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Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Central Armenia

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Central Armenia is the area which is easily accessible from Yerevan. Within an hour, you can reach the furthest reaches of these four marzes.

Ararat and Armavir are flat and form a large valley along the Arax River. Both marzes play important roles in the history of Armenia, having hosted ancient capitals, and critical sites of Armenian Christianity, namely Khor Virap and Echmiadzin.

Aragatsotn and Kotayk are more mountainous and varied in their landscapes. River valleys such as the Hrazdan and Azad have interesting sights along their paths.

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index



Aragatsotn Marz monument with Mt. Aragats in background

Aragatsotn Marz consists of the huge volcanic shield of Mt. Aragats, formerly Alagyaz, whose main cone rises 4090 meters above sea level. The high uplands provide grazing in summer for Yezidi shepherds, as well as the clear air for Armenia's observatories. The rocks, wildflowers, and views make the ascent of Aragats unforgettable. A favorite site for the summer cottages of affluent Yerevantsis due to its proximity and cool climate, the S slopes of Aragats are also the subject of tentative efforts to develop skiing (via snowmobile) and other winter sports. The remote medieval fortress of Amberd is a memorable destination once the snows melt in May.

The eastern part of the Marz is laid out along the Kasagh river gorge, which cuts deep into the rock and forms the backdrop for a chain of spectacular monasteries. The western uplands of Aragats, a bleakly beautiful landscape of volcanic boulders and green grass overlooking the Ararat Valley, are dotted with villages, each athwart a stream gorge, most with medieval churches and fortresses of the Bronze and Early Iron Age. Aruch Cathedral, the castle at Nerkin Talin (Dashtadem) the paleolithic open air workshops around Mt. Arteni, are all well worth a separate expedition.

Ashtarak (18,915 p, "Tower") is the administrative capital of Aragatsotn, spread out in and above the gorge of the Kasagh river. The city is endowed with old churches, interesting museums, and some ambitious restaurant/hotel/casino complexes suitable for lengthy carouses. From the highway, a left exit before the massive bridge winds down into Ashtarak, crossing via the lower bridge downstream. Turning right and continuing about 1 km, turn right again just after the main square to reach the Tsiranavor (5 cc. three nave hall, partially restored in 1963-64. In order to defend the church, a second wall surrounding the church was built in XVII c from northern and western sides, and above the southern wall a gun-slot was erected. ), Spitakavor (13 cc. walls remain), and Karmravor* =60= (40 17.98n x 044 21.93e) S. Astvatsatsin (7 cc. The church is unchanged with original tiled roof.) churches, the House Museum of the novelist Perch Proshian, and a view of the old triple arched bridge of 1664. Not far from the bridge lay the ruins of another, probably more ancient bridge (12-13 cc.). S. Mariane church =20= of 1281 is further W. It is marred by an unfinished early 20th c. basilica tacked on. On the right bank of the gorge above the medieval bridge is the new church of S. Sargis on early foundations. Just outside of town, on the opposite side of the highway/bridge is one of Armenia's premier restaurant/entertainment complexes, "Ashtaraki Dzor". This is a site worth visiting even from Yerevan to go to dinner, with it's small zoo, massive gold stage, live singing and often dancing, outdoor setting in a canyon, women making lavash bread in a tonir, and it even offers a paddleboat for couples to get away for a few moments. Prices are not much different than any other bbq joint across the country.

South from Ashtarak - Oshakan (Section 1; Maps A, D)

Oshakan (4803 p), is most famous as the last resting place of Mesrop Mashtots, (d 442) founder of the Armenian Alphabet. Above his grave (19th c. gravestone) is a church =50+= (40 15.53n x 044 18.90e) rebuilt by Katholikos George IV in 1875. It has wall-paintings from 1960 by the artist H. Minasian. See below (Armavir Marz, the Northeast Corner, for the 1827 Battle of Oshakan, a monument to which lies near Ejmiatsin on the road S.

Excavations on Didikond hill, which rises just behind (S) of Oshakan, revealed a square fort of the 7-5th c. BC, with five palace complexes on the N slope. Just N of Oshakan, in a little valley called Mankanots, is a 7th c. S. Sion church, with beside it an unusual pillar on a plinth dated to the 6-7th c. and traditionally believed to mark the grave of the Byzantine emperor Mauricius or his mother, based on the fact that one Armenian historian says he came from here. Elsewhere in the vicinity are shrines of S. Grigor, S. Sargis, S. Tadevos the Apostle, a rock-cut Astvatsatsin, and a Tukh Manuk shrine atop the hill. The area has a series of rich Iron Age tomb fields. W of Oshakan is a bridge of 1706 over the Kasagh river.

Voskehat (969 p, till 1949 Patrinj) has remains of an Iron Age fort W, and remnants of a 14th c. church. Voskevaz (3817 p) was originally known as Ghzltamur ("Red Timur"), by popular etymology out of gratitude to the 15th c. scourge Timur Lenk, who chose not to slaughter the villagers. The village has a roofless S. Hovhannes church. About 1 km S and a little W of the village, overlooking the Kasagh gorge where another stream comes in, are the ruins of the 5-7th c. "Badali Jam" church. W of this is a prehistoric "Vishap" (carved dragon stone) brought from its original site on Mt. Aragats and set up on a modern concrete plinth by local youths. Another 100 m W are the important remnants of a major Bronze Age fortress, called Aghtamir, including massive defensive walls, with medieval house remains and early tombs within. Nearby is a late medieval stone and mud fort, now crumbling. Nor Sasunik (1973 p) began as a state farm in 1955, but was augmented by the population of the original Sasunik further W, brought in 1960.

The South Slopes of Aragats --Amberd (Section 2; Map A)

Bypassing Ashtarak and the first exits for Mughni and Aparan, the first big cloverleaf on the main highway leads one N to Parpi (1900 p), with a 5th c. Tsiranavor church with later modifications. On the hill E is Targmanchats domed church of 7th century and S. Grigor church. There is a fine cave with a working door, used as a place of refuge in the 16th-18th c. E beyond Parpi is the hamlet of Bazmaghbyur (894 p, till 1949 Takia), with early burial sites. End of the road is Ghazaravan (450 p), formerly Nazrvan, with interesting Bronze Age fortresses nearby.

Exiting right at the second interchange at the turnoff for Byurakan from the Gyumri highway, on the left is a bird's wing monument to the heroes of the battle for Van. The monument is built on the site of the Bronze Age graveyard of Verin Naver, with substantial chamber tombs of coarse boulders surrounded by stone rings and covered with a mound. In Byurakan (3930 p, Bed & Breakfast) is the important S. Hovhannes basilican church. About 1 km NE (ask directions) is the Artavazik church of 7th c., with a 13th c. khachkar. A side road goes W to just below Orgov and Tegher (see below). Byurakan Observatory =40= is known by astronomists around the world. It was headed by Viktor Hambartsumian who was also the president of the International Astrophysicist Organization. During his time at the observatory, Viktor developed theories of young star clusters, and computing the mass ejected from nova stars. The observatory allows visitors and will give a tour and slide show in Armenian, Russian, and sometimes English to groups. Uphill from Byurakan, Antarut (205 p, until 1949 Inaklu, founded in the 2nd half of the 19th c.) has early khachkars.

The road continues climbing up the mountain past Antarut. At the fork, a sign painted on the asphalt points left to the fortress and church of Amberd** =85= (40 23.30n x 044 13.75e) occupying a rugged promontory between the Amberd river and its main tributary. The fortress reached its zenith as the seat of the Pahlavuni feudal family in the 11th c. Prince Vahram Pahlavuni built the church in 1026, as the inscription on the inside lintel of the N. doorway documents. Conquered by the Turks, reacquired by the Byzantines, lost again to the Seljuks, reconquered in 1196 by Ivane and Zakare Zakarian, and purchased by Vache Vachutian in 1215, the fortress was a key defensive site for centuries. Besides the citadel, bath, church, and extensive house fortifications, there are outer defensive works and, descending a perilous track on the SW corner, a covered passageway leading to the river.

Climbing Mt. Aragats (Section 3; Map A)

Taking the right fork away from Amberd, a narrow paved road (often closed by snow well into June) climbs to a small artificial lake beside the Cosmic Ray Institute at about 3200 m. This is the jumping off point for the climb of Armenia's tallest mountain.

There are four summits, North (the highest, 4090m), West (4080m), South (3879m) and East (3916m) forming the rim of a volcanic crater. Between South and East summits the crater wall is broken, and a stream flows down to the village of Aragats. A sharp ridge descends south from the South summit. Between the other summits are high saddles with sweeping views.

Even on a clear August day, clouds usually gather in the crater by about 10:00 a.m. Therefore, it is preferable to start walking as early as possible (e.g. 5:00 a.m.) to increase both the safety of the final ascent and the odds of a spectacular view. Weather is unpredictable and often dramatic, with snow possible at any time. Multiple layers (e.g., fleece and Gore-tex) are indispensable, as are sturdy boots, sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, a hat, and plenty of water. It also wouldn't hurt to bring some easy to eat pre-packaged snacks and a garbage bag with which to bring home any trash.

The South summit, lowest and nearest of the four, can be reached in under two hours from the lake. Easiest route is to ascend the mountain meadows generally NNW, aiming for the NW corner of the summit near an old, abandoned 1-2 man lookout building. After an hour, on the shoulder you will pick up a decaying jeep track that ascends in easy switchbacks to the broad, relatively flat double summit. Faster perhaps, but more strenuous, is to scramble up the ridge half way to the summit and follow it north to the highest point.

The North summit takes about four hours from the lake. There are two main routes. First is to cut north from below the NW corner of the South summit, sliding down scree to the SW saddle, then descend into the crater aiming for the eastern base of the North summit, from which one scrambles up a series of scree slopes to a path along the crater rim. Though involving (perhaps) less climbing, this route confronts a large icefield that makes the SW saddle difficult to traverse. One can also climb the ridge extending S from the S summit, then descend from the SE saddle. From the rocky, exposed false summit, a trail continues to the true summit (with a metal tripod), less difficult than it looks but not for acrophobes.

West Around Aragats -- Aghdzk and Aruch (Section 4; Map A)

Taking the Byurakan exit but continuing past the turnoff for Byurakan, one first reaches the village of Agarak (1586 p), on the Amberd river, founded in 1919 from Van and Tbilisi. The village was apparently located on the site of a Urartian settlement. Adjoining the road on the left side as one ascends N toward the village, there is one massive, well preserved wall of an earlier building converted to use as a church possibly in the 5-6th c. through the addition of an apse. Turning right (N) in Agarak, the road reaches the village of Aghdzk (1655 p), still known to its inhabitants as Dzorap. Halfway through the village on the right of the road is a 4th c. grave monument complex. According to the Epic Histories attributed to the more or less existent 5th c. historian Pavstos Buzand, King Shapuh II of Persia exhumed the bones of the kings of Armenia and carried them off to Persia, taking with him the luck and power of Armenia. However, sparapet Vasak Mamikonian, having defeated the Persians, reclaimed the bones of the Arshakuni dynasty and buried the royal bones, pagan and Christian separately, in a low vaulted chamber. Bring a flashlight to see the carved figures -- Daniel in the lions' den on the left, a mythical hero on the right, decorating the side niches, a unique example of late 4th or early 5th c. Christian art in Armenia. N of the shrine, whose superstructure is destroyed, are the lower walls of a 4th c. Christian basilica. About 100 m N of the basilica, by a shrine, a path leads right into the gorge below the church, with a series of interesting caves, some with doors, used in the 16-18th c. for refuge.

