When I heard the word, Mount Ararat. I was immediately interested I the conversation and knew that this mountain has been mentioned extensively throughout the old world testament and is still sacred in some religions. I was talking to my friend and he mentioned that the flights there is cheap in winter and I should look into the costs to travel there. He mentioned that Armenia is a great place to venture off to and that the country roads are amazing and you can see so many monasteries in the field.
That is what I did not too long after we talked about it. I looked up on the internet and found really nice places to see while there, also I noted the food is incredible and the variety is huge, embedded in an ancient culture of tradition. I decided to go in winter and basically booked my flights and the rental car, O’ I also booked my hotel for the first night.
Now that I have read so many articles and details, I’m very excited. everything is set and in a few months, I will be there to explore the country. Few days before the flight my friend called me and up and she mentioned that she was granted a few days off and would be keen to join me, well you know the whole route is planned for one person but let see, I am sure we can make adjustments. Pack your bags and join me for the flight and adventure. Yes !!
Arrived at the airport…it was cold and not many people on the flight, thus the immigration queue will be fast. Not so easy.
While on the way to the line for immigration we were pulled over by the police and questioned, but more like interrogated at some point in time. They wanted to know why we came to Armenia and diligently looked at our other stamps from the passport and even more questions came with persistence. Eventually, his have finished off, and I had to go to the visa on arrival area. And you can only pay with local currency, so I first had to change some USD then head back there for the visa. Now that this is done, I’m heading to the immigration line got the stamp and got my bags. Dam this have actually drained me, and what else? It was 0200am in the morning, no to get the rental car…OMG.
Now that we have the car, we have to navigate through a snowstorm on the road towards the hotel. The snowfall was so heavy that we had to stop from time to time to wait for a few minutes to recap with the road and navigation system. The thick snow accumulated on the road and now it was getting even more difficult to navigate in the dark. But we made it to the hotel. The parking outside the hotel was frozen snow and the car actually started to slide downhill, LOL Stop Stop someone shouted while I was outside unloading the bags. Managed too stop the car safely and checked into the hotel.
I asked the connoisseur, at this time in the morning, 0400am, what is the temperature? -28C sir…OMY now I can understand all of the outside conditions.
The room was warm and comfortable, I wanted coffee and a cigarette. I took a shower and prepared the coffee, went outside on the balcony only to realise that my warm body was about to freeze outside, standing there with a sleeping gown and could not stand the cold, LOL I have to wait or properly get dressed in thermals and boots…what an effort to take a smoke. No this is not for me.
The next morning we went up to the breakfast area, enjoyed the locally produced food and delicacies they had to offer. Not its time to plan where to go for the day and what to see…
We drove up the mountain to go and see, the city looked a lot different in the morning. There was a lot of snow, ice and mud it looked very dirty. The cars and trains were old and I felt like I was back in the Soviet area…all of this, but the city had its own beauty shining through all the snow and mud.
You know what I mean?
Yerevan sometimes spelt Erevan is the capital and largest city of Armenia as well as one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Situated along the Hrazdan River, Yerevan is the administrative, cultural, and industrial centre of the country. It has been the capital since 1918, the thirteenth in the history of Armenia, and the seventh located in or around the Ararat plain. The city also serves as the seat of the Araratian Pontifical Diocese; the largest diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church and one of the oldest dioceses in the world.
The history of Yerevan dates back to the 8th century BC, with the founding of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC by king Argishti I at the western extreme of the Ararat plain. Erebuni was “designed as a great administrative and religious centre, a fully royal capital.” By the late ancient Armenian Kingdom, new capital cities were established and Yerevan declined in importance. Under the Iranian and Russian rule, it was the centre of the Erivan Khanate from 1736 to 1828 and the Erivan Governorate from 1850 to 1917, respectively. After World War I, Yerevan became the capital of the First Republic of Armenia as thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire arrived in the area. The city expanded rapidly during the 20th century as Armenia became part of the Soviet Union. In a few decades, Yerevan was transformed from a provincial town within the Russian Empire to Armenia’s principal cultural, artistic, and industrial centre, as well as becoming the seat of national government.
