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Jraberd Fortress

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VII AD - Mardakert Region, Karabakh

Jraberd
On the left bank of Tartar River, on the right side of the path coming down from Metz Shen village’s "Khanagyah" area, at the confluence of the Tartar and Trghi, a granite rock stands out. Nature created very few such impregnable erections in Artsakh-Karabakh. From the eastern and western sides on Tartar and Tghri hang the original walls of the rock, and in southern part it perpendicularly comes down on Tartar.

It’s hard to find a piece of plane, even a very small one in Jraberd’s surroundings. These are rocks with bluish, greenish and remarkable other color tints. It’s a whole mountainridge, which divided into a canyon and grew deeper due to the flow of the Tartar. The branches that come down from Mrov mountainrange towards the east are carved by big and small rivers, notably the Tartar and its tributary the Trghi.

The great Armenian writer Raffi visited here at the end of XIX c and in his "Travelling notes" comparing Jraberd with the Karabakhtsis stormy souls and inflexible will, wrote: "A bare wedge of rock rises from a terrible depth. You watch and admire how smart nature was to foresee such a wonder, where people can seek protection from cruel and foreign brigands.

The fortress is not only rocks and walls, not only the deep trenchlike ravines protect it from four sides. From three sides it’s surrounded with restless waters - Trghi from one side, and the Tartar from two other. The name of Jraberd (meaning water fortress) and the province comes from these waters. In some sources it was also named Charaberd, and Mkhitar Gosh wrote "Ishkhan Charaberdin and the new palace...". This fortress was first mentioned during the 620 invasions by Khazars. The Aghvan’s Catholicos Viron "called all the high officials, province superiors, priests, deacons, scribes, which at that time were in Jraberd fortress...". Over centuries Jraberd fortress was owned by various Armenian noble families: first by the Vaxtangians, then by the Hasan-Jalalians, then the Melik-Israelians, the Melik-Alaverdians and lastly by the Atabekians. The last ruler of Jraberd and the entire province was melik (prince) Vani Atabekian.

The safest and most impregnable fortress of Karabakh was abandoned during peace, and during war children and women gathered there. In 1789, for the last time in this fortress Melik Mezhlum’s relatives and close friends sought protection.

As was mentioned before, the fortress was surrounded with impregnable rocks from three sides, and the other side was fully fastened with strong walls. The only way to enter the fortress was over the walls.

There is a 1.5m diameter tunnel dug under the fortress, on the way to Yeritsmankants temple. It was dug by a geological-investigation expedition after war. As you go through it you appear on the opposite side of the fortress, on the slopes of huge, headturning slopes hanging over the ravines, from where it’s comparatively easier to climb up and get into the fortress. The inside of the fortress consists of a rather large territory. The surface is heavily broken, handbuilt platforms can be seen here and there, remainders of constructions, fortifications, and even gravestones are preserved.

Temporary shelters for armies were probably built here. There is a secret passage with steps dug into the rocks down to the Tartar River. This passage is very narrow and was called "Waterrobber’s Way".

Throughout the ages, Jraberd, the strong barrier of the province, was connected with its spiritual centers (the temples of Yeghishe Arakyal, Horek, Katoghikosasar, Dadivank and Gandzasar) and with almost 30 villages at the foot of the mountains with paths that only goats can conquer. There is no comparably ancient and preserved monument in the region as Jraberd.

But Jraberd is notable not only for its rocky barriers, but also for its defensive signal system. This system that had great importance for the fortress, escaped from explorer’s eyes and even the medieval historians have overlooked it.

The first spot (construction) of the signal system is situated on the left bank of Tartar River, 1,5-2 km north of Verin Chaylu village. The second similar monument is situated in Mataghis villages "Kapin Dzor" area, in the old cemetery. The third erection is fully preserved in "Tchghporot" park, and the fourth one is situated not too far from the ancient bridge over the Tartar, in the village Tanashen’s Getin-gomer district.

It is supposed that a fifth construction was also built, the remainders of which should be looked for in the surroundings of Jraberd, east of the forth one. The purpose of those buildings wasn’t clear for a long time. Only in last few years did local scientist Aharon Movsisyan conclude that the erections had guarding or signaling purpose. The signal spots were situated in a line and were well seen as from the east (where the first erection was), to the west (where Jraberd was situated).

The walls of above the signal-guard buildings are plain. There are no bays or altars, in short, there are no signs to compare them with temples or other simple sacred places.

NOTE: Jraberd is currently in a restricted military zone and permission must first be obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to visit.

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