Continuing N. up the mountain from Aghdzk, one bears left at the fork to reach the monastery of Tegher* =80= (40 20.70n x 044 14.53e) (90 p), made of dark gray basalt. The gavit, finished in 1232, is particularly impressive. The complex was built at the behest of Mamakhatun, wife of Prince Vache Vachutian, and the architect, according to an inscription on a column of the gavit, was the vardapet Aghbayrik. The ruined village has interesting houses and the remains of a funerary chapel. Taking the right fork, the road winds to Orgov (458 p), with several huge radio-astronomy telescopes and, in the W part of the village, remains of a Bronze Age cyclopean fort, beside which an underground passage was recently discovered leading to a neighboring spring.

From the main road to Gyumri, a right turn some 15 km past the Ashtarak bridge leads to Ujan (2510 p), endowed with a cave, a cyclopean fort with ruined church and underground passage, and a statue of General Andranik, hero of Armenia's battles against the Turks and Azeris in 1917-1920. On the highway beyond Ujan is the turnout SW for Aragatsotn (705 p)and Nor Edesia (786 p), former Sovkhozes founded in 1971 and 1975.

Just off the road E before the first turnoff to Kosh is a large khachkar whose inscription, from 1195, commemorates the delivery of Aragatsotn from the Seljuk Turks. Kosh (2600 p) is attested from early Christian times as Kvash, with a relatively rich history. In the village are ruins of S. Grigor (13th c) and S. Gevorg (19th c. churches). N of Kosh is the 13th c. Kosh castle, built on earlier remains, as Hellenistic period pottery attests. SE of this castle on a nearby hill are Iron Age towers. From Kosh, at 3.1 km from the Gyumri highway driving N on a good asphalt road, a dirt track angles off to the right, leading to the 7th S. Stepanos church in the gorge, with hermits' caves and substantial ruins of the Koshavank monastic complex. Continuing, the main road forks at the hamlet of Verin Sasunik (formerly Gharajilar), which was emptied in 1960 and resettled in 1989. Right of the road at the turnoff are a cemetery and remains of a 7th? c. domed church and various medieval remnants. Follow the main road right to Avan (813 p), bearing right inside the village. On the right is the single-aisle 5th c. Astvatsatsin basilica, roofless. Continuing straight S on a muddy track, one sees ultimately the piled stones of a substantial Iron Age cyclopean fortification on a S. facing promontory, with excellent view. A left fork at Sasunik leads to Lernarot (329 p, till 1949 Magda).

At approximately 25 km on the left is the turnoff for Shamiram (609 p), a predominantly Yezidi village. On the right near the S end of the village, where two gorges merge, are the low-lying remains of a substantial fortress and settlement of the Bronze Age through medieval periods. All around the fortress are traces of large, wealthy tomb fields.

Next village N is Aruch (943 p, until 1970 Talish), was mentioned as a winter shelter for the king's army in the 5 c. It was also once the seat of Grigor Mamikonian (661-682), a prince who enjoyed considerable autonomy under Arab rule. Coming N on the main road to Gyumri, you see on the left the heavily restored (in 1960) remains of one wing of a three-nave 13th c. caravansaray. Turning W, a paved road leads to the village, with the impressive domed Cathedral Church of St. Gregory* =65=, built in 666. According to building inscriptions and manuscripts (Ghevond, Hovanes Draskhanakertsi, Stepanos Taronatsi) in the 660-670's it was built by Grigor Mamikonyan and his wife Heghine. The half-destroyed monument was essentially restored (except the dome) in 1949-1950. The walls of the temple are plastered and decorated with frescos - now seriously damaged - painted by Stepanos. In the half-dome of the altar, about 7m tall, Christ is pictured with a parchment [whistle?] in his left hand. The pedestal frescoes are divided into two parts: acanthus leaves with roses, grapes and pomegranates that make a decorative belt along the entire wall of big altar. Beside the Cathedral are the excavated remains of the Mamikonian palace. Nearby are ruined walls from a 13-14th c. castle, among the well-built 19th c. stone houses. Another building, situated a little to southeast (which has a one-nave basilica church) has a different foundation. Its rectangle hall was vaulted and leaned on four pillars. Later on, probably in late medieval times, they added thick walls and built a swimming pool that filled up through an underground river. The half-destroyed building was used for defensive purposes. On the eastern outskirts of the village are the remainders of Aruj's fortress, which has not been professionally excavated yet. The road continues S to Nor Amanos (540 p), until 1984 Sovkhoz #2.

Opposite the Aruch turnoff the road NE goes to Agarak (962 p), whose inhabitants came in 1920 from Van. There is an Urartian site, and a ruined 5-6th c. church. West and N of Agarak, a road leads from the main road to Nerkin Bazmaberd (1334 p), whose population came as refugees from W. Armenia in 1915. Some 3 km SSW are ruins of the Iron Age fort of Karakala. NE of N. Bazmaberd are Kakavadzor (919 p), Baysz (156 p) with 12th c. church ruins, castle remnants, and Dian (111 p). Verin Bazmaberd (429 p) has church and fortress ruins. The road continues up into the mountains, ending at Avtona (94 p, until 1935 Schanlu), a Yezidi village whose name means "Waterless" in Kurdish. A spur S of the highway leads to the village of Partizak (249 p), formerly Bakhchajur.

North Toward Talin and Mastara (Section 5; Map B)

Taking the T north in Nerkin Bazmaberd and following the main track as it winds NW will take you to Nerkin Sasnashen (942 p), however, this track is extremely poor and should be avoided. A better approach to the village is from the main road just before reaching Katnaghbyur (see below). The turn-off from the main road is right at a gas station with a faded green roof (carport style) over the gas pumps. There is a large water pipe going over the Gyumri road just beyond that gas station.

Nerkin Bazmaberd has the foundations of a small 7th c. monastery on a beautiful promontory at the SW end of the village beyond the cemetery. There are traces of substantial Iron Age fortifications closing off the promontory, and caves in the gorge below. East from the village council building on finds the battered walls of a second early church. At the NW corner of the village a rough road to the right at the far end leads to the simple granite marker commemorating the crash site of 17 U.S. Air Force personnel shot down by Soviet MIG fighters on September 2, 1958 when their C-130 electronic intelligence plane strayed across the border from Turkey. Six bodies were returned in September 1958, and a USAF team recovered additional remains in the 1990s. Continuing NW, the paved road runs across the gorge and a spur north leads up to Verin Sasnashen (337 p), allegedly with cyclopean fort ruins. That road ascends temptingly, paved with rough cobbles, deep into the Aragats highlands.

A paved road right on the main highway at a gas station on the left (when approaching from Yerevan) leads to Katnaghbyur (1222 p), with ruined 5th c. church, and then to Davtashen (699 p, till 1950 Aylanlu), and finally, if you turn left after Davtashen, back towards Nerkin Sasnashen again. A T to the North on a paved road between Katneghbyur and Davtashen leads up towards Irind (769 p). From the Irind village square a right turn on the paved road (they are all paved, some of the most beautiful pavement in Armenia) leads in 100 m to the remains of an important 7th c. octagonal church*. About a third of it remains standing, and is not heavily decorated. Somewhere nearby is an Iron Age fortress. The left fork in Katnaghbyur leads to Shgharshik (515 p, till 1935 Sheikh Haji), with the small Iron Age fortress of Kyoroghlu Berd (and a miniature cave shrine) on the cemetery hill, and to Yeghnik (367 p, till 1946 Dadalu), with S. Nshan church of 1866. The main highway cuts through a rise containing a substantial 4-6th c. fortress found and excavated during road construction.

North of this site, a good road leads SW to Ashnak (1139 p), known since the 5th century as a substantial settlement but in its current location a foundation of 1830, refugees from Sasun. A left turn just past the little village square leads to the ruins of a simple 10th c. chapel on earlier foundations. In the cemetery on the right hand side of the main road are scanty mortar and rubble outcrops from a 5th(?) c. church, and traces of a cyclopean fort amid the well-tended farmyards. Further W about 5 km are ruins of a 9-10th c fort, and 1st c BC graves. Ashnak has a famous folk dance troop that, in better times, toured internationally.

Turning N instead of S at the turnoff for Talin, one fork leads to Akunk (633 p, till 1946 Gyuzlu), founded in 1829 from Khoy and Mush. There is a cyclopean fort nearby. The right fork goes to Karmrashen (582 p, till 1946 Krmzlu), with a S. Astvatsatsin church of 1865, a "Chknavor" rock-cut shrine, khachkars, and ruins of a cyclopean fort nearby. Vosketas (494 p, till 1935 Ghuldervish) is beyond.

Talin Cathedral and Church (foreground)

Turning from the main road toward Talin (4981 p), the right turn just before the fountains in the town square leads to a large cemetery in which are the impressive remains of an important cathedral church* =70= (39 49.75n x 045 21.87e) very similar to the 7th c. church at Aruch . Nearby is a smaller S. Astvatsatsin church, built in the 7th c. According to the inscription, "I Nerseh the patrician proconsul, lord of Shirak and Asharunik, built this church in the name of the Holy Mother of God for her intercession for me and my wife Shushan and Hrapat my son." Two Nersehs are attested as Byzantine governor, one from the reign of the Emperor Heraclius in 639, the other from the reign of Justinian II in 689. Somewhere in the vicinity are remnants of a medieval castle.

Taking the first turnoff to Mastara (2233 p) the road leads toward an excellent early church* =50= on the E edge of the village. On the S wall outside a fragmentary Greek inscription seems to mention the Sasanid king Peroz (reign 459-484), suggesting a 5th century date, but other building inscriptions indicate that the bulk of the church is 7th century with later repairs. According to popular etymology, Mastara derives its name from Gregory the Illuminator, who brought back from Caesaria the relics of John the Baptist, one fragment of which he enshrined beneath the church site: Mas (a piece) Tara (I buried/took). The church was closed in 1935 and used as the collective farm storehouse until it was reopened in 1993.

From Mastara a road continues NE to Dzoragyugh (till 1940 N. Pirtikan), Dprevank (52 p), and Tsaghkasar (87 p), with a shrine of Tadevos the Apostle, and ruins of a cyclopean fort. Beyond is Zovasar (571 p, till 1978 Aghakchik), 2km SW of which is the former village of Shenik with 5th c. S. Amenaprkich church and 7th c. S. Astvatsatsin church. End of the road is Garnahovit (423 p, till 1946 Adyaman). Nearby to the E and SE are Urartian remains. In the middle of the village is S. Gevorg church* =60= (40 29.83n x 043 57.38e) of the mid-7th c. The huge restored church looms above the village with a huge uncommon (in Armenia) red tile dome. There are other church remains in the gorge.

Talin Fortress and Kristapori Vank (Section 6; Map B)

Forking left at the far end of the main square of Talin, follow the asphalt road S to Dashtadem (520 p, formerly Nerkin/Lower Talin). A few hundred meters after the electric substation, on the left rise the ruined stone walls of a large medieval caravansaray. W of the road on a hill are remains of Stone Age obsidian workshops. In the middle of the village of Dashtadem, a left turn leads almost immediately to the arched gateway to the fortress* =75= (40 20.37n x 043 51.43e). Most of the outer circuit wall dates to the last Qazar khans of Yerevan, at the beginning of the 19th c. However, the fortress is considerably earlier. The keep within is a bizarre structure, with half-round towers glued onto an earlier Armenian fortress probably of the 10th c. An elegant Arabic inscription in Kufic letters on the E wall reads: "May Allah exalt him. In the blessed month of Safar in the year 570 (September 1174) the lord of this strong fortress, the Prince, the great Spasalar, the Pillar of the Faith, the Glorifier of Islam, Sultan son of Mahmud son of Shavur." Sultan ibn Mahmud was one of the Shaddadid Seljuk princes who ruled briefly in Ani. Beneath the citadel are substantial cisterns. There is also a chapel of S. Sargis beside it, dated to the 10th c.