With the growth of the Armenian economy, Yerevan has undergone a major transformation. Much construction has been done throughout the city since the early 2000s, and retail outlets such as restaurants, shops, and street cafés, which were rare during Soviet times, have multiplied. As of 2011, the population of Yerevan was 1,060,138, just over 35% of the Republic of Armenia’s total population. According to the official estimate of 2016, the current population of the city is 1,073,700. Yerevan was named the 2012 World Book Capital by UNESCO. Yerevan is an associate member of Eurocities.
Of the notable landmarks of Yerevan, Erebuni Fortress is considered to be the birthplace of the city, the Katoghike Tsiranavor church is the oldest surviving church of Yerevan and Saint Gregory Cathedral is the largest Armenian cathedral in the world, Tsitsernakaberd is the official memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, and several opera houses, theatres, museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions. Yerevan Opera Theatre is the main spectacle hall of the Armenian capital, the National Gallery of Armenia is the largest art museum in the Republic of Armenia and shares a building with the History Museum of Armenia, and the Matenadaran repository contains one of the largest depositories of ancient books and manuscripts in the world.
The history is so rich and ancient, one can feel the atmosphere on a daily base.
We arrived at Mother Armenia erected in 1967, replacing the monumental statue of Joseph Stalin.
We have spent some time here and then decide to go and explore the city and what is there to see, eat and do. I was looking forward to a great lunch. Also, I had to write postcards, and there are 16 addresses and all want a postcard lol. I have been writing postcards from every country where possible.
We go to this really nice craft beer place and sat down for a few cold ones when you are there go and support them, it is a great place! Find them here on the link.
Heading back to the hotel after a good day out, also a cold one. But there was one more stop to do before we go back. I wanted to buy a few local beers, and liquor. Also, I was keen to lay my hands on some pork, fat, cheese and bread. Now look if your a big fan of bread then Yerevan will be your place to go! There is so many crafted bread and variety available.
Planning the next day, we thought to go and see 2 sites, which will be a good day out and will take the whole day out. So got to be prepared and ready. There is so many cultural and history to see it is hard to get to all of them, some of them are not even listed on the internet and can only be found while exploring.
The first place will be, Hovhannavank
The oldest part of the monassingle-nave single nave basilica of St. Karapet (i.e. Holy Forerunner, John the Baptist) that was founded at the beginning of the fourth century by St. Gregory the Enlightener, who baptized Armenia into the world’s first Christian nation. The wooden roof of the early church was replaced in 554 AD with a thatch cover, and the basilica itself underwent profound renovation between 1652 and 1734.
Ohanavan and the Hovhannavank Monastery are situated atop a steep gorge carved by the Kasagh river
The centrepiece of the monastery is the Cathedral built between 1216 and 1221 through the donation of Prince Vache Vachutian. The Cathedral has a cruciform floor plan, with two storey sacristies in each of the four extensions of the church. The dome has an umbrella-shaped roof, which is unique to Armenian churches. The Cathedral’s important decorations include carved scenes from the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).
Portal leading into the main church from the gavit.
In 1250, Vache Vachutian’s son, Kurt Vachutian, built a narthex (gavit) next to the western wall of the Cathedral. The narthex is supported by four base pillars and features a central rotunda (added in 1274) that rests on twelve columns. Between the 12th and 17th centuries, Hovhannavank was known as an important educational and theological center of Eastern Armenia that had a scriptorium where manuscripts were written and illuminated. The monastery was described in details in 1686 by the historian Zakaria Kanakertsi who spent his entire life at Hovhannavank.
