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Armenia. Most of the Most

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Experience a legend, see some sacred sites, go back to your childhood, or gain some wings: everything is possible in Armenia

Located at the foot of Mount Ararat, the monastery of Khor Virap is separated from the biblical summit by the state border. Nevertheless, in the eyes of every Armenian, the monastery and the mountain are one. Saint Gregory the Illuminator who converted Armenia to Christianity was once immured here, in the ancient dungeons below the monastery.

Founded over a thousand years ago, the Tatev Monastery is one of the most revered holy sites in Armenia. At various points in its long history, this spiritual and intellectual hub has been a bishop’s residence, a fortress, and a university. The journey to the cloister through the surrounding mountains used to be long and dangerous, but the travelers of today are free to use the Wings of Tatev cableway which goes over the nearby gorge.

6,100 years is the exact age of a wine press and several fermentation vats and jars found in the Areni-1 cave complex in the southeast of Armenia. The ancient winery there is thought to be the oldest known grapes-to-wine production facility.

One of the biggest collections of ancient manuscripts is also located in Armenia. They are stored in the Matenadaran Institute in Yerevan. The collection comprises over 17,000 manuscripts in total. Among its most prized pieces are the treasured Lazarevskoye Gospel which dates back to 887, the Book of Lamentations by monk and poet Gregory of Narek, and the 7th-century Vehamor Avetaran Gospel, adorned with numerous miniatures.

The Sergei Parajanov Museum in Yerevan fills its visitors with childlike wonder. The owner of this house left a rich legacy in the form of innumerable collages, dolls, and sketches, all full of a sincere and contagious joy of living.

Located near the village of Garni, the pagan temple was erected two thousand years ago, modeled after ancient Greek shrines. A fortress that surrounded it used to serve as the residence of Armenian kings. The temple complex collapsed during the earthquake of 1679, and was restored three centuries later.

Yerevan is considered one of the world’s oldest cities. The history of Armenia’s capital began with the construction of the Urartian fortress of Erebuni, founded here in 782 B.C. The remains of its walls can be seen in the southeast of Yerevan.

The oldest among the petroglyphs carved on the volcanic rock walls of Mount Ughtasar date back to the 5th century B.C. Hundreds of masterfully executed images depicting people, animals, plants, hunting scenes, and rituals survive to this day in a fantastic condition. 

It’s already hard to imagine Yerevan without the Cascade, the giant stairway that links the lower and the upper parts of the city. The colossal structure complete with fountains, flower gardens, and sculptures has managed to become a modern art museum; there are numerous galleries housed within the hill, while its summit is a great scenic viewpoint.

Three sacred sites

  • The ancient monastery of Etchmiadzin is not just the heart of the Armenian Church and the seat of its leader, the Catholicos, but also an actual museum of architecture, history, and art. Its most cherished relics are the Holy Lance and a fragment of Noah’s Ark.
  • Haghpat Monastery’s look is as stern as it is austere. Repeatedly destroyed during raids by warlike neighbors, the cloister has always been rebuilt. Arts and sciences flourished here. The monastery even contained a library of ancient manuscripts until 1930’s.
  • Khachkars — exquisitely carved steles bearing a cross — dot all regions of Armenia. But the village of Noratus in Eastern Armenia hosts the largest number of such steles: about 900, all decorated with striking patterns. The oldest khachkar in Noratus was erected almost 1,500 years ago. 

Text: Maria Vorobieva
Published on: March 23, 2018