Continuing through Dashtadem, and descending toward the S, a spur road climbs left to the restored 7th c. Kristapori Vank* =50=. The road from Dashtadem deteriorates greatly passing Lusakn (149 p), but finally reaches the Armavir-Gyumri road S of Arteni.

The main road from Talin leads W to Areg (738 p), till 1935 Firmalak. Continuing W, one reaches the hamlets of Gyalto (111 p), and then Hakko (136 p) on the N side of Mt. Arteni. The first left fork before Areg leads S on a newer road, passing Mt. Arteni on the E and leading past the village of Barojh (158 p, till 1935 Duzkend) and Ghabaghtapa (151 p) to the town of Arteni (3108 p, till 1950 Boghutlu) with its wine factory. A second dirt road before Areg leads up toward the summit of Arteni, with a huge Urartian-medieval fortification. On the SE slopes of Arteni is the famous Lower Paleolithic-Neolithic site of Satani Dar.

N from the village of Arteni paralleling the railroad and the Turkish border, you pass in succession Aragats (5129 p, founded in 1924), Getap (159 p, till 1946 Gharaghla) and Tlik (140 p) before entering Shirak Marz near the village of Anipemza.

From Areg, a road goes NW to Sorik (123 p, till 1935 Dzorba), Hatsashen (278 p, till 1978 Sabunchi), Tsamakasar (409 p, Bronze Age burials), Suser (309 p, till 1946 Ghlijatagh, shrine E) and Nor Artik (542 p. founded 1902) and enters Shirak Marz at Bagravan. A right turn in Tsamakasar leads to Zarinja (595 p) in N. part of which village is 7th c. S. Khach, rebuilt in the 10th c.

Saralanj (217 p), if it is not a list-maker's mistake, is likely to be discovered only by accident.

North from Ashtarak -- Hovhannavank to Aparan (Section 7; Map A)

Crossing the main highway bridge, the first exit right leads to the village of Mughni (770 p), now inside the Ashtarak city limits, with the 14th c. Monastery of S. Gevorg* =50= (40 18.83n x 044 22.32e), once a popular pilgrimage site for both Christians and Muslims. The church, with its distinctive striped drum below the conical cupola, was rebuilt in 1661-69 by order of the vardapet Yovhannes. It had an archbishop, a monk, five deacons, and one acolyte in 1830, supported by the revenues of Mughni village. In 1999-2000 the church underwent major restoration.

Karbi (3547 p), the next village north along the Kasagh gorge, has been known since the 13th century, and was for much of the Persian period the administrative center of the mahal of Karbi Basar. Though ravaged and plundered repeatedly, several churches remain: S. Astvatsatsin basilica of 1691-93, the 11-13th c. S. Kiraki or S. Gevorg, Tsiranavor and Tukh Manuk, and the "Zargarents Jam" chapel.

Ohanavan (2239 p) was resettled by migrants from Mush in 1828. Perched on the Kasagh gorge rim, Hovhannavank Monastery* =65= (40 20.39n x 044 23.30e) is a major monument from the 7th c. and later, the best documented of the major Armenian monasteries due to a manuscript of pious history compiled in 1686 by the Archdeacon Zakaria. The monastery was dedicated to John the Baptist, and has a 12th c. fortification wall with towers to the W, a 13th c. church and gavit (a rebuilding financed in part by Kurd Vachutian), and an early single-aisle church. There is a passage from inside the monastery to a cave in the gorge below. The monastery has rich stone decoration, and many inscriptions. According to one high on the N wall of the so-called "tapanatun", "By the grace of beneficent God, in the reign of Queen Tamara daughter of the great George, in the year 642 (AD 1200), of the race of Torgom, we the brothers Zakaria and Ivane, sons of Sargis the great, son of Avag Zakaria, when the light of God's grace rose and entered Armenia and strengthened our weakness in the battle against the enemies of Christ's cross and destroyed their power and quenched their violence and the country of Ararat was delivered from the heavy yoke of their servitude, we wished to make offering and gave the tribute of grace to the Holy Forerunner of Hovhannavank..."

Alphabet with Aragats behind. © 2007, Timofey Kispoev

Past Ohanavan (check exact location) you'll see massive stone carved letters of the Armenian alphabet clustered on your left, under the skirts of Mt. Aragats. This new addition to the landscape, only a couple of years old, is already a popular spot to stop and climb some of the letters for a photo with your favorite.

Ushi (1285 p) was until the Russian conquest in 1828 the administrative center of the Mahal of Sayyidli Aksakhi, inhabited by the Turkic tribes of that name. Entering the village opposite the turn-off for Hovhannavank and taking the paved fork right, one bumps W past a small 10th c. church and reaches in about 1 km the badly ruined S. Sargis Vank* and 7th c. shrine on a hillside with a splendid view. Work is under way to lay clear the collapsed 13th c. church and adjacent gavit. The complex is surrounded by a fortification wall of 1654. There is an Iron Age fort atop the hill nearby.

Built on the gorge N of Ohanavan, you must drive through Artashavan village to reach it. Turn right after the Artashavan sign on the main highway, left at the dead end, and your second right should take you all the way to the gorge and the monastery of Saghmosavank Monastery* =80= (40 22.83n x 044 23.80e) (194 p), the "Monastery of Psalms", with S. Sion church and an adjoining gavit built in 1215 by Prince Vache Vachutian and his wife Mamakhatun. According to an inscription of 1255 on the structure S of the main church, "I Kurd (son of Vache) and my wife Khorishah built this library and established this chapel in the name of our daughter." The monastery was restored several times including in 1890, and most recently in 1998-2001 by the Land & Culture Organization.

Continuing north beyond the village of Artashavan (606 p, formerly Ilanchalan), there is a recently restored 7th c. Amenaprkich church 500 m NE. Next village is Apnagyugh (482 p), then Aray (364 p) with a ruined caravansary of 1213, rebuilt 19th c., and a cyclopean fort to SW. N of Aray on the spur road is Vardenut (854 p), settled, along with the neighboring villages, by emigrants who came from Persia in 1829-30 under the exchange of populations provided by the Treaty of Turkmanchay. There are remains of a shrine, and a substantial Iron Age fort in the village. Aragats (2727 p) is jumping off place for scaling Mt. Aragats from the E, following the stream. Next is Tsaghkashen (551 p). E from Aragats is Shenavan (1599 p). Opposite Shenavan on the main road is Hartavan (768 p). Turning E at the entrance to Hartavan, the road crosses the Kasagh gorge. By taking the old road (left fork) into the gorge, one reaches the ruined Astvatsnkal monastery of 5-13th c. An inscription on the S. wall of the Kathoghike church reads: "By the grace and mercy of God, I Kurd, Prince of Princes, son of the great Vache, and my wife Khorishah, daughter of Marzpan, built the Holy Katoghike for the memory of our souls. We have decorated it with every kind of precious ornament and offered the garden bought by us in Parpi, virgin land in Oshakan, a garden in Karbi, a villager (?), and three hostels, in the year 693/AD 1244." Continuing E, you reach Yernjatap (487 p, till 1949 Ghrabulagh). 2km SW along the gorge is allegedly a ruined church. A spur N leads to the hamlet of Norashen (162 p).

An unmarked road leads E from the main Aparan highway to the little settlement of Jrambar (120 p) housing workers and security personnel for the Aparan dam and reservoir which supply some of Yerevan's drinking water. Beneath the waters of the reservoir are the ruins of Zovuni, with an important Poghos-Petros church, Tukh Manuk shrine, and mortuary chapel called by popular tradition the mausoleum of Zoravar Vardan Mamikonian, the heroic loser of the battle of Avarayr. The church* and mausoleum were moved stone by stone to higher ground E of the reservoir.

Kuchak (1878 p) was founded in 1829-30 by migrants from Mush. It is named for Nahapet Kuchak, a 16th c. bard from near Van traditionally but erroneously credited with a whole genre of medieval Armenian verse call Hayrens. There is a 19th c. church. The road E from Kuchak passes an evocative "Tukh Manuk" shrine on a hilltop overlooking the reservoir and a ruined basilica church. The scatter of obsidian flake around the shrine suggests use from earliest times. The road crosses the N end of the reservoir to reach Yeghipatrush (714 p) known till 1945 as Tanjrlu and then till 1992 called Mravyan after Askanaz Mravyan, first Soviet Armenian Cultural Commissar. In the village is a 10-13th c. S. Astvatsatsin church. Some 100 m beyond is an early cemetery with one corner of an allegedly 5th c. basilica in addition to a khachkar shrine.

Back on the main road, you soon reach the former region capital of Aparan (5711 p), till 1935 Bash Aparan, site of an important battle against the Turkish army in 1918 where the Turkish invasion of newly independent Armenia was miraculously turned around. Just N of town, on a hill left of the road, is an impressive monument to the battle. Behind the monument toward the Kasagh gorge is a large Bronze Age settlement site, with tomb fields and caves. Aparan's population, mixed Armenians and Kurds, is the butt of various jokes. A typical Aparantsi joke goes, "When the Aparantsi got home, he asked his mother, 'Did a friend who wears glasses call'?". As Kasagh, Aparan was listed by the geographer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. About 100 m E of the highway toward the N end of town is the impressive and architecturally important 5th c. Kasagh Basilica*, restored in 2001 and operating as a church. It was built on the Arshakuni dynasty's land and may have been built in the 4th century and modified in the 5th. From Aparan, a road angles back SE to Mulki (497 p), Vardenis (591 p, 19th c. church), Chknagh (251 p), and Ttujur ("Sour water", 366 p, till 1950 Imrlu), this latter with a S. Harutyun church in the village and a 17th c. shrine called Karmir Vank to the S. Beyond is Dzoraglukh (379 p). In principle, a jeep tracks winds up into the mountains from Ttujur and ends at Hankavan.

Turning E at the main traffic circle in Aparan (S of the basilica), a good road leads to the village of Lusagyugh (738 p). The village has a small working church of 1887. A few hundred meters up the valley by dirt track is a badly ruined church with a sign dating it to the 4th c. On a hilltop N of the village is a 7th c. chapel, called Tukh Manuk.

North from Aparan, the road rises to upland grasslands, home of Yezidi shepherds and mountain views. Nigavan (671 p) has a cyclopean fort and a 19th c. church. E of the road, Mirak (72 p) has ruins of a 5th c. church. Further NE is Melikgyugh (1080 p). Next on the main road are Shenkani (187 p) and Rya Taza (364 p, Yezidis) the latter with a ruined 10-13th c. church and zoomorphic (animal shaped) tombstones in village, visible just meters east of the highway. Rya Taza gives its name to a Kurdish newspaper and other cultural activities.