The monastery walls are covered with rich lapidary inscriptions. One large engraved text high on the northern wall of one of the monastery’s auxiliary structures reads:
“…By the grace of merciful God, during the reign of Queen Tamar, daughter of the great Gevorg, in the year 642 (1200 AD) of the race of Torgom, we—brothers Zakaria and Ivane—sons of Sargis the Great, son of Avag Zakarian, when the light of God’s grace rose and entered Armenia and raised us from weakness in the battle against the enemies of Christ and destroyed their power and quenched their violence, with the country of Ararat delivered from the heavy yoke of their servitude, wished to make offering and gave the tribute of the grace to the Holy Forerunner of Hovhannavank …”
Another key inscription was left by Konstandin I, Katholicos of Armenia.
Hovhannavank’s Cathedral belongs to the category of “Gandzasar-style” ecclesiastical edifices that were built approximately at the same time in different parts of Armenia, and was endowed with similar compositional and decorative characteristics (another example—Cathedral of the Haritchavank Monastery). Those include umbrella-shaped dome, cruciform floor plan, narthex (often with stalactite-ornamented ceiling), and high-relief of a large cross on one of church’s walls. In 1918, the dome and the southern wall were destroyed by a powerful earthquake; both were reconstructed in the 1990s
You can visit the area with this map: Map – Google
Now that we have seen the area, and this is so peaceful there is no sound pollution. When you sit and absorb you can hear silence that bring your thoughts back to when this place was built with no technology.
While there are in the area the next place to go to on the same route is, this area are north of Yerevan. Kecharis Monastery is a medieval Armenian monastic complex dating back to the 11th to 13th centuries, located 60 km from Yerevan, in the ski resort town of Tsakhkadzor in Armenia. Nestled in the Pambak mountains, Kecharis was founded by a Pahlavuni prince in the 11th century, and construction continued until the middle of the 13th century. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Kecharis was a major religious centre of Armenia and a place of higher education. Today, the monastery has been fully restored and is clearly visible from the ski slopes.
I was not to keen with the area, the area is a ski resort and flooded with Russian. I don’t have anything against them but in this area seem to be a different type of Russian. I was pushed, shoved and looked down upon when I did not respond in Russian. So we decided to leave the area and travel to more exciting areas.
I took the road less travelled…, and look at the map and choose a very small road into the mountains, on the map it looked if the road will join up with the main road back to the city. And it did eventually. But this read was so beautiful into mountains, all white with snow.
On the map, while driving we saw a small castle sign on the map, and investigate and saw this is another fort and was curious to see what this will look like hidden in the mountains. The road was not easy to find and use some common sense and took an off-turn after a few U-turns we were not able to find the road there and knew this is not visited by people at all, well if they do visit definitely not in winter. Are we crazy?
The fortress of Bjni was built in the 9th to 10th centuries by the royal Pahlavuni family of the Bagratuni Dynasty. The commander of Bjni, lord Vasak Holum Pahlavuni (the Pahlavid) reconstructed the fortress. The 12th-century Armenian historian Matteos Urhayetsi wrote in part 1 of the “Chronicle” covering the late 10th to early 11th centuries, of the invasions of mercenary Turkish soldiers of the Daylamis at Bjni in 1021 who went to raid and plunder villages and towns.
In this period the ruler of Delumk (Daylamis) collected troops and unexpectedly came and reached the Armenian district of Nig, near the stronghold of Bjni. Vasak, the commander-in-chief of the Armenians, with his beloved son Gregory and with other illustrious noblemen, was making merry in his castle. Vasak looked at the stony road, and lo, a man was coming in haste up the road on foot. Upon seeing him, Vasak said, “This man is a bearer of bad news.” The man arrived at the gates of the fortress of Bjni and, raising an outcry, said, “The whole district of Nig has been enslaved!”
Vasak and his men became furious and pursued the enemy forces into battle near the Kasakh River killing 300 of them and causing the rest to flee. After becoming exhausted from the fighting, Vasak left the battle to find a place to rest at a mountain called Serkevelo. One of the villagers who had fled the scene saw the commander asleep and struck him with a heavy blow. He then threw Vasak from one of the high rocks, killing him.
