Metsamor Ruins

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Iron & Bronze Ages - Armavir Region

Metsamor (Arm: Մեծամոր), Armavir Marz

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About 6.1 km after the Ejmiatsin overpass, about two km before the Metsamor reactor, shortly after a gas station, an unsignposted road leads left in 3 km to Taronik (1888 p), rich in storks' nests. Turning right in the village, the left after 500 meters, the paved road leads to a substantial mound 1 km W of Taronik, the site of the Chalcolithic through Early Iron Age settlement of Metsamor*, with a small but rich archaeological museum* attached. Excavations have shown that back in the early Bronze Age (late 4th-3rd millenia BC) Metsamor was flourishing, occupied an area of 10.5 hectares and consisted of a citadel fenced in by a sturdy Cyclopean wall and a zikkurat observatory sited on a low mountain ridge. In the early Iron Age (11th-9th cc BC) Metsamor was already a city. The citadel, observatory and dwelling blocks that occupied the lowland stretching to Lake Akna covered an area of 100 hectares. The fortress proper within the huge Cyclopean wall housed the palacial structures, the temple ensemble with its seven sanctuaries and the outbuildings. Half a kilometer to the southeast of the citadel was the traditional necropolis which was tentatively supposed to cover an area short of 100 hectares. Small interments have been excavated along with large burial mounds and underlying crushed-stone layers yielding large-sized tombs built of red tufa blocks and encircled by cromlechs. Excavations were resumed in 1998 with funding from the nuclear plant (which pumps its cooling water from next door) in a vain effort to locate a gate (and preferably an inscription giving the ancient name) in the lower defensive wall. The summit of the mound has an early first millennium BC sanctuary, and there are important remains of pits used for gravitational separation of iron from slag. A little SW is a hill with 3rd millennium BC carvings on the rock indicating the direction of the rising of Sirius. The settlement experienced many ups and downs before disappearing in the 17th cc. The museum - opened in 1966 and with 22,000 artifacts - has a treasury in the basement exhibiting jewelry from chamber tombs around the site, and upstairs rooms display the full sequence of Armenian prehistoric pottery, including splendid black and red burnished vases. An agate frog-weight in the possesion of the Babylonian ruler Ulam Vurarish (end of the 16th cc BC) and a seal of cornelian with Egyptian heiroglyphs owned by the Babylonian ruler Kurigalz (15th cc BC) are especially interesting. A visit to the site can be followed by jogging NW to Aknalich (2673 p). The small lake between Metsamor and Aknalich, for which the latter village is named, is one of the sources of the Metsamor river, fed by underground springs. The lake is overlooked by a pleasant restaurant.

Source: Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook


The ancient fortress Metsamor in the center of the Ararat Valley, lying as it does some 35km southwest of Yerevan, occupies a volcanic hill with its nearlying area. Prompted to life by the fertile valley with its rich water resources, vegetation and hunting grounds, girdled by the meandering Metsamor River, the fortress, as before, is the site of cool bubbling springs ingusing life into the entire area.

In Metsamor the regular excavation work which was begun in 1965 and is still in progress has yielded cultural layers dating to the Aenolithic, three periods of the Bronze Age (early, middle and late), the early and developed Iron Age (Pre-Urartian, Urartian and Antique) and the Middle Ages.

The excavations have shown that back in the early Bronze Age (late 4th-3rd millenia BC) Metsamor was a flourishing cultural center that had a substantial influence on the historical and cultural development of the local people. Recent studies define the monument as a large urban-type settlement which, according to preliminary data, occupied an area of 10.5 hectares and consisted of a citadel fenced in by a sturdy Cyclopean wall and a zikkurat observatory sited on a low mountain ridge. The fortress comprised a range of rotund dwellings with adjacent outbuildings.

In the middle Bronze period (late 3rd - middle of the 2nd millenia BC) urbanization processes acquired a vivid expression leading to complex architectural forms and extending the bounds of the settlement.

The Late Bronze period introduced more pronounced class distinctions. Evidence of this are the objects of funeral rites and the precious materials discovered in the tombs of elite rulers.