The crossroads village of Alagyaz (416 p, till 1938 Mets Jamshlu), is likewise primarily inhabited by Yezidi Kurds. There is a cheese factory. Turning W, one passes in succession the villages of Vardablur (522 p), Sangyar (292 p), and Tsaghkahovit (1562 p). The latter has substantial Late Bronze Age (ca. 1100) through Urartian remains on the hill to the E, the Kalachi Amrots. A joint team of U.S. and Armenian archaeologists has begun excavation of the fortress atop the hill, the houses spread out to the S and the cemeteries nearby. There is a modern Grigor Lusavorich church in the village. Next is Amre Taza (240 Yezidi p., till 1978 Karavansara), then Hnaberd (1830 p), named after the ruins of an Urartian fortress nearby. There is a 5th c. church and shrine. Beyond are Geghadzor (947 p), Berkarat (785 p), Geghadir (590 p), and Norashen (963 p, till 1946 Sachili, with S. Astvatsatsin church). The road then enters Shirak Marz.

Another road from Alagyaz leads E to the hamlets of Derek (413 p, till 1978 Jarjaris), with a ruined church said to be 5th c, and Ortachia (183 p). The straight track N from leads to Sipan (225 p)and Avshen (213 p) on the old Tsarist road to Spitak. However, the road over the Spitak pass is badly washed out and probably impassible.

The modern main road to Spitak and Lori Marz thus bends slightly west, passing Jamshlu (200 p), Gegharot (497 p, till 1945 Keshiskend), and Tsilkar (528 p). W of the road, Lernapar (508 p) was known till 1978 as Haykakan (Armenian) Pamb or Gharakilisa.

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index


Ararat Marz is the agriculturally rich but hot and flat valley of the Arax river S of Yerevan, including the severe brown hills of the lower Azat and Vedi river watersheds, but including fine green valleys and mountains in the upper reaches, mostly now protected within the bounds of the Khosrov Forest State Preserve. Ararat Marz is dominated by the double silhouette of Mt. Ararat, which looms on a clear day close and magical.

Main tourist destination of the Marz is Khor Virap Monastery, legendary site of the captivity of Gregory the Illuminator, which sits among the ruins of Ancient Artashat. The ruins of Dvin are another important destination, at least scientifically, while the upper valley of the Vedi River includes interesting natural sites and a fortified monastery. The fishponds of Armash are one of the Caucasus's richest spots for birders. East from Yeraskh, a fold of Mt. Urts shelters the virtually unknown S. Karapet Monastery. Technically in Ararat Marz, but more accessible from Garni (see Kotayk section), the remote valleys of the Azat river and its tributaries shelter Aghjots (S. Stepanos) Vank and Geghi Castle (Kakavaberd).

Over the centuries, the population of the Arax valley had become predominantly Muslim, as Turkish, Mongol, and Persian conquerors pushed aside the Christian population out of these fertile lands. Though Armenians began to return to Ararat Marz as early as 1828 with the Russian conquest, most of the villages retained Turkish names until the middle of this century, and the last Azerbaijani villages became Armenian only with the mutual ethnic cleansing of 1988-89.

Given the difficulty of integrating Ararat's numerous villages into a single logical itinerary, and the relative scarcity of preserved sites, they are listed in roughly N-S order, with exceptions stated.

West of Yerevan (Section 1; Maps C, D)

Argavand (1715 p, till 1946 Jafarabad) is just S of the road to Zvartnots airport. It has a ruined 5th c. S. Harutyun church in the cemetery, and a large Turkmen funerary monument of 1413 with Arabic inscription (see Armavir section for text).
Geghanist (2427 p, till 1948 Kolkat, church of 1852).
Arbat (1898 p)
Azatashen (572 p, founded 1929)
Getapnya (1200 p, till 1978 Aghjaghshlagh);
Khachpar (1610 p)
Ghukasavan (2128 p, till 1949 Kalali), named for Ghukas Ghukasian (1899-1920), founder of Armenia's Communist Youth Movement. The Komsomol Museum in the village was founded in 1970.
Hayanist (2046 p, Gharaghshlar till 1978, then renamed Dostlugh -- "Friendship" in Turkish -- till the exchange of populations in 1988-89 replaced its Azeris with Armenians).
Darbnik (937 p)
Darakert (2342 p,, till 1978 Ipeklu Eylas)
Hovtashat (3497 p, till 1978 Mehmandar)
Dashtavan (1775 p, till 1978 Shorlu Demirji)
Norabats (1987 p, till 1978 Yengija) has the Neolithic ruins of Yengija or Masis Blur (6-4th millennium BC) to the S. Nearby is a sandstone quarry with mammoth bones and other fossils. N of Norabats toward Nerkin Charbakh is a 3rd-1st millennium BC settlement site on a hill.
Ayntap (7352 p, renamed in 1970 from Bayburdabad or Bazakend. Aintab was a well known town in Western Armenia, near Cilicia, in present day Turkey.)
Dzorak (1400 p)
Nizami (1068 p, till 1978 Nejeli Verin, renamed in honor of the 12th century poet Nizami Ganjevi, from Ganca [Gyanja]. Nizami is the most respected poet of Azerbaijan. His verse, in Persian, included epic tales and reams of good advice in the form of rhyming couplets.)
Nor Kharbert (5772 p, founded 1929) is named for a town in Western Armenia, the 1915 massacres in which were thoroughly documented by American missionaries.
Sipanik (394 p, formerly Azeri, resettled in 1989 by refugees from Azerbaijan)
Sayat-Nova (1739 p, till 1978 Nechili Nerkin), formerly Azeri, now resettled by refugees from Azerbaijan
Masis (19048 p, formerly Zangibasar, Narimanlu and Ulukhanlu villages) used to be a main transportation depot of the S. Caucasus.
Sis (1143 p, till 1991 the Azeri village of Sarvanlar, renamed after the well known town in Cilician Armenia, now in Turkey.)
Noramarg (1824 p), primarily refugees from Azerbaijan in 1988.
Ranchpar (996 p, also Ranchpar Jafar Khan), formerly Azeri, resettled by refugees in 1988. A ranchpar was in pre-Soviet times a peasant with no tie to a specific piece of land.

South from Yerevan (Section 2; Map C)

Heading S on the old main road (E of the four-lane highway) toward the Marz capital of Artashat, the villages are:
Nor Kyurin (845 p)
Marmarashen (2967 p, till 1967 Aghhamzalu)
Jrahovit (1040 p, till 1960 Jabachalu), has a Chalcolithic-Iron Age tell nearby.
Arevabuyr (1049 p, till 1978 Kharatlu)
Mrgavet (2146 p, till 1945 Gharadaghlu, then Tsaghkashen till 1967)
Mkhchyan (4531 p, till 1935 Imamshahlu), named after a Soviet commander killed in 1921 civil strife.
Dimitrov (1221 p, till 1949 Ghuylasar Nerkin) has a church.
Masis village (1434 p, till 1945 Tokhanshalu)
Burastan (2013 p, formerly Gharahamzalu)
Azatavan (2907 p, till 1945 Chigdamlu)
Baghramian (1702 p, till 1949 Bashnalu) has 19th c. church.
Berkanush (1694 p, till 1945 Oghurbekli, old church)
Dalar (2522 p, till 1935 Dalilar Buyuk) has church of 1904 and a modern sculpted spring monument called "The Three Girls."
Mrgavan (1725 p, till 1945 Gyodaklu)

Artashat (22567 p) is the capital of Ararat Marz, deriving its name from ancient Artaxiata, "Joy of Artashes.". The modern town, known till 1945 as Ghamarlu, was founded in 1828-29 by migrants from Persia. West of the modern highway N of Artashat are Hovtashen (1142 p, till 1978 Pughamlu) and Araksavan (721 p, till 1978 Sabunchi).

A road from S of Jrahovit leads E to Jrashen (1708 p) then S to Ditak (670 p, founded 1927), and Arevshat (2104 p, once Mets Armalu, then until 1945 Nerkin Aghbash, new church). NE from Arevshat are Abovian (1387 p, till 1946 Upper Aghbash), Lanjazat (1440 p, till 1940 Janatlu, then Zovashen till 1967), and Bardzrashen (1282 p, till 1945 Bitlija). Near Lanjazat, a paved road leads NE past the Azat River Reservoir and eventually joins up with the main road to Garni and Geghard. This road offers a shortcut for tourists attempting a one-day circuit including Khor Virap along with Garni.

From Arevshat S. the next village is Deghdzut (919 p, till 1967 Yamanchali), with a spur leading E and N to Mrganush (1039 p, till 1945 Zohraplu), Vardashen (445 p, till 1945 Mehrablu), and Getazat (1961 p, till 1948 Aghjakala.) West and South from Deghdzut are Nshavan (1930 p, till 1946 Arpavar, then till 1967 Lusakert), and Byuravan (1237 p, till 1945 Ghuylasar Hin), with modern church.

To Ancient Dvin (Section 3; Map C)

From Dalar, a good paved road leads NE toward the ancient capital of Dvin, passing Aygestan (2449 p once Ayaslu or Bzovand Kulamali) and (off to the left) Kanachut (1191 p). Hnaberd (636 p, till 1949 Kurbantepe or Toprakkale) is the closest village to the low brown hill of decomposed mudbrick marking the citadel of Dvin* =20= (40 00.25n x 044 34.60e), founded in the 4th c. AC by King Khosrov III and for centuries the capital of Armenia.

Dvin cross

Turning R on a paved road before the modern village of Dvin, pass S through the village, and enter the site on the left through the gate in a metal fence. 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 S. Gregory the Illuminator, with a smaller, later, centrally planned church built inside it. S. 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 fifth century an outside arched gallery was added to it. In the middle of the seventh century 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). The rulers palace was situated on the top of a high hill which dominated the town, inside a vast citadel. The rectangular-base building was a two-storey one, with richly decorated presence and residence chambers in the first floor, and service premises, including a bath-house with men’s and women’s sections equipped like that in Garni, in the ground floor. Following a path right, one crosses a small green gully with cows to reach the old excavation quarters, now the storage area for worked stone blocks and the site of a small museum with excellent Persian-style glazed ceramic bowls from Dvin's medieval period. Left above the museum, a path leads up to the citadel, a hill of decomposing mudbrick with rough stone foundations giving only a tiny hint of what was once a thriving ancient and medieval city. S of the site about one km are remains of a large 5th c. market building.

In 572, when the Armenians rose up with Byzantine help under Vardan Mamikonian (a later one, not the saint of Avarayr in 451), they captured Dvin and killed the Persian marzpan Suren. The great cathedral of S. Gregory, used by the Persians as a storehouse, burned in the process. This uprising was quickly quashed. Conquered by the Arabs in 640, Dvin (then known as Dabil) served for centuries as the seat of the Muslim governor. At its height, the city was said to have had 100,000 residents, and extended over all the surrounding villages. The finds of glass and other luxury goods suggest ties to the whole Islamic world.

Dvin is linked to the martyrdom of Smbat I Bagratuni, client king of Syunik, in 909. Attempting to assert his complete control, the evil Arab ostikan (governor) Yusuf poisoned Smbat's son and nephew, who had surrendered themselves to him as Smbat's allies and relatives deserted a fading cause. Capturing Smbat himself, Yusuf had him tortured to death in an attempt to persuade his wife and relatives to surrender the invincible fortress of Ernjak (now in Iran) where they had taken refuge. The mutilated body of Smbat was exposed on a cross outside Dvin, where it allegedly worked a number of miracles. According to early Armenian historians, the great Kurdish general, the "Saracen" Salahaddin, nemesis of the Crusaders, was born near Dvin.

