank (in the Ptghni village of Abovyan region) is situated in the centre of an archeological plot. While doing some work here there were found the remainders of dwellings, different commercial buildings, as well as ceramics and other worthy artifacts. The Ptghavank Church is one of the most important representatives of the domed hall type of church. The exact date of foundation of the temple isn’t known. The examination of historical records and the architectural form of the construction give some reason to believe it is circa 6th c.
GPS: N40 12 51.0 E44 34 16.2
The church is situated in the suburb of Avan in north-eastern Yerevan. The exact date of foundation of the temple is known: it was erected in 595-602 during Catholicos Ovan’s power.
In the temple there are many ornamented stones extracted from excavations, which belong to much earlier constructions. In 1965-1966 mostly in western side of the temple remainders of early constructions were found, which indicate the existence of other constructions at the same place before the church was built. The Avan church was partially restored in 1940-1941 and in 1956-1966, 1968.
A big cemetery with many dated khachkars and gravestones is preserved in Avan. There also is preserved a stepped pedestal and part of the steles peculiar to monuments of 6th c and another similar gravestone is preserved in the yard of the temple. A couple of Middle-aged monuments exist in the territory of the former village. The half-destroyed church of St. Hovanes is situated to the southwest of the temple at the foot of the hill.
Petros and Poghos Chapels
GPS: N40 16 51.0 E44 38 41.0
Late Medieval – Near Akunk Village
The shrines or chapels of Petros and Poghos (Peter and Paul) lie at the foot of a steep hill. The chapels are built where the hill is split with a stream and caves and springs. There is a perfect picnic area and exploration will show a lot of beautiful obsidian specimens, and the carvings of Petros and Poghos into the stone of the hillside as well. In addition to the hillside carving, there are two separate shrines, both very small. The Petros shrine is a cute little structure, while the Poghos shrine has been made outright ugly with a recent metal addition.
2nd – 3rd August, Monday – Tuesday
rest days in Yerevan
Sleeping place: B&B Anahit Stepanyan, Sayat-Nova ave. 5 apt. 25 (also possible apt. 6 and 22), tel. (37410) 527589, 568134, mobile 91502071
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
Former names include Erivan and ancient name Erebuni. Population 1,088,300 (2004 estimate). The largest city and capital of Armenia situated along the Hrazdan River, which is not navigable, on the Ararat Plain.
A leading industrial, cultural, and scientific centre in the Caucasus region. It is also at the heart of an extensive rail network and is a major trading centre for agricultural products. In addition, industries in the city produce metals, machine tools, electrical equipment, chemicals, textiles, and food products.
Educational and cultural facilities in Yerevan include universities, the Armenian Academy of Sciences, a state museum, and several libraries. The largest repository of Armenian manuscripts, and indeed one of the biggest repositories of manuscripts in the world, is the Matenadaran.
Archaeological evidence indicates that a military fortress called Erebuni (Էրեբունի) stood on Yerevan’s site as far back as the 8th c BC. Since then the site has been strategically important as a crossroads for the caravan routes passing between Europe and India. It has been called Yerevan since at least the 7th c A.D., when it was the capital of Armenia under Persian rule.
Monuments and Buildings:
• Tsitsernakaberd – the monument commemorating the victims of the Armenian Genocide. It is located at the top of Tsitsernakaberd Park, where you could also find the Genocide Museum.
• Cascade – the massive white steps that ascend from downtown Yerevan towards Haghtanak Park (Victory Park). The Cafesjian Museum of Contemporary Art will be located at the top of Cascade (under construction, will open in 2010).
• Mayr Hayastan – the Mother Armenia statue located in Haghtanak Park (Victory Park) and overlooking downtown Yerevan. Underneath the statue is the Mother Armenia Museum of the Ministry of Defense, and next to the statue is an amusement park.
• Opera – Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall & the Alexander Spendiaryan Opera and Ballet National Academic Theatre. Two grand halls that host the Philharmonic Orchestra, various Armenian folk dance ensembles, choirs, operas, ballets, and more.
• Sasuntsi David Statue – David of Sasun, an epic Armenian folk hero.
• Ararat Brandy Factory – tours to see the production facilities and taste the company’s various brandies. The Brandy Factory offers tours, with a full visit to its production facilities, and tasting of their various brandies. Call for more information +374-10) 54-00-00.
• Pantheon – cemetery where many famous Armenians are buried. Komitas Park stands behind cast-iron railings on the right Ordzhonikidze Avenue, the district’s main road.