In the early Iron Age (11th-9th cc BC) Metsamor was already a city. The citadel, observatory and dwelling blocks that occupied the lowland stretching to Lake Akna covered an area of 100 hectares. The fortress proper within the huge Cyclopean wall housed the palacial structures, the temple ensemble with its seven sanctuaries and the outbuildings.

Half a kilometer to the southeast of the citadel was the traditional necropolis which was tentatively supposed to cover an area short of 100 hectares. Small interments have been excavated along with large burial mounds and underlying crushed-stone layers yielding large-sized tombs built of red tufa blocks and encircled by cromlechs.

The material artifacts dealing with funeral ceremonies testify to the high rank of the buried: numerous horses, cattle and other farm animals, pigs, dogs, and even people were sacrificed in their honor. The discovered grape and pear pits show that fruits also had a part to play in the funeral ceremonies.

Among funeral objects a special place belongs to amethyst bowls, ornamented wooden caskets, inlaid-work covers, glazed ceramic perfume bottles, and ornaments of gold, silver and semi-precious stones and paste decorated with traditional mythological scenes typical of local art traditions.

Among the finds a special place belongs to an agate frog-weight in the possesion of the Babylonian ruler Ulam Vurarish (end of the 16th century BC) and a seal of cornelian with Egyptian heiroglyphs owned by the Babylonian ruler Kurigalz (15th century BC).

These finds along with many other items show that from ancient times Metsamor stood at the crossroads of travel routes running across the Ararat plain and linking Asia Minor with the Northern Caucasus.

In the early Iron Age Metsamor was on eof the 'regal' towns and administrative-political and cultural centers sited in the Ararat lowlands.

The traces of wars, devastations and fires dicovered during excavation work coincide in time with the conquest of the Ararat plain by the Van kingdom in the early 8th century BC.

Stratigraphic data and the discovered material confirm the fact that following a brief interruption life on Metsamor hill was resumed. The Van rulers erected a new Cyclopean wall and Metsamor apparently acquired the status of taxpayer.

The territory of the citadel has also yielded materials pertaining to the antique and Hellenic periods.

Life continued to thrive in Metsamor throughout the Middle Ages up to the 17th century. The best evidence of this are the traces of former buildings discovered on the hilltop and its eastern slope, the glazed and unglazed earthenware, and items of luxury.

A special place belongs to coins excavated from Metsamors medieval layers. Among them one should mention the coin of Levon II (1270-1289), the medieval coin of the Khulavites minted in Tabriz (16th century), and the West European 13th-14th cc. coin which confirms Metsamor's position throughout the ages as a centre at the crossroads of trade routes.

The rich and diverse material discovered in the multilayer excavations at Metsamor has naturally led to the founding of the Metsamor Museum at the site of the monument.

The Museum of History and Archaeology was opened in 1968. Today it is the repository of 22,000 items. Its ground floor holds along with the diagram of the stratigraphic picture of the excavated layers chronological materials discovered in the fortress and the burial grounds dating from the Early Bronze Age to the Middle Ages. The second floor boasts two departments. The first displays materials dealing with trades, stone artifacts, items employed in jewelry-making, textile-weaving and leather working, carpet-weaving and the production of ceramics, and the glazed bluish-green decorative tiles that had ornamented the palace and temple halls. There is also a fine collection showing the metal-working process of those times.

The other department is devoted to the temple ensemble and items of worship. Here one sees idols, phallic sculptures, makeshift hearths, pintader seals for stamping blessed bread loaves, and amulets.

The museum basement is the repository of archeological wealth: an exposition showing the funeral ceremony of the Van Kingdom, the collection of gold displayed in two small halls comprising necklaces of gold, silver and semi-precious stones, amber and paste, along with other samples of jewelry-working discovered in the burials of wealthy Metsamor residents. The exposition is regularly replenished and renewed.

The museum attracts many visitors. The Metsamor monument and Museum have recieved a high appraisal of archaeologists, astrophysicists and other high-ranking specialists.

There is no overstating the role of Metsamor in studying the history and culture of the people that once inhabited the Armenian plateau.

Excavations of the ancient settlement are in full progress.

Above text prepared for a Soviet brochure by E. Hanzatyan.




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