East are Nerkin Dvin (2815 p, till 1950 Dyugun Hay) and Verin Dvin (1866 p), the latter notable for its population of Assyrian Christians. Norashen (3071 p, once known as Kurdish Dvin) is S of Hnaberd.

A second road from Artashat leads to Dvin via Berdik (812 p, formerly Akhund Bzovand) and Verin Artashat (3960 p). Once can also drive E past Vostan (2946 p, till 1945 Bejazlu) to Kaghtsrashen (2987 p) and Narek (1075 p, named in 1984 in honor of the poet Grigor Narekatsi), before leading E into the mountains eventually to reach the Azat river valley.

East of Artashat are Aygepat (1359 p, till 1949 Musumlu) and Aygezard (3215 p, till 1949 Darghalu, then till 1957 Anastasavan) South are the villages of Shahumian (3933 p, till 1950 Yuva), Taperakan (3437 p, till recently Kirov), and, right of the main highway, Pokr Vedi (2931 p).

Khor Virap and Artaxiasata (Section 4; Map C)

The road through Pokr (Little) Vedi is signposted for Khor Virap. The left fork beyond Pokr Vedi leads to the village of Lusarat (2211 p, till 1968 Khor Virap or Shikhlar), with a conspicuous statue of one of the early 20th c. fidayi, nationalist fighters against the Turks.

Take the right fork and drive past the extensive cemetery to the monastery of Khor Virap Monastery* =65+= (39 52.70n x 044 34.55e), built on the side of one of a chain of low hills looking out across the Russian-guarded border to Turkey and Mt. Ararat. The central church, S. Astvatsatsin, dates from the end of the 17th c. The smaller S. Gevorg church was originally constructed in 642 by Catholicos Nerses the Builder, but has been repeatedly rebuilt. In this second church are two deep stone cisterns, the further of which, then garnished with serpents, is said to have been the pit in which Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years by the cruel king Trdat III (or maybe IV - the traditional chronology is problematic). The descent, via a perilous metal stairway, is spiritually rewarding and generally not fatal. (The same cannot be said about the public restrooms behind the monastery.)

Gregory's miraculous cure of the king, who had been punished by God with the head of a boar in place of his own, was rewarded with the official conversion of Armenia to Christianity in the year 301 or (according to modern scholars) 314. Nerses the Builder is supposed to be buried there, along with relics of Gregory himself. Khor Virap was an important educational center in medieval times. Abandoned in late Persian times, it was reinhabited by three monks from Ejmiatsin after the Russian conquest. It remains a pilgrimage site and place for wedding photos and sheep sacrifice up to the present day.

The hill of Khor Virap and those adjoining were the site of the important early Armenian capital city of ancient Artashat* or Artaxiasata, built by King Artashes I, founder of the Artashesid dynasty, around 180 BC. According to legend, the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who spent his twilight years in flight from a vengeful Rome, inspired the founding of the city. Though well-known in literary sources, Artashat remained long-undiscovered, archaeologists misled by its ancient description as a spacious and well-laid-out city located at the confluence of the Araxes and Metsamor rivers. The course of the rivers has changed, and that confluence is now 20-odd km further N of the city site. On the upper slopes of the hills, extensive excavations have revealed the foundations of residential and other structures, along with Mediterranean-style art and other traces of a rich Hellenizing culture. Short stretches of well-preserved mud-brick fortifications line the N slope of the third hill from the NE. Ancient coins and potsherds can still be found, showing links with the whole ancient world. There was a large Jewish community in the city in the 4th century when Artashat was ravaged by the Persian King of Kings Shapur II. Armenia's capital was moved to Dvin by King Khosrov III (330-338), partly because of the increasingly unhealthy swamps nearby.

However, Artashat was still a major town in the mid-5th century, when Persian King Yazkert attempted to force his Armenian subjects to convert to Zoroastrianism, according to the (late 6th c?) monk-historian Yeghishe. Teams of trained magi were sent to evangelize the Christians and build temples to Ahura Mazda (Ormizd), including one by the city gate in Artashat. The priests and dignitaries of Armenia met in Artashat to write their reply to Yazkert's demands, and there two militant clerics, the priest Samuel and deacon Abraham, destroyed the temple and desecrated the sacred fire by dumping it in the water. Rising up under their sparapet (hereditary military chief) Vardan Mamikonian, the Armenian nobles destroyed the Persian garrisons, fought their way east to the Chor Pass near the Caspian Sea, and made a (useless) alliance with the Huns. Alas, treacherous nobles on the home front had cut a deal with Yazkert. Artashat was burned, the churches pillaged, and Vardan Mamikonian and 1035 of his associates martyred in the battle of Avarayr (in modern Iran) in AD 451. S. Vardan is still a nationalist icon. After long torture and imprisonment, Samuel and Abraham had their impious right hands cut off and were beheaded.

Vedi and Eastward (Section 5; Map C, inset)

To reach the town of Vedi and follow the Vedi Chay into the hills, exit and cross over at the first overpass after the signposted turnoff for Khor Virap. Turn right on the old road, then immediately left (E) toward Vedi. You pass the villages of Aygavan (3785 p till 1945 Reghanlu), with next to the gas station an important 4th millennium BC through 6th c. AD settlement, and Vanashen (2234 p, till 1978 Taytan). Other nearby villages include: Aralez (2371 p, till 1978 Gharabulagh, renamed after the magic dogs that were supposed to lick Ara the Beautiful back to life);
Goravan (2254 p, previously Gorovan, Yenikend);
Nor Kyank (2233 p., founded in 1946);
Sisavan (1806 p, till 1991 Yengija);
Vosketap (4110 p, till 1991 Shirazlu), resettled in 1988 by refugees from Azerbaijan;
Vedi Wine Factory Banavan (599 p), housing the workers;
Nor Ughi (741 p) used to be the "New Way Wine Factory."

Vedi (12281 p) reputedly houses an ethnographic museum and the headquarters of the Khosrov Forest State Preserve, director Samvel Shaboyan (Vedi telephone 21332). Given the size and importance of the Reserve, Shaboyan is a man of considerable local stature. E past Vedi is Dashtakar (526 p, till 1968 Dashlu) with tiny nearby iron-rich mineral springs, 20 degrees C. To reach them take the left fork just meters before entering the village and take the left trail (4x4) with the stream to your left. Continue straight until the trail turns right which you should not take, you go into the riverbed here and continue upstream, until you see the red runoff of the springs called Ararat springs or alternatively Shor Jur/Goturbulakh. Next village back on the road is Urtsadzor (2819 p, formerly Chimankend), with a turn S along the Selav river toward Shaghap and S. Karapet Monastery. S of the village is a 5-6th c. ruined basilica. There is an Early Iron Age cemetery. Beyond Urtsadzor, the road continues E along the Vedi Chay to a metal archway. Just beyond, the road forks, the paved road right leading up the Vedi Chay past a sumptuous dacha belonging to the younger brother of the late Defense {then Prime} Minister Vazgen Sargsian. Soon after that, a dirt road left (opposite a farmhouse with a blue truck body) ascends a beautiful stream valley (camping) toward the ruined and uninhabited Azeri mountain village of Mankuk, with important ancient khachkars. However, the road is closed by a gate shortly after the camping area, and written permission is required from the Nature Preserve director in Vedi. The main road continues past several desultory hamlets and eventually switchbacks up and over the mountain to Martuni at the S. end of Lake Sevan. This pass is not recommended for anyone but a well-equipped masochist prepared for deep mud, late snow, and an absence of landmarks.

The left fork (dirt) leads to a padlocked gate at the entrance to the Reserve, with the road gradually deteriorating. However, well before that, a rough fork left leads in a few hundred meters to a small fortified monastery called in the guidebooks the Gevorg Marzpetuni Castle. Following the main (right) fork a few hundred meters inside the reserve, there is a small mound with scattered medieval and earlier pottery. The road follows the stream high into the mountains.

East of the highway are Avshar (4246 p, once Kyalbalavan) and then the dusty city of Ararat (19573 p), founded in 1920, its raison d'etre the Ararat Cement Factory. Ararat also boasts a gold ore processing plant, the massive spoil dump from which is now being profitably exploited for residual gold by a multinational corporation. There is allegedly a hotel and a spa attached to a mineral spring nearby.

Just west, Ararat village (6602 p, till 1935 Davalu) is the native village of former Armenian Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, named Prime Minister in June 1999 and murdered along with the whole parliamentary leadership on October 27, 1999 by a small band of malcontents. Sargsian's brother Aram, who briefly replaced him as Prime Minister, continues to live there, as does his mother. Davalu was the capital of the Vedi-Basar Mahal in Persian times, a region that began to be repopulated with Armenians only with the Russian conquest and exchange of populations in 1828. W of Ararat are Noyakert (1764 p, till 1991 Khalisa), repopulated by refugees from Azerbaijan in 1988, and Yeghegnavan (1230 p)

South from Ararat on the main road is Surenavan (2257 p, till 1946 Avshar Mets, named after Suren Spandarian the professional revolutionary). From Surenavan a road leads W to the Armash fishponds, which attract a remarkable profusion of exotic birds. Armash (2452 p, founded in 1925 as Yayji) has or had a unique Museum of Sanitary Culture, founded in 1972.

East from Yeraskh -- S. Karapet Monastery (Section 6; Map C inset)

Yeraskh (713 p, formerly Arazdayan) is notable as the last village before Nakhichevan, now the terminus of what was once the main highway and rail connection to Meghri, Baku and beyond. Turn left (E) at the large traffic circle. Continuing straight ahead, the road ends at a small military post after a few hundred meters, just before the no-man's land with Azerbaijan.

Paruyr Sevak (577 p, a new settlement founded in 1978), named after the writer Paruyr Sevak (see Zangakatun below), lies N of the road. Tigranashen, until 1990 the Azerbaijani enclave of Kyarki, S of the road, is now inhabited by a mixture of local Armenians and refugees from Azerbaijan. Zangakatun (1138 p, till 1948 Chanakhchi, then till recently Sovetashen, and again Chanakhchi currently) is the birthplace (1924) and gravesite (1971, killed in an auto accident) of the writer Paruyr Sevak, and site of his house museum. A 10th c. chapel is nearby. Vardashat (230 p, till 1948 Ghashka) is just N.

Tucked into a fold of the Urts Range overlooking a back valley of the Ararat region, S. Karapet Vank* (the "Forerunner" -- i.e. John the Baptist) =60= (39 50.65n x 044 54.29e) is a wonderfully remote and melancholy site for a picnic (shaded picnic table). The church of 1254 (padlocked) is well preserved, with a graveyard, ruined belltower and tumbled remains of outbuildings and a choked cistern. The road passes broken khachkars, faint ruined farm buildings, and hawks and harriers hunting across the sheep-cropped hillsides. To reach the site, take the main Yeghegnadzor road 19 km from the Yeraskh circle and turn left off the highways Urtsalanj (184 p) exit, but heading downhill through Lanjar (238 p, till 1968 Pirlu), you crest a small pass at 2.5 km, from which a clear dirt road follows the contour line off to the left. The monastery of St. Karapet is 7.1 km along a road rocky and steep in places, in others axle-deep in dust (or, in season) mud.