• Yerablu – military cemetery.
• Cossack Monument – is situated near the Russian Orthodox Church.
• Hamalir – Sports and Concert complex. Yerevan’s answer to the Sydney Operahouse. Hosts various concerts and conferences.
• Sergei Parajanov House-Museum – a true pleasure, with its eclectic mix of objects which only someone like Parajanov could produce.
• Matenadaran – one of the world’s largest repositories of ancient manuscripts. The Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (the Matenadaran), built in 1957, was designed by Mark Grigoryan. Hardly a visitor leaves Yerevan without visiting the institute; it is one of the most interesting things to see in the republic. A flight of steps leads up to a statue of Mesrop Mashtots, who compiled the Armenian alphabet (in 396).
Streets and other areas:
• Republic Square – spectacular fountain shows in the evenings from 21:00 to midnight.
• Vernissage Marekt – the place to shop for souvenirs.
• Abovian Street – the street back in the day.
• Proshyan Street – also known as “Barbeque Street”.
• Northern Avenue – pedestrian boulevard which cuts right through the heart of the centre of the city, from Opera to Republic Squere.
• Haghtanak Park (Victory Park) – great place to relax one afternoon (if the temperature isn’t too hot!). It’s also where the Mayr Hayastanstatue stands.
• Djrashkharh (Waterworld) – big indoor/outdoor waterpark on the outskirts of the city centre.
• Play City – paintball, bowling, catapult, go karting and much more on the outskirts of the city centre.
• Zoo – zoological park on the outskirts of the city centre.
• Haghtanak Bridge (Victory Bridge) – crossing the Hrazdan Gorge from the Brandy Factory to the Wine Factory.
• Hrazdan Gorge – numerous restaurants by the river, and a working mini-train.
• Kond – neighborhood of mud and stone homes, narrow winding alleys, reminescent of the poorer parts of Yerevan before Sovietization.
4th August, Wednesday [~43 km, with Geghard ~63 km]
Route: Yerevan B&B – Voghjaberd (15.5) – Geghadir (17) – junction to Azat Reservoir (24) –Garni Temple (27.5) – Garni churches (29.6) – detour to Khosrov Reserve – Geghard (~20 km) –junction to Azat Reservoir (33.9) – Azat Reservoir (~43)
Sleeping place: in tents, wild camping at the lake
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
The village on the road to Geghard. Halfway to Garni however, take a few minutes to look at the Charents Arch.
The monuments of Garni show that although Armenia’s Hellenistic architecture was connected with the architecture of Hellenistic countries, it had distinguishing features all its own. Garni church is small and has undergone an excellent restoration recently. Around the windows, doors, and other decorative elements, there are many intricate carvings. It is only about 10 minutes walk from the Temple, and on the cobblestone road which leads down to the breathtakingly beautiful Garni Gorge, which is reached by taking the paved road to the right about 1 km West of Garni.
GPS: N40 06 43.2 E44 43 50.4
The Hellenistic (3rd – 2nd c BC) fortress Garni, on a basalt promontory jutting out into the Azat/Garni river gorge, has a different charm in each new season. The Greco-Roman-style temple, built around 77 AD under King Tiridates I, collapsed in the earthquake of 1679, which also laid low most of medieval Yerevan. It was implacably restored in the early 1970s.
Khosrov Forest State Preserve is located south of Garni Temple and east of the Ararat Valley in Ararat Marz. Named after King Khosrov, who planted the forests so he could hunt in them, the preserve contains interesting sites besides the forests, hills and rivers. Entrance to the park requires permission, which can be gain from the Ministry of Nature Protection or from the Director of the park in Vedi: Samvel Shaboyan Director (+234 2-13-52).
Havuts Tar Vank
GPS: N40 07 22.8 E44 46 10.8
XI – XIII Centuries
Havuts Tar Vank is an impressive walled monastery, half ruined, on a promontory across the Garni river gorge from Goght. It can be reached in a bit less than an hour on foot, either from Goght or from the dirt road at the bottom of the gorge, accessible by car from Garni.
At Goght, a road branches left to the village of Geghard, but the straight road ends in the parking lot of Geghardavanak.