During the years 1387–88 the Turko-Mongol conqueror Timur Lenk destroyed the village of Bjni and most likely the castle as well. In manuscripts written by Thomas of Metsoph from the late 14th to mid-15th centuries, he left an account of Timur’s invasions stating that,
Next came to the Araratean country and Karbi and the Kotayk’ country. He besieged the fortress of Bjni, took it and killed the bishop of the land, lord Vanakan, who was a wise and learned man, merciful and kind to all the poor. Furthermore, they tormented the entire multitude of believers with starvation, the sword, enslavement, and with unbearable tortures and bestial behaviour they made the most populous district of Armenia uninhabited. Many people were martyred and were worthy of the crown; are known only to the One who receives them, Christ our God. May He crown them on the day that the flock of the righteous are rewarded. Amen.
Portions of the exterior fortification walls at Bjni have survived and follow the sides of the mesa. At the plateau, there are sections of battlements that remain in relatively poor condition. Traces of where the foundations of structures had once stood are indicated by depressions in the ground at various areas. There is also the stone foundation of a church of the 5th century, a medieval structure that is still partially standing (currently being rebuilt as of 2009), two cisterns one with the remains of intact vaulting, and a covered passage that led to the river in the event of a siege.
extremely difficult to access the area and we ended up at a small house with a family, and there was no way we could barely understand each other, our languages were worlds apart. So after a few minutes showing photos and explanation of our venture, the young boy started walking away and called us with his hands. O’ok so let us go…
We walked up very steeped cliffs and arrived at a small cave, a hidden entrance that was hand carved leading into the mountain. I wish I took more photo inside the cave!
We knew this is no safe and is definitely not a normal route for tourists, but we continue into the mountain climbing up into the mountain with steps that are also hand carved. Eventually, we arrived on top of the fort. And the buy knew where to walk, apparently, they have lived there for 4 generations. So we knew things are going to be safe walking in the deep snow.
This was one very special place and now know why there are not many tourists that visit the area.
We descended down to the house, navigating between falling snow from the cliffs through the peaches they have planted on the footpath.
Got to the house and was welcomed to by the father who invited us in for coffee and snacks. He also collected a Russian English dictionary. They also brought so many homemade sweet, fruit, bread, butter, jams. WOW, this was such a nice family and so warm and welcoming. We tried for 2 hours to talk via the dictionary and writing down words making 3-word sentences. So it came to light that they have lived there for 4 generations, and their great-grandfather was very keen to dig around in the mountain collecting artefacts and sending them to the national museum. They still had a few artefacts from recent excavations and I could see that these items are very very ancient. I was impressed with the collection of items…
We were very privileged to see this hidden gem in the mountains, the family was so nice, but we knew it is time to head back to the hotel for this day…
Before we get back to the hotel, I wanted more cheese, smoked pork and real butter. We got there and arrived at the hotel when it was dark already.
And we sat down, enjoy the snacks, and planned the next day of adventure…We wanted to see Mount Ararat and I really wanted to swim in the ice at Lake Sevan.
Early the next day we departed to the Mountain.
Mount Ararat is a snow-capped and dormant compound volcano in the extreme east of Turkey. It consists of two major volcanic cones: Greater Ararat, the highest peak in Turkey and the Armenian plateau with an elevation of 5,137 m and Little Ararat, with an elevation of 3,896 m The Ararat massif is about 35 km wide at the ground base.
Despite the scholarly consensus that the “mountains of Ararat” of the Book of Genesis do not refer to specifically Mt. Ararat, it has been widely accepted in Christianity as the resting place of Noah’s Ark. It is the principal national symbol of Armenia and has been considered a sacred mountain by Armenians. It is featured prominently in Armenian literature and art and is an icon for Armenian irredentism. Along with Noah’s Ark, it is depicted on the coat of arms of Armenia.