Beyond the S. Karapet turnoff, the road continues NW to Lusashogh (573 p, till 1978 Karakhach). Turning right at the main intersection of Lusashogh, then left and uphill right, you reach the faint foundations of a church, of which remains standing a shrine known by the locals as Surp Hovhannes, with interesting artifacts and tombstones. Beyond Lusashogh, a track leads N to Lanjanist (212 p, till 1968 Khidirli, ruined old church N of village). Next village is Shaghap (803 p, till 1968 Shaghaplu) with a ruined 12th c. church. The road joins the road from Vedi to the Khosrov Reserve at Urtsadzor.

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index


Armavir Marz is located in the Arax (Yeraskh in historical times) river valley, and has some of the richest and most fertile land in Armenia, made up of the three Soviet regions of Ejmiatsin (the basin of the lower Kasagh river), Armavir (the Metsamor, formerly Kara Su or Sevjur --"Blackwater" -- basin), and Baghramian, the rocky western upland. Jewel in the touristic crown is Ejmiatsin, the mother church of Armenia, with its treasury and outlying early medieval churches, including the ruined Zvartnots Cathedral. The Sardarapat battle monument includes a splendid, recently refurbished ethnographic museum worth a separate visit. The Urartian/Hellenistic city of Armavir/Argishtihinili and fortress of Aragats, and the early Iron Age site/museum of Metsamor, are of considerable archaeological significance, though somewhat mysterious to non-specialists.

Inhabited since the Neolithic period, and of great importance in Urartian and Hellenistic times (Armavir and Yervandashat were ancient Armenian capitals), under Mongol, Turkish and Persian occupation these fertile river lands were too tempting to the conquerors, who pushed the Armenian population into the foothills. Only around Ejmiatsin, where the Armenian church held on to rich estates, did the Armenian people retain a majority in the Arax valley before the 20th century population transfers. Thus, medieval Armenian remnants are fairly sparse. Nor has Russian/Soviet rule been kind to the monuments of Armenia's subsequent Persian overlords.

Though flat, the country is intersected by streams, ponds and canals, with rich bird life. Swifts dart along the road at evening, and storks soar sternly overhead.

Ejmiatsin and Environs (Section 1; Map D)

Leaving Yerevan on the airport road, a left turn at the light just after the huge traffic circle leads to the village of Argavand. Take the right fork at the sign "Customs Warehouse" and immediately look right. Standing on its own is a substantial faceted stone funerary tower, one of the handful of significant Islamic monuments remaining intact in Armenia. The lengthy Arabic frieze inscription dated to 1413 begins with a famous Sura from the Koran and commemorates Pir Hussein son of Sa'ad, a somewhat self-satisfied tribal lord in Armenia during the brief period after the death of Timur Lenk when Kara Yusuf, leader of the Turkmen Karakoyunlu (Black Sheep) tribal confederation, was supreme ruler of much of Timur's Persian empire. Pir Budaq was Kara-Yusuf's son, who briefly shared the throne with his father. The Karakoyunlu got mixed reviews in Armenian accounts, and were in any case soon driven out by the Akkoyunlu, or White Sheep, a rival confederation.

In the name of Allah gracious and merciful! Allah -- there is no god besides him, alive, real; neither drowsiness nor sleep can seize Him, He owns everything in the Heavens and on the Earth. Who will plead, except with His permission? He knows what was before them and what will be after them, while they perceive nothing from His knowledge other than He wishes. His throne embraces the heavens and the earth, and He is not burdened by guarding them. Indeed Great and High is He.
Ordered to build this blessed tomb (kubba) the greatest, the noblest, abundant in generosity and magnanimity, the support of kings and sultans, refuge for the weak and the poor, guardian of scientists and those who seek knowledge, aid to the poor and wayfarers, the glory of the state and the faith, Emir Pir-Hussein, son of the late absolved Emir elevated to His [Allah's] patronage, the most merciful Emir Sa'ad, -- may the soil lie light upon him -- in the days of reign of the Great Sultan, the most generous Khakan, the Sultan of Sultans in the East and the West, the aid of the state and the faith, Pir Budaq Khan and Yusuf Noyon, -- may Allah perpetuate their power, on the fifteenth of Radzhab of the year 816 [October 11, 1413].
Zvartnots Cathedral ruins. Copyright (c) 2005 Uy Ta

Back on the airport road, next is the village of Parakar (4816 population, with gypsum mine, S. Mariam Astvatsatsin, S. Harutyun church of 1855). Next is Musaler (2340 p, named for the heroic resistance at Musa Dagh (Mt. Moses) in Turkey), with an annual celebration of their final resue by the French with 40 massive pots of harissa which are free to all, and other festivities around the Musa Ler monument in late September. The next villages are Ptghunk (1355 p) and Zvartnots =70= (40 09.62n x 044 20.25e) ("Place of Angels"). Marked on the highway (S) by an ornamental gateway and backward-looking eagle, the massive, centrally planned church of S. Grigor Lusavorich* would have been a marvel in any case, though scholars disagree on how to restore the ruined foundations. The wedding-cake restoration in most tourist books, three stories high with gallery, is unprecedented and probably incorrect. The church was built by Katholikos Nerses III (641-662) to house the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator, presumably where he converted King Trdat/Tiridates in 301 or (more likely) 314 AD. Beyond the church, which shows signs of North Syrian influence and which has some interesting sculpted decorations, are remains of Nerses' palace and a winepress, with a tiny (closed) museum. Behind the winepress is a Chalcolithic tell. In front of the museum is a 7th c. cuneiform inscription of Urartian King Rusa II commemorating the construction of a canal from the Hrazdan ("Ildaruni") River.

Street Map of Ejmiatsin Town

The Monastery of Surp Ejmiatsin** ("The Descent of the Only-Begotten" in traditional etymology) =85+= (40 09.70n x 044 17.53e) is surrounded by the city of the same name, now officially renamed Vagharshapat (51280 p) after its 2nd century AC founder, King Vagharshak (117-140). The city may also be identical with Kainepolis ("New City") founded as a replacement for the ruined Artashat by King Sohaemus/Tigran, who was twice installed on the throne by Roman armies, first by Antoninus Pius (lasting from 144-161 AC) and then by Marcus Aurelius (164-186). Two Roman inscriptions, now in the State Historical Museum, document the presence of a Roman garrison in Ejmiatsin, the remote edge of Rome's military extension to the Caucasus. One of them was put up by a tribune of the 15th Legion in memory of his wife and daughter. It was left in ruins by Persian troops in 364-369 The city's common name in early modern times was Üch-Kilise or "Three Churches," named for the most prominent features of the local landscape.

Ejmiatsin Cathedral

Entrance to the monastery is by turning left from the main traffic circle inside the town. The Mother Temple (Mayr Tachar) was begun in the 4th century, built on the ruins of a pagan cult site, but it has been heavily restored through the centuries, most thoroughly in the 17th c. The basilical composition of the original temple was changed to cross-shaped one with the central dome in 483. At the beginning of the seventh century the building's wooden dome, probably octohedral and shaped like the roof of the Armenian peasant home was replaced by a stone one. This composition of the cathedral has come down to our day almost unchanged. In the 17th century (1653-1658), a new cupola and a three-tier belfry were built, the latter in front of the western entrance to the cathedral. The interior murals, created by the Armenian painter Nagash Ovnatan in 1720, were restored and elaborated upon by his grandson, Ovnatan Ovnatanian. in 1782-1786. In 1955-1956, the interior murals of the cathedral and of the belfry were renewed by a group of Soviet artists under the leadership of L. Durnovo. The monastery has been seat of the Katholikos in the 4th and 5th centuries and again since 1441. As such, and as the seat of the miraculous relics of the Armenian church -- the Lance, the hand of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the hand of the Apostle Thaddeus, a finger of St. Jude, a drop of St. Hripsime's blood, etc. -- it came to control vast estates and received rich gifts from around the Armenian world. The Treasury, which houses some of this largesse, and steps down to the fire temple, are reached through the church, right of the altar. English-speaking deacons are available as guides, but contributions are expected. Opposite the entrance to the church and through the arch is the Palace of the Katholikos, with a smaller treasury not open to the public. At the foot of the arch is a guard who you need to ask to see the great Alex Manougian Museum. This museum houses an impressive collection of primarily non-secular art as well as a very colorful sampling of the gifts Katholicos Vazgen received from around the world during his leadership. Among the various museum exhibits are gorgeous church attires embroidered with gold and pearls, printed curtains, embroidered coverlets. crosses, croziers, all kinds of ritual vessels of silver gold, ivory, adorned with filigree work and jewels. Most of these articles date back to the l7th-19th centuries. Some of the exhibits of Echmiadzin monastery are put on display in the monastery's garden, notably the khachkars from all over Armenia and old Jugha. There is a rebuilt theological school (Chemaran) on the grounds.

Ejmiatsin has received many eminent visitors over the centuries. The Reverends Smith and Dwight, after a chilly welcome based on the misapprehension that they were on the same baleful errand as their missionary colleagues in Shushi, spent four days over November 19-23, 1830, as far as they knew the first Americans ever to come there. They described the walled monastery and the town itself: "a crowded collection of mud cabins, perhaps 500 in number." They never met the aging Katholikos Eprem, but had a pleasant conversation with his secretary Hovhannes, the only monk of the place who knew Russian. They noted snidely the wealth of the decor: "The protestant Chardin and the papal Tournefort unite in testifying that much of this wealth has come from the pope in the form of bribes for the conversion of the Katholikos; and now remains a monument of the credulity of the one, and the deception of the other." Visiting a bishop's apartments, Smith wrote, "Everything had an air of ease, if not of luxury, little corresponding with the ideas usually entertained of the cell of a monk, and confirming what we in other ways learned, that the leading inmates of this establishment practice few of the self-denials for which their profession is reputed."

The French/Russian scholar Marie-Felicite Berge shivered for the better part of 40 days in Ejmiatsin in January 1848, a prisoner of that winter's extreme cold. He provided a detailed description of the manuscript collection, drawing from the first catalogue prepared at the insistence of then-Archbishop Nerses of Ashtarak. Berge reported that outside the Cathedral, S of the bell tower was an inscription in Greek, Persian and English marking the cenotaph of Lt. Col. Sir John MacDonald, who expired in Tabriz in 1830 as envoy of the British East India company to the Shah of Persia. In 1830 according to Shopen, Ejmiatsin housed the Katholikos, 12 archbishops and bishops, 26 archimandrites and monks, 14 archdeacons, 9 protodeacons, and eight acolytes, half the monastic population of the former Khanate of Yerevan. British Colonel Herbert Chermside visited Ejmiatsin in 1888 and wrote, "I heard great complaints as to the profligacy of the celibate Bishops and monks of Etchmiadzin. In Turkey the Armenians have a safeguard against this in their habit of surrounding and surprising houses where the ecclesiastics are supposed to be taking advantage of their privileges to debauch the women, but this species of lynch law is not allowed by the police in Russia."

Surb Hripsime Church

There are three other major early churches in town: First is Hripsime Church* of 618 =75= (40 10.05n x 044 18.62e), built to the right of the main road on the traditional site of this martyr's tomb -- traditionally, she and her virgin followers came escaping persecution in Rome; her relics were allegedly pilfered in the 17th century by two Latin monks, but then recovered, except for fragments which by 1830 had reached churches in Venice, Goa in India, Nakhichevan, and Galata in Constantinople.

Surb Gayane Church from compound entrance.