GPS: N40 08 28.2 E44 49 07.2
XII-XII Century – Goght Village
Geghard is another incredible ancient Armenian monastery, partly carved out of a mountain. Though the monastery has been around since before the 4th c, the main cathedral was built in 1215. The monastery is located literally at the end of the road. You then reach the entrance to the compound which is surrounded by high walls on three sides and the mountain on the fourth Inside, you can enter the churches which are interconnected. There is some water in a small pond/stream in one chamber carved into the mountain, and the acoustics are great throughout. If you climb up stone stairs located on the left side of the church, you will pass some very finely carved khatchkars. From here you enter yet another chamber. This chamber, though not much to look at, had the greatest acoustics I ever saw demonstrated to me when the monk who was guiding us began to sing. His voice was beautiful to begin with, but when he began to sing in this chamber it was hard to believe a large choir was not singing praise at the top of their lungs… that it was only one man. Also in the corner of this chamber, if you look down you will see a hole that goes through which allows the lower churches interior to be seen. Outside of the monastery complex, before you enter the gates, you will notice some caves perhaps and ruins to the left of the entrance. If you are in shape, you should climb up in this area which has a bunch of little cave-rooms and is quite interesting.
5th August, Thursday [40 km]
Route: the Azat-Zabashen Reservoir – Lanjazat (9.3) – Arevshat (12) – Mrganush (13.5) – crossroad to Dvin (16.4 ) – to Dvin ruins (1 km) – Aygestan (18) – Artashat (crossroad with main road) (22.5) – crossroad Khor Virap (34.2) – Khor Virap monastery (38.5)
Sleeping place: in tents, at Khor Virap monastery GPS: N39 52 45.0 E44 34 38.1
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
GPS: N40 00 13.2 E44 34 40.5
Ruins of previous Armenian capital. Very little remains of the settlement today, but archaeologists have revealed a wealth of information about the town in its heyday. Excavations revealed the layout of Dvin which followed the pattern of Armenia’s ancient fortified settlements. Double town walls were fortified with large round towers, and the citadel had a moat around it. First monument inside the compound is the massive foundation of a major 5th c basilica, dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator, with a smaller, later, centrally planned church built inside it. St. Grigori Cathedral was monumental and Armenia’s biggest one (30.41 by 58.17 m) at the time. Built in the third century as a three-nave heathen temple with seven pairs of inner supports, it was rebuilt in the fourth century into a Christian church, with a pentahedral altar apse protruding sharply on its eastern side. In the middle of the 5th c an outside arched gallery was added to it. In the middle of the 7th c the cathedral was rebuilt into a cross-winged domed temple with apses protruding on the lateral facades. Beyond are remains of a palace (excellent column capitals).
Hellenized as Artaxata is a city on the Arkas River in the Ararat valley. It is the provincial capital of the Ararat Province in Armenia. One of the oldest cities of Armenia, today Artashat is one of the modern cities of Armenia. Artashat is situated on the Yerevan-Nakhichevan-Baku and Nakhichevan-Tabriz railway and on Yerevan Goris-Stepanakert runway. The city’s name is derived from Iranian language and means the “joy of Arta”. Founded by King Artashes I in 176 B.C., Artashat served as the capital of Armenia from the second century B.C. until the 5th c A.D., and was known as the “Vostan Hayots” or “court” or “seal of the Armenians”.
Ancient citadel Artaxata. The Battle of Artaxata was fought in 68 BC between the Roman Republic and the Kingdom of Armenia. The Romans were led by Consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus, while the Armenians were led by King Tigranes II, who was sheltering King Mithridates VI of Pontus. Though the Romans were again victorious, the long years the army had spent campaigning, the fact that Mithradates continued to elude them and a perceived lack of booty amongst the Roman Legionaries led to a mutiny amongst the army. They refused to march any further but agreed to defend key positions from attack. Lucullus was then replaced by the Roman Senate as commander of the army by Pompey the Great.
Artashat is now a mid-sized city and has a population of 35,100 people. It is located 5km north-west from Artashat’s former location. Currently, the city of Artashat is developing. In 2004, construction began on building new apartment buildings There exist six secondary, one musical, one art and one sports school, a theatre named after Amo Kharazyan, which has an historical background and represents a historic-cultural value, an art centre named after Charles Aznavour, a local TV station and a number of local newspapers. Many new banks, offices, shops, monuments are also in the process of being built in Artashat.
N39 52 45.0 E44 34 38.1
Situated near village Lusarat the Khor Virap monastery is a 7th century Armenian monastery in the Ararat plain in Armenia, very close to the border with Turkey and the closest point in Armenia to Mount Ararat, the national symbol of Armenia.