The first efforts to reach Ararat’s summit were made in the Middle Ages. However, it was not until 1829 when Friedrich Parrot and Khachatur Abovian, accompanied by four others, made the first recorded ascent.
There was also a monastery we wanted to see in the same are and took advantage of the proximity – Khor Virap
The Nerses chapel, built in the 5th century around the famous pit, was of white limestone. Though plain in appearance, a monastery was built around a large enclosure that surrounds the ruins of the old chapel. This church has a twelve-sided tholobate and dome and is dedicated to S. Astvatsatsin. The altar pulpit is well decorated. Though most Armenian churches have an east-west orientation, placing the altar at the east end, St. Gevorg Chapel is oriented northwest-southeast.
The Pit: The pit where Gregory was imprisoned is southwest of the main church, underneath St. Gevorg Chapel which is a small basilica replete with a semicircular apse. Of the two pits inside the chapel, Grigor’s is the farther one, 6 metres deep and 4.4 metres wide. The pit is approached through two unmarked holes. A small chamber, winding stairway, and a ladder lead to a small enclosure in the pit. To the right of the altar in the dungeon is the main room. A long ladder from here descends to a large cell of fairly good size, which was Grigor Lusavorich’s prison cell. The climb down the well is to a depth of 60 metres. The pit is well lit but the climb down the metal ladder requires sturdy shoes. It is also extremely humid down the pit in the summer months so be cautious and don’t bring candles down as this adds to the heat.
We walked up to the top area to have a better view of the Mount Ararat.
From here we drove back down to another great site that could not have been missed, while on this route.
Lusarat Armenian until 1968, Khor Virap or Shikhlar is a village in the Ararat Province of Armenia. It is situated adjacent to the Turkish-Armenian border and Khor Virap Monastery. In the village is a statue of an early 20th-century Armenian fedayi; armed defensive militia units that voluntarily defended the territory from outside forces.
This day was great but unfortunately, like every day, the day is too short and its time to move on and take the road to Lake Sevan.
It was quite a long drive but definitely worth the drive, and also the walk up to the area where there is yet another monastery.
When we reached the lake we took a walk down to the frozen lake!
Totaly frozen state and super cold, and the sounds of the moving water underneath was so scary, but I had to walk onto the lake an open beer.
I also saw a few guys fishing in the distance, I’m sure they know the lake, I would definitely not walk there by the sounds of the ice and water.
I was looking for a place to swim but could not find any safe and suitable area to try this out. I think this could be a great tourist attraction for the area.
We started walking up to the area where you go into the area for the monastery. The first place we are going to see is, Sevanavank meaning Sevan Monastery is a monastic complex located on a peninsula at the northwestern shore of Lake Sevan in the Gegharkunik Province of Armenia, not far from the town of Sevan. Initially, the monastery was built at the southern shore of a small island. After the artificial draining of Lake Sevan, which started in the era of Joseph Stalin, the water level fell about 20 metres, and the island transformed into a peninsula. At the southern shore of this newly created peninsula, a guesthouse of the Armenian Writers’ Union was built. The eastern shore is occupied by the Armenian president’s summer residence, while the monastery’s still active seminary moved to newly constructed buildings at the northern shore of the peninsula.
According to an inscription in one of the churches, the monastery of Sevanavank was founded in 874 by Princess Mariam, the daughter of Ashot I (who became a king a decade later). At the time, Armenia was still struggling to free itself from Arab rule.
The monastery was strict as it was mainly intended for those monks from Etchmiadzin who had sinned. Jean-Marie Chopin, a French explorer of the Caucasus, visited there in 1830 and wrote of a regimen restraining from meat, wine, youth or women. Another explorer visited the monastery in 1850 and wrote of how manuscripts were still being copied manually.
And now that we have seen all, its time to head back to the hotel and sleep, the flight is back tomorrow morning so I want to be well rested.
For you, all that is travelling there, have fun and leave your tracks.