Gayane Church* =35= (40 09.04n x 044 17.55e) of 630 was also built on the site of Gayane's martyrdom. Shoghakat Church =20= of 1694 was built by Prince Aghamal Shorotetsi on the site of an early chapel to one of S. Hripsime's companions. Near Shoghakat is a small, ruined single-aisle chapel of the 5-6th c. Because the Armavir diocese, founded in 1996 on creation of the marz, has no church or bishop's residence in the marz capital of Armavir city, the Bishop currently operates out of Ejmiatsin's S. Astvatsatsin church (1767). In 1998 there were only eight working churches and 13 priests to serve Armavir Marz's official population of 315,000.

Vagharshapat also claims a hotel, the museums of local artists Manuk Abeghian and Hovhannes Hovhannisian, and the gallery of Khoren Harutian. Just S of Ejmiatsin is the tell of Teghut, a Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age settlement excavated and published by archaeologist Rafik Torosian.

About four km S of Ejmiatsin, about 150 m W of the main S road to Margara just before a railroad embankment, is a low hill behind a little hamlet, surrounded by an iron fence (gaps in NE side). This is the Chalcolithic (late 4th Mill. BC) through Hellenistic (4th-1st c. BC) site of Mokhrablur ("Ash Hill"). There are 8 meters of deposits representing 12 distinct habitation layers. Very little is visible, beyond one huge stone block and a wide range of pottery fragments. The Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia makes the daring claim that Mokhrablur's central temple, which they say dates to the 10th c. but actually seems to be of the 1st half of the 3rd millennium BC, was the earliest known example of monumental stone architecture in the Soviet Union.

North from Zvartnots are: Norakert (2503 p) and Baghramyan (2363 p), founded 1947, named in honor of Hero of the Soviet Union and later Marshal Hovhannes (Ivan) Baghramyan (born in Chardakhlu village of Elisavetpol, now Ganca [Gyanja] region in Azerbaijan in 1897). The village has a church and S. Sargis shrine built 1997. Further E are Aygek (1103 p), founded in 1946 to house immigrants from Iran, and Merdzavan (2722 p), founded in 1947 and home of various agricultural institutes.

South of Zvartnots are Voskehat (2197 p), and Arevashat (1413 p) with a church and 19th c. Tukh Manuk ("Dark Baby") shrine.

The Northeast Corner -- Aghavnatun and Targmanchats (Section 2; Map D)

At the entrance to Ejmiatsin, the main highway angles right to bypass the city. The first paved road on the right leads to a tall stone pillar, a monument erected in 1833 in the presence of the visiting Czar Nicholas I to commemorate the 1131 Russian soldiers who fell nearby at the so-called battle of Oshakan on August 17, 1827 "defending Holy Ejmiatsin" against the Persian army. In April 1827, the Russian army, accompanied by the energetic Archbishop Nerses of Ashtarak (the future Katholikos Nerses V), had occupied the Holy See, which had been since 1822 in moribund condition, the unworldly Katholikos Eprem having taken refuge in Karabakh and then Haghpat Monastery (already in Russian territory) to avoid voracious Persian debt collectors. A large Persian army under Abbas Mirza, son of the Shah of Persia, was advancing against the walled but sparsely-garrisoned monastery, when General Krasovskii, dividing his forces (which included Armenian auxiliaries), rushed to the defense, cutting his way through the Persians at enormous loss, while Nerses brandished the Holy Spear from the battlements. Though Krasovskii was criticized for losing most of his force, his action may well have saved the life of the pro-Russian Nerses, who had already in 1810 narrowly escaped being blown apart by one of Hassan Khan's cannon in retribution for his complaints of the Church's ill-treatment at Persian hands. The battle also spawned an Armenian folk-hero. Hakob Harutyunian, gunner in the Persian army, won a name in Armenian history books for pointing his cannon at his own army. He was horribly tortured by the irritated Persians, losing his eyes, nose, lips, etc, but survived to collect a Russian imperial pension. (Note, however, that Nerses' own recommendation for the pension says Harutyunian had crossed over to the Russians with information about Abbas Mirza's plans, a less colorful action than fratricide but perhaps also less likely to make a Russian officer squeamish.)

The spur road then curves W to join the road N from Ejmiatsin to Mrgastan (944 p, S. Hovhannes church built 1912) and beyond. Back toward Ejmiatsin, only 50 m E of the road to Oshakan, is Shresh Blur, a Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age settlement. Next village is Shahumian (939 p, named after the martyred Baku Commissar) and the nearby Shahumiani Poultry Factory (929 p). N is Dasht ("Field", 556 v, founded 1926). In the vicinity (N and left of road?) is a 1st millennium BC cyclopean fort called "Ardar Davit" (David the Just) by locals.

Angling left from Dasht, once reaches Aigeshat (1368 p, until 1935 Hajighara, mixed Armenian/Kurdish), which has (turn right at the SE edge of town) the badly ruined Targmanchats ("Translators") Vank of the 7th c., and maybe also a S. Gevorg church of the 18th c. and, on a hill nearby, an early tower. West of Aigeshat is Amberd (1276 p), with a Tovmas Arakeal (Thomas the Apostle) church of the 12th c. and Poghos-Petros church of 19th c.

A further turnoff from the main Ejmiatsin bypass leads NW to Tsaghkunk (1097 p, till 1946 Abdurahman), with S. Astvatsatsin church of 19th c, restaurant; NW is Mkhltapa Neolithic tell. Next come Hovtamej (1025 p, church 19th c.), and Tsiatsan ("Rainbow") (1058 p, till 1978 Grampa), with ruined S. Astvatsatsin church. Further N is Doghs (1195 p), site of a glorious victory here in 894 of Smbat I Bagratuni over the invading Emir Apshin of Atrapatakan. Doghs has a S. Stepanos church built in the 19th c.

Further W, opposite the turnoff for Taronik/Metsamor, a signposted road leads NE to Arshaluys ("Dawn",3836 p, till 1935 Kyorpalu), with S. Astvatsatsin church built 1903-09; fort, restaurant; S. Karapet shrine/pilgrimage site of 14-18th c. 2 km S. Next village is Haytagh (2441 p, church of 19th c.). A small road bears left to Ferik (267 p), named in honor of the revolutionary and poet Ferik Polatbekov, while the main road continues N to Samaghar (2360 p, formerly Geghakert, S. Harutyun church of 13th c.), and Tsaghkalanj (1225 p, till 1978 Aghjaghala), with a S. Gevorg church of the 1870s. Nearby are Bronze Age grave mounds and, to the NE, Amenaprkich medieval settlement with graveyard. The Neolithic-Chalcolithic tell site of Aghjaghala is on the E side of the village.

Continuing north, one reaches the village of Aragats (2973 p, Armenians/Kurds, till 1946 Khznauz), with a S. Stepanos church of 1870. To reach the Urartian fortress/settlement just SW of the village, turn left from the large building festooned with storks' nests on the W side of the main road, then right following the asphalt road, then take the second dirt road left to where it becomes impassible. The rough walls of the site are visible, embedded in a rocky 10 m high mound. Total area of this important early 7th c defense site is about 10-15 acres.

Entering from the S. the village of Aghavnatun (2934 p), there are sparse remains of an Iron Age cyclopean fort. On the left of the road entering the village from the S is a ruined medieval princely tomb of 13th c., chapel and graveyard surrounding. There are remains of four churches: S. Astvatsatsin church of 1876, S. Gevorg of 10th c; Tsiranavor of 14th c; Karmravor; S. Karapet churches; and reportedly a restaurant. Turning left (N) on a paved road at the N end of town, a dusty road leads through a major tuff quarry (prehistoric graveyard below) to a hilltop with a prominent circular tower*. Build of massive stones, with a tiny entrance, this tower commands a sweeping view and may have served as a watchtower or, perhaps, as a Zoroastrian funeral site (cf Parsee "towers of silence" in India). In any case, no finds are associated with the tower, which is undated. Next village N, Lernamerdz (395 p, once Ayarlu) once also had a restaurant.

Metsamor and Environs (Section 3; Map D)

Passing Ejmiatsin on the E bypass, 2 km past the overpass is on the left a conspicuous monument to 7 Yugoslav (now Serbian) aviators killed in December 1988 when their plane, carrying relief supplies to the December 7 Gyumri-Spitak earthquake victims, crashed in a field. Behind the monument, a small mound and water-worn stones mark a Bronze Age (but marked on the sign as 5-4th millennium BC) occupation site, partly covered now by a little shed that has become a local shrine.

The skyline is dominated by the four cooling towers of the Metsamor Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. The nuclear plant, not open to the public, still generates about 40% of Armenia's electricity. Though neither of the two reactor units suffered damage in the December 1988 earthquake, they were shut down in response to domestic populist pressure as inherently unsafe. Unit Two was reopened in 1996, with loans from Russia and subsequent safety assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy and the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a further safety measure, the plant management brought Katholikos Garegin I to bless a new chapel in the plant's main administrative building in 1997. The Government of Armenia pledged under international pressure to shut the reactors down permanently by the end of 2004, but is likely to renege unless financing is found to build safer new reactors and keep its nuclear power sector employed.

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.

Nearby villages include Aratashen (2688 p, church of 1870, S of village is Neolithic-Chalcolithic tell), Khoronk (2164 p, S. Nshan church of 1880), and Artimet (1513 p, till recently Atarbekian, S. Grigor Lusavorich church of 1876). Further south by the railroad are Zartonk (1831 p, originally with Yeghegnut), Yeghegnut (1759 p, until 1947 Ghamishlu, before then Sefiabad), and Artashar (962 p, formerly Azeris).

W of Aknalich, the new city of Metsamor (8853 p, hotel) rises on the right. It was incorporated in 1979, designed to house workers for the nuclear power plant.

Sardarapat and Ancient Armavir (Section 4; Map D)

On reaching the Marz capital of Armavir (28733 p), the main road passes under a large red stone overpass. Turning right before the overpass, one enters the city, passing on the right the Armavir Cognac factory. Armavir also boasts a hotel, restaurants, and a private zoo/botanical garden.

To reach Sardarapat, pass underneath the overpass and immediately turn right and back up and over the railroad lines. The road will jog right, then left, passing through the village of Norapat (2675 p) and become the wide main road leading straight to Sardarapat battle monument and museum =70+= (40 05.58n x 043 56.77e). First village is Hoktember (5387 p, church). Turning right on the paved road in the village (W toward the village of Dzerzhinski), somewhere on the right before the cemetery is the site of the important Persian fortress of Sardari Berd. This was built around 1810 with British technical assistance by Sardar Hosein Qoli Khan, last and best of the Persian governors of the Erevan Khanate, using stones taken from the ruins of ancient Armavir, some still bearing traces of cuneiform inscriptions. Used as administrative center for the Sardarapat district and summer residence of the Khan of Erevan, the fortress was taken by the Russians under General Paskevich in 1828, despite stout defense by Khan Hasan, Hosein's brother. Almost no trace of the fortress is left, this remnant of foreign rule having been dismantled to build Soviet Armenia.

On this side road is Dzerzhinski (1512 p), a former state farm founded in 1946 in honor of Felix Dzerzhinski (1877-1926), Lenin's Secret Police chief and hero in the ceaseless war against counterrevolutionary traitors and saboteurs. Also, the village of Lenughi (1510 p), till 1946 Aghlanli Nerkin, with S. Nshan church from 1870s.