Khor Virap is significant in Armenian history because it is the where St. Gregory the Illuminator (the patron-saint of Armenia) was imprisoned in a deep dungeon for 13 years by the then pagan Armenian King Trdat III. According to Armenian legend, the King contracted a vile disease turning him into a wild boar. After releasing St. Gregory from the dungeon, the King was healed by St. Gregory and converted him to Christianity in 301 AD, making Armenia the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion.
6th August, Friday [83 km]
Route: Khor Virap monastery – Lusarat (2.4) – Yeghegnavan (7.8) – Noyakert (11.7) – Ararat (15.4) – Surenavan (22.7) – Armash (27.7) – Yerashkavan (30.7) – Zangakatun (56) – Tukh Manuk pass (59) – Yelpin (~63) – Chiva (68.5) – Areni (74.8) – junction to Noravank (76.5) – camp at Noravank (83)
[altitudes: ~1000 m up till the pass, then ~800 m down and ~400 m up from the main road to Noravank]
1.7 km past Areni on the main road to Yeghegnadzor is the turn off right for Noravank.
Sleeping place: GPS N39 40 55.6 E45 13 53.2, in tents near Noravank monastery, on the right side of the road
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
There is museum-house of Armenian poet Parujr Sewak (1924-1971).
From the main road 2 km to the left – the chapel Tuch Manuk from XIV c. Ruins of a medieval citadel after the village. Many caves around with prehistoric signs of men life.
In the village turn off left – a 10th c church. Just West of the village on the South side of the road is an early Christian cemetery with fine carved tombstones.
The village (formerly called Arpa) is famous for its wine, much of which is produced in Getap further down the road. Visible to the right of the main road is the Areni Church Astvatsatsin (Mother of God) from 1321, built during the tenure of Abbot Hovhannes. The architecture as well as the carvings are the work of Momik, and there are interesting tombstones outside. To reach the church, turn South into the village, cross the bridge, and turn left on a clear road up to the church. There are ruins of the medieval mansion of Tarsayich Orbelian in the valley and, reportedly, remains of a cyclopean fort Soth-East of the village on the edge of gorge and a 13th c bridge on the Arpa.
The caves are 1.7km deep and are full of many narrow passages and tunnels, as well as some bats and stalactites. The entrance is easy to reach from the road leading to Noravank Monastery, and is marked with a metal wire hanging down the tunnel to help you climb in. The bats often sleep close to the entrance, hanging in large communities. Going more than a room or two into the caverns is dangerous for inexperienced or unguided spelunkers. You can easily get lost in this labrynth if you do not know what you are doing. You should wear old clothes that cover your entire body since you will often be crawling and head protection is also not a bad idea. Completely covering yourself will also keep you warm in the perennially cool inside temperature, with one spot having a constant strong cold wind. There are stalactites and stalagmites in Magil Cave, but they are not very remarkable, and many have been broken off by vandals. The rooms in the caverns tend to be narrow, usually no more than a few meters wide. The height and length of the rooms however is often very large. You should bring a couple of flashlights and some spare batteries just to be safe.
GPS: N39 41 04.4 E45 13 59.4
Meaning new monastery, from 13th c. The gorge is known for its tall, sheer, brick-red cliffs, directly across from the monastery. The monastery is best known for its two-storey South. Astvatsatsin church, which grants access to the second floor by way of narrow stones jutting out from the face of building. The monastery is sometimes called Amaghu-Noravank, Amaghu being the name of a small recently destroyed village above the canyon, in order to distinguish it from Bgheno-Noravank Monastery, near Goris. In the 13th – 14th cc the monastery became a residence of Syunik’s bishops and, consequently. a major religious and, later, cultural centre of Armenia closely connected with many of the local seats of learning, especially with Gladzor’s famed university and library.
7th August, Saturday [73 km]
Route: Noravank – junction with main road (6.8) – Arpi (12.2) – Yeghegnadzor (19.6) – Malishka (26) – Vayk (34) – Saravan (53) – Voratan pass 2344 m (Zangezur Gates) (64.4) – the Spandarian lake (73)
Sleeping place: GPS N39 40 09.9 E45 47 26.2; in tents at the lake, wild camping, on the right side of the main road
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
About 6.4 km after Areni Village, just before the Arpi sign, the first road turning right to cross the Arpa river, leads in 7.6 km to an old guardhouse on the left and, immediately beyond on the right beside the road, the tin-covered entrance to the Mozrovi cave. Discovered in the 1970s during road building and still not completely mapped, this cave is deep and full of spectacular coloured stalagmite and stalactite formations. Entrance is perilous, through a hole in the cover and down a steep slope, and should not be attempted without an experienced caver. Mozrovi caver are very raw and should be entered with a guide. These caverns are generally closed to the public, due to problems with vandalism by visitors, including the destruction of stalactites and stalagmites.
As wines from Yeghegnadzor, and particularly Areni Village make their way into shops around the world, people from all over the world are making their way to Yeghegnadzor. The surrounding area is one of the richest in the variety and quality of sites and activities it offers.
The 13th c Yeghegnadzor bridge was built in the Middle Ages, this bridge over the river Arpa consists of a single arch 16 m in span. Unlike other medieval bridges of Armenia, its arch is ogival which appreciably increases the height of the bridge roadway in the middle.
After town Yeghegnadzor some 3 km East beyond the large and active village of Malishka (with brand new church), a dirt road right leads to the sparse remains of Moz, the original city of Vayots Dzor, ruined by earthquake in the 8th c. There is a Bronze Age burial ground, an early fort and church of the 7th c.
Village (originally Soylan, from 1956-1994 Azizbekov) named for one of the few ethnic Azeris among the famous 26 Baku commissars, vanguard of Azerbaijan’s largely ethnic Armenian proletariat, whose short-lived Bolshevik government of Baku was deposed as the Turkish army approached.
Gates of Zangezur
Two pillars built at the highest point of the mountain pass upon reaching Syunik Marz. On a few super clear days a year, the peak of Mt. Ararat is visible from this point.
8th August, Sunday [~77 km]
Route: the Spandarian lake – Sarnakunk (15) – Spandarian (18.6) – Angeghakot – Shaki (29) – turn to Zorakare (33.5) – Sisian (39) – Aghitu (45.5) – Vorotnavank (51) – Vorotan (53.5) – Ltzen (63) – Tatev (~77)
asphalt, gravel and country road through mountains after Ltzen (???)
[until Zorakarer +400/-1020; after Sisian to Ltzen +640/-540, then ???]
Turn to Sisian not on the first crossroad but the next one with a sign “Zorakarer”. In Sisian look for a sign “Aghitu”. In Ltzen go through the village and to the left up to the national park (here starts country road to Tatev – 12 km). You will see a soldier monument on the right side, a khachkar on the left side.
Sleeping place: in tents near monastery, GPS: N39 22 47.2 E46 14 59.9
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
Village has Neolithic dolmens and Bronze Age/Iron Age tumuli. Three medieval churches: S. Astvatsatsin, S. Stepanos, S. Hazaraprkich (“of Thousands”), unusual 17th c. khachkar, and sparse remains of an early Christian church. There is a S. Vardan church of 1298, still a pilgrimage site, one km from the village, where, according to tradition, the defeated Armenian army stopped to rest after the battle of Avarayr in AD 451. In 1699 Israel Ori convoked a meeting of eleven Armenian meliks to draft a petition to Czar Peter the Great, the Pope, and other potentates asking their intervention against Armenia’s Persian overlords.
Waterfall on the Vorotan river.
Zorakarer – Armenian Stonehenge
GPS N39 33 10.2 E46 01 45.0
Carahunge or Karahundj, Zorakarer is 3 500 years older than England‘s Stonehenge and 3 000 years older than the Egyptian pyramids. The total area of the observatory is 7 ha. According to the scientist’s findings, a temple consisting of 40 stones built in honour of the Armenians main God, Ari, meaning the Sun, is situated in the central part of Carahunge. Besides the temple, it had a large and developed observatory, and also a university that makes up the temple’s wings.
Town is located centrally in the southern end of Armenia and works as a base while heading to or from Yerevan. There’s plenty to see and do in and around Sisian, and other regional sites are accessible from here. Sisian is a fairly quiet country town with a core of early-20th-c buildings. This land below the mountains of Syunik has been inhabited since forever, back to the ages of Neolithic observatories and animal petroglyphs. The main attraction in the town is Sisavan Church, a beautiful example of Armenian architecture which resembles St. Hripsime Church in Ejmiatsin.
GPS: N39 31 47.4 E46 01 12.0
At the end of the 7th c in the historic province of Syunik in Sisavan (now the regional centre Sisian) was raised a temple of the same type, which reaches us in good condition. It’s tetrakonk tops the lower rectangular walls. The beams situated in front of the eastern and western apses make the construction look taller. The compositional centre of the temple appears to be the space under the belfry, and four apses join it through the main axis. The three-quartered obstinate bays serve as passages to the corner square rooms. The temple has two entries- from the west and south.
Similar in type to the church of Saint Hripsime, this monument of Syunik is classified with the Armenian central cupola’d churches. It was built in basalt during the second half of the 7th c. Its sober and expressive form as well as the harmony of its plan and volumes, evinces the spirit of Armenian religious architecture at the height of the Middle Ages.
GPS N39 31 00.2 E46 04 54.9
VI – VII Centuries
A nice monument on the road to Vorotnavank Monastery. Aghudi is 1,500 years old and appears on the old 1,000 dram note issued in 1993. Among the monuments of Armenian architecture, between the 5th and 7th cc, steles and funeral structures deserve special mention. The 6th c mausoleum of Aghudi arouses more curiosity and admiration than any other monument of the same kind. The style of this memorial found an echo in the architecture of tower shaped and two-storeyed mausoleum-memorials of subsequent centuries.
GPS: N39 29 44 E46 07 16.2
A highly recommended route leaves Sisian to the South-East following the main road through the village on the East side of the river. The road turns left uphill, and ends at a T junction just past a stop sign. Turn right at the T, and follow the road South-East. Just before the village of Aghitu , you see on the left the remains of a substantial Muslim cemetery. The village, better known as Aghudi, has a large restored 7th c funerary monument West of the road. South of the village on a hill are remains of Berdategh ruined castle. There is also a Middle Bronze Age tomb field. From Aghitu, a fork left allegedly climbs to Noravan (founded 1928), and thence to the main Sisian-Goris highway. Staying on the main road through Aghitu, a few km beyond, take the right fork (left goes to Vaghatin, 388 v., till 1991 Azeri village of Vagudi), which soon provides a splendid view of the Vorotan gorge and Vorotnavank. This fortified monastery sits, right of the road via a paved driveway about 8.5 km from the stop sign, on a promontory overlooking the Vorotan. The main St. Stepanos church was built in AD 1000 by Queen Shahandukht, and the adjoining St. Karapet church was built in 1007 by her son Sevada. The dome of St. Karapet collapsed in the earthquake of 1931. There are interesting carved gravestones in the cemetery. One of the churches is allegedly good for snakebite.
From the monastery, the road winds down to a bridge. Staying on the North side of the river, a road goes to Vorotan, with 9th – 14th cc khachkars and a bridge (GPS N39 29 03.3 E46 08 21.3) of 1855 built by Melik Tangi, the Brnakot notable, and thence to Shamb, with hot springs (GPS N39 29 10.0 E46 08 23.0) that local Peace Corps volunteers have successfully bathed in during the winter.
Tatev Monastery (Տաթեվ)
GPS: N39 22 47.2 E46 14 59.9
Built on a fairy-tale natural fortress of rock on the edge of the Vorotan Canyon, Tatev is as jaw-dropping as any of the World Heritage-listed churches in Lori. Situated near the village of the same name in part of Zangezur – ancient Syunik. The monastery was founded in the 9th c in place of a tabernacle well-known in ancient times. The strategically advantageous location on a cape formed by a deep river gorge with precipitous rocky slopes favored the construction of a mighty defence complex there. Tatev monuments stand out for high quality of building work. At one time Tatev was the political centre of Syunik principality. In the 10th c it had a population of 1,000 and controlled numerous villages. In the 13th c it owned 680 villages, though some of the hippie villages fought hard to stay out of Tatev‘s hold. The earthquake of 1931 caused considerable destruction, but the parts that survived enable us to judge about the artistic merits of the complex. The main monument is the Church of Pogos and Petros (Peter and Paul) built in 895-906. It reproduces the type of domed basilicas of the 7th c, but has new features. In the stretched out interior, the middle nave, crowned with a tremendous in the middle of the plan’s cross, predominates. As distinct from the domed basilica, the church had in its western part several annexes the corners of which served as the abutments of the dome. Its eastern abutments did not yet merge with the walls of the altar apse; consequently, the cross-winged shape of its interior is not too well pronounced. These features give us grounds to regard the church as an intermediate link in the development of the cupola hall into a cross-winged, dome type of building which became widely spread in Armenia later.
The monument Gavazan, erected in 904 in the yard, near the dwelling premises of the monastery, is a unique work of Armenian architectural and engineering art. This is a octahedral pillar, built of small stones; eight meters tall, it is crowned with an ornamented cornice, with an open-work khachkar towering on it. As a result of seismic tremors, and even at a mere touch of human hand, the pillar, hinge-coupled to a stylobate, tilts and then returns to the initial position.
9th August, Monday [60 km]
Route: Tatev – fork junction (10.4) – Tandzatap – Aghvani (13.6) – Tandzaver (16) – Verin Chotanan (26.5) – road to Shrvenants (31) – Norashenik (33.2) – Atchanan – Syunik (43.5) – Kapan (47) – Tchakaten (57) – road restaurant (59)
gravel, before Syunik asphalt starts
[+ 1455 / – 1930 ]
road H-45, ~50 km to crossroad with M-2 before Kapan near Syunik, asphalt and before the town to the left up (under the railway bridge)
Sleeping place: in tents, on the right side of the road, near a restaurant
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
Monastery from XI-XIII cc.
Graves from iron age, the church from XVII c.
Church from XVII c., ruined medieval fortress, graves from bronze age.
Church from X-XI cc.
Till 1991 Ghapan, originally Madan. A nice town built along two rivers that join in southern Armenia. The area has a lot of deep green forests, and a few nice monasteries and fortresses. The city is proof that Soviet architecture need not always look bad.
It is the capital of the province, a once bustling mining town built originally with French capital in the late 19th c. On the West edge of Kapan, on a hill Soth of the Voghji river, sit the ruins of Halidzor Fortress, with church remains within. Built in the 17th c as a nunnery, it became the headquarters of Davit Bek, the famous early 18th c freedom fighter. He died there of illness in 1728, and is by repute buried in the cemetery outside the castle. On North-East edge of town is a 17th c church in the district called Kavard. Somewhere about 5 km North-West of Kapan is the former village of Achakhlu with the 10th – 13th cc Ashaghui Vank. Apparently in the same area is the former village of Bashkend, with a Greek church and ruins of the Atchanan castle.
10th August, Tuesday [84 km]
Route: restaurant – Shikahogh (10.4) – Srashen (14.6) – junction to Nerkin Hand (18.8) – Tzav (22.7) – pass ~2160 m (41.2) – junction with H-48 (67) – Meghri (80.5) – hotel “Mila” (84)
asphalt road H-47 through the Shikahogh State Preserve, then along Armenia/Iran border and up through Meghri to hotel
Sleeping place: after Meghri, hotel “Mila”
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
Shikahogh State Preserve
A beautiful drive from Kapan is South toward Shikahogh State Preserve and the gorge of the Tsav river. Driving East from downtown Kapan, turn right after the short road tunnel. Cross under the tracks, then up along the brand new highway (set for completion in late 2006). A few km after Srashen the road forks, the left branch descending into the floodplain of the Tsav river at Nerkin Hand. Here along the river is a grove of plane trees, sacred to the ancient Armenians, since 1958 the “Platan” State Reservation. Just before reaching Tsav you pass the canyon of Mtnadzor (Dark Canyon), made famous by the prose of Aksel Bakunts. Mtnadzor marks the start of the preserve. Mtnadzor Canyon’s days consist of perpetual twilight (the sun doesn’t shine due to the North-South orientation of the tall canyon sides, and the thick virgin forest). Tsav is located on a picturesque part of the Tsav river. It has a church and, South of the river on a crag upstream from the village, a modest medieval Aghjkaberd, “Maiden Castle.” Somewhere nearby is another fortress, Ghazaghan. The mountains on either side of the Tsav and Shikahogh river, with forests of oak and hornbeam, are included in the 1002 km. Shikahogh State Preserve. At the end of the road, Shishkert has XVII-XVIII c. churches.
It is Armenia’s second largest forest reserve, covering some 25,000 acres of land, and located in southern Armenia in the Syunik Province. Environmentalists have said it has been largely unaffected by Armenia’s massive post-Soviet deforestation due to its remote location and care shown by residents of nearby villages.
The “Shikahogh” reserve is habitat for about 1,100 species of plants, 70 of which have been registered in the Red Book of Armenia and 18 in the Red Book of the Soviet Union. The fauna of Shikahogh has not been fully explored, but studies have already revealed rare species of animals such as leopard, bezoar, mufflon, bear, snowcock, viper, and hedgehog.
It is the only place where the forest remains intact. It is home to unique species considered to be the wealth of not only Armenia but the whole world as well. According to Social-Ecological Association Chairwoman Srbuhi Harutyunyan, trees in Mtnadzor were not logged only because they were beyond reach, but in this case the Mtnadzor forests are facing the threat of logging.
In 2005 the Armenian Government announced it would reroute the country’s major North-South highway right through the nature preserve, in order to avoid a high mountain pass which the main highway at the time used. In May, 2005 a massive coalition campaign was launched by Armenian NGOs in Armenia and the Diaspora to protect one of Armenia’s last stands of virgin forest. Late in June, the Armenian government announced that the new road would bypass the preserve, necesitating a slightly longer alternative with a slightly higher pass. This ended the protests, and the coalition disbanded. Later, the government quietly decided to build the road through the preserve anyway, though this time avoiding the most sensitive canyon of Mtnadzor.
Village – churches from XVII-XVIII cc.., graves from bronze age.
11th August, Wednesday
Route: after Kapan – Tchakaten – Shikahogh – Srashen – Tzav – Shvandzor – Alvank – Meghri
~80 km, asphalt
Sleeping place: after Meghri, hotel “Mila”
Telephones: +374 94473 834 (Sigitas)
Meghri (arm. Մեղրի)
City in southern Armenia, located in the Syunik province, near the border with Iran. The city’s economy is based on the food industry, and contains a bread-baking factory, canneries and a winery. Meghri has a significantly milder climate than the rest of the cities in Armenia, and produces fruits not found in other parts of the country. A 2002 estimated population was 7,900.
Strategic Meghri, Armenia’s toehold on Iran, is worth exploring for its fine stone houses. The town sits deep in the rocky, lushly irrigated gorge of the Meghri River surrounded by sawtooth peaks. The post independence borders left Meghri deeply isolated, and the local economy struggles by on remittances, farming and a bit of business from the highway to Iran.
A nearby Russian military base houses about 2,000 soldiers, who along with Armenian soldiers guard the border with Iran. The Iran-Armenia Natural Gas Pipeline passes through the city. In early 2007, it was reported that the governments of Armenia, Russia, and Iran are planning to build an oil refinery for gasoline export to Iran. This project would be led by Gazprom.
The Meghri fortress above the town dates mostly from the 18th c. The brick domes of Surp Hovannes at the Meghri town monastery date from the 17th c.
In the centre of the main part of town is the fine St Astvatsatsin Church with a distinctive octagonal dome, built in the 17th c with later frescoes. There’s also the Surp Sargis Church across the river in Pokr Tagh, the smaller side of town, with two rows of columns and some delicately restored frescoes.
12th August, Thursday [~80 km]
Route: Meghri – Agarak – border AM/IR (12.6) – Siyah Rud (35) – Ahmad Abad (51.4) – Marazad (58.5) – Jolfa (80)
[down ~ 300 m to the border, then along the Aras river]
The border crossing is at the Araks bridge near Agarak (population 3500), 8 km from Meghri, open all day. It’s a slow border-crossing (it may close for lunch) but there’s no particular hassle. The Armenian side has a bank where you can change money and a few stalls selling cold drinks. There are a few Russian soldiers (about 2000) based at Agarak with Armenian troops and officials. Most travellers come this way to cross the border but a few intrepid souls just come for a glimpse of Iran – you can see the ancient village of Noordoz (also spelt Noghdoz or Norduz) across the river, including the minarets of the local mosque. Iranian farmers and shepherds can be seen busily working on the opposite bank. Be very careful about taking pictures in the area – a Russian border guards check in camera‘s for sensitive photos.
The Aras (also known as Araks, Arax, Araxi, Araxes, Araz, or Yeraskh)
A river located in and along the countries of Turkey, Armenia, Iran, and Azerbaijan. Its total length is 1,072 kilometers (665 miles). Given its length and a basin that covers an area of 102,000 km², it is one of the largest rivers of the Caucasus.
In Armenian tradition, the river is named after Arast, a great-grandson of the legendary Armenian patriarch Haik. The name was later Hellenized to Araxes and was applied to the Kura-Araxes culture, a prehistoric people which flourished in the valleys of the Kura and Aras. But many times it is the Volga River which is called Araxes especially in Herodotus History. The river is also mentioned in the last chapter of the Aeneid VIII by Virgil, as “angry at the bridge”, since the Romans built a bridge over it, so that it is thereby conquered. By some, the river Aras has been associated with the otherwise unidentified Gihon and Pishon rivers mentioned in the second chapter of the Bible.
In modern history, the Aras gained significance as a geographic political boundary. Under the terms of the Treaty of Gulistan and the Treaty of Turkmenchay, the river was chosen as the border limit between the Russian and Persian empires. Iran and the Soviet Union later built a joint dam on the Aras at Poldasht area. During the cold war some Iranian communists escaped to USSR using this river. Also Samand Behrangi, an Iranian author of children books, drowned in the River Aras.