Sardarapat Monument
Halls of Sardarapat Museum

Back on the Sardarapat road, Araks (1521 p) was founded in 1940 as a state farm. Just beyond on a low ridge is the battle monument of Sardarapat*, commemorating the Armenian defeat of an invading Turkish army, May 20-22, 1918. The Turks, coming south down the railroad from Alexandropol (Gyumri), were pushed back, giving the wavering Armenian provisional government the encouragement to declare the independent Republic of Armenia on May 28, 1918. The monument is guarded by massive Assyrian-style winged lions, and is flanked by a memorial garden for Karabakh martyrs. Bearing left before the monument, a driveway skirts the monument ridge to reach a tourist pavilion (refreshments) and the highly attractive Sardarapat museum**. Director (at least of the military museum) is the head (since the untimely 1999 death of Sergei Grigorevich Badalian) of the Armenian Communist Party. The ground floor central hall contains commemorative material from the battle. Starting from the right, the lower galleries present archaeological materials from Neolithic to Medieval, and implements for various traditional handicrafts. Upstairs are exhibits of carpets and embroidery, modern Armenian decorative ceramics, and jewelry.

The main road SW jogs right, skirting the Sardarapat hill and passing turnoffs for Amasia (905 p), and Hushakert (L) (850 p), Bagaran (R), Nor Kesaria (1288 p), Shenavan (1770 p), Geshen (2129 p, S. Harutyun church) and Berkashat (521 p). Continuing straight, one soon reaches the Russian-controlled border zone check-point, closed to foreigners without advance permission.

The excavated remains of Arghishtihinili (Ancient Armavir) spread over two volcanic hills and the intervening ridge which rise out of the river plain. Site of an Armenian capital city in antiquity, the ruins are now a series of low stone walls and decaying mudbrick, strewn with ancient pottery fragments and the occasional ancient coin. On the S edge of Nor Armavir, a paved road runs E to the unprepossessing chapel and pilgrimage site of S. Davit, rebuilt in 1833 on a foundation of ancient boulders. The entire ridge above the church is occupied by the massive walls of the Urartian city of Argishtihinili, founded ca. 776 BC by Argishti I, who added the Arax valley and much of the rest of modern Armenia to his empire based near Lake Van. A cuneiform inscription discovered at the site says, "For the greatness of god Khaldi, Argishti son of Menua, speaks. I built a majestic fortress and gave it a name from my own, Argishtihinili. The earth was wilderness: nothing was built there. Out of the rivers I built four canals; the vineyards and the orchards were divided. I accomplished many heroic deeds there." There are still substantial remains of mud brick walls visible in the scarp, and an ample scattering of potsherds, some decorated, from the Iron Age to the Late Medieval period.

The Hellenistic city of Armavir, capital of the Orontid dynasty from the 4th-2nd c BC, was centered on the taller, steeper volcanic hill about 2 km further E. Easiest approach is, from modern Armavir, crossing the overpass and then jogging left and (after 100 m) right toward Haikavan (signposted "Margara"). About 300 m after the road bears left, a right turn will take you to the S side of the hill. Though Armavir was replaced as capital first by Yervandashat and then by Dvin, it maintained substantial habitation through the Medieval period, judging from the glazed pottery fragments still to be found. There is a substantial temple platform on the summit, and extensive house walls on the W side. Somewhere on the S slope outside the wall, 7 inscriptions in ancient Greek were carved into two rock faces about 12 meters apart, a reminder of Hellenistic influence on the Orontid kings. These inscriptions, probably carved around 200 BC, include a snatch of poetry regarding the Archaic Greek poet Hesiod, a pastiche of lines from Euripides, a list of Macedonian months, and some fragmentary letter texts. At the base of the hill is a small, modern cave-shrine marked by an iron cross.

In the vicinity are a thick cluster of farming villages. Bambakashat ("Lots of cotton") (3111 p) has S. Astvatsatsin church, on medieval foundations but according to the inscription over the door built in 1914 and restored in 1991. Others, in no particular order, are: Mrgashat (4997 p, with Bronze Age site of Gharatapa nearby); Armavir (2105 v) S. Astvatsatsin church, find spot of cuneiform inscriptions of Urartian King Sarduri; Nor Armavir (1609 p); Haykavan (1210 p, church); Nalbandian (4048 p, church); Nor Artagers (1398 p); Janfida (3008 p); Jrashen (699 p); Tandzut (1829 p, S. Sahak church built 1912); Sovetakan (1625 p); Pshatavan (2175 p) Aygeshat (1618 p, called Ghuzigidan till 1950) S. Gevorg church; Arevik (2473 p) has a hill with Early Bronze Age settlement on the road toward Armavir village.

Southwestern Armavir (Section 5; advance permission required)

Turning R (NW) toward Bagaran, one passes the village of Vanand (823 p), then turnings for Shenik (815 p, founded 1971) and Koghbavan (83 p), before reaching another Russian border troop checkpoint which bars the way for foreigners to the villages of Yervandashat (702 p, 4-5th c. ruined basilica, S. Shushanik church of the 10-17th c) and Bagaran (609 p). Between the two villages, on the ridge overlooking the Akhurian river at its confluence with the Arax, is the 3nd c. BC city of Yervandashat, founded by King Orontes (Eruand) IV, last of the Orontid dynasty as a new capital to replace Armavir which, according to Armenia's "Father of History" Movses Khorenatsi, had been left dry by a shift of the Arax river. In addition to remains of fortifications, brief archaeological researches in the 1980s reportedly revealed traces of the ancient gardens and palaces attested by Movses. On the Akhurian river are traces of the ancient bridge connecting Yervandashat to the fortress of Yervandakert built by the same ruler on the opposite bank of river. The village of Bagaran was until 1935 called Haji Bairam, then until 1968 Bakhchalar, with a mixed Armenian/Turkish population. Many of its inhabitants stemmed from ancient Bagaran across the Akhurian river, also founded by Orontes IV as his religious center. In a grove of plane trees near ancient Bagaran, Armenia's pre-Christian priests foretold the future from the rustling of the leaves.

Southeastern Armavir (Section 6; Map D)

A good paved road leads south from Ejmiatsin to the Turkish border crossing point at Margara, now closed. The road passes Mokhrablur (see above) and a series of farming villages. Griboyedov (1893 p) is named after the Russian writer/diplomat Alexander Sergeyich Griboyedov, who first visited Armenia in 1819, then returned as General Paskevich's chief diplomat to take part in the Russian conquest of Armenia and Treaty of Turkmanchay. Appointed Plenipotentiary Minister to Tehran, he was murdered along with the rest of the Russian Embassy staff in 1829. There is an inscription on the wall of the Yerevan Wine factory, former site of the Erevan fortress, commemorating the first staging of one of his plays in December 1827, in the defeated Persian Khan's palace. SW of the village is a Chalcolithic tell.

Next come Aknashen (1372 p, S. Bardughimeos church; SW of village is ruin of 8th c. building); Gay (3333 p, founded in the 1670s as Khatunarkh after the wife of Sefi Khan, renamed in 1978 with the nom de guerre of Russian Civil War hero Hayk Bjhshkyan), with S. Nshan church built 1888-92, and remains of a 6th-2nd millennium BC settlement just E; Haykashen (1148 p); Metsamor (not the ancient site or the power plant, with 1089 p, till 1946 Ghamarlu); Araks (1452 p, till 1946 Nerkin Gharkhun, some Kurds); and Jrarat (2627 p) founded 1918 from Surmalu; special reserve for Vordan Karmir ("Worm Red") beetles, Porphyrophora hamelii Brandt, females of which, properly boiled, produced the famous bright red Armenian cochineal dye, an important export and state secret in ancient times. The beetles depend on special vegetation, and their habitat has been threatened by the expansion of fish farming and intensive mechanized agriculture. Jrarat also has a poultry factory with 1088 registered population in 1998.

The road leads W to Lusagyugh (840 p, until 1935 Turkmanlu), birthplace of Soviet Hero N. A. Darbinian; thence Apaga ("Future", 1646 p, some Kurds, till 1935 Turkmenlu); and Yeraskhahun (1356 p, founded 1920, till 1950 Kuru Araz), which boasts a sand quarry. Running W along the border are Vardanashen (907 p); Margara (1370 p), with the customs point locked and desolate and the Turkish flag flying at the far end of the road bridge over the Arax; Arazap (1383 p, till 1947 Evjilar) S. Astvatsatsin church; and Argavand (2062 p).

North of Armavir City (Section 7)

Counterclockwise from E of Armavir are the former state farms of Zhdanov (1523 p, until 1953 Sovkhoz #2), named after Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov, 1896-1948, Colonel-General, Politburo member, and Central Committee secretary for ideology; Noravan (930 p); Lukashin (2213 p), a Sovkhoz renamed in 1957 for Sargis Lukashin (Srapionian) 1883-1937, Russian-born President of the Armenian Council of People's Commissars and an all-Union economic figure; Khanjian (1796 p), a Sovkhoz founded in 1957, named in honor of Aghasi Khanjian, First Secretary of the Armenian Communist Party from 1930 until 1936 when, suffering symptoms of nationalist deviation, he experienced a fatal gunshot wound in the Tbilisi offices of Lavrenti Beria. Khanjian and most of his fellows were posthumously rehabilitated and credited with much of Armenia's Soviet-era economic progress.

West from Armavir (Section 8)

On the main road W from Armavir, first village is Hatsik (2372 p), then Myasnikian (3483 p, named after the first Prime Minister of Soviet Armenia), with an Amenaprkich (All-Savior) church built in 1997. Dalarik (3102 p, till 1965 Mastara), was founded in 1902 when the railroad was under construction. The village of Lernagog (1676 p, until 1978 "the community attached to the pig-farming Sovkhoz") is on a spur N. Karakert (3438 p) supposedly has an Iron Age fortress nearby. Karakert is the recipient of a large amount of help from the Children of Armenia Fund ( along with international donors, with a number of renovations and improvements being undertaken. The road NW takes you to Arteni, then Aragatsavan villages. About 11km W of Karakert, beyond the Military Zone (permission needed from Ministry of Foreign Affairs) lie two very old churches, perched on the border with Turkey above the Arax River. The six sided Surb Yerrordutyun Church (GPS - 40.359589,43.596759) is medium sized, just under the crest of the gorge and has a tiled roof. A second Little Aragatsavan Church (GPS - 40.214538,43.66279) is also in the military zone, perched on a land penisula is a bit of a hike from the road, on the Arax, directly across the river from the Turkish village of Kilittash Ke (sp?). It is a very small church, with countless bullet holes on the side facing Turkey. When you get permission to visit (free) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you go to the village of Aragatsavan, and the entrance to the military zone is a few hundred meters past the village. Across the gorge in today's Turkey a large Armenian Church is visible, which the soldiers on the Armenian side call Surp Mariam (GPS - 40.242163,43.662962). Nearby is the remote hamlet of Argina (518 p).

From Myasnikian, a road runs WSW to Baghramian (663 p), purpose-built capital of the Baghramian region in 1983, despite its lack of any history or characteristics. Somewhere before Baghramian, a road may run S to Artamet (133 p), Arevadasht (752 p), and Talvorik (190 p).

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index


Kotayk Marz is the offspring of the Hrazdan and Getar rivers. The flow of the Hrazdan (formerly Zangi) river from Lake Sevan past Yerevan to the Arax River cut a gorge through the twisted basalt formations of the foothills, creating a micro-environment that attracted Paleolithic toolmakers. Since sovietization, the Hrazdan river has driven a long series of hydropower plants, whose cheap electricity and water attracted in the 1940s-80s a new breed of tool makers. This series of new industrial cities is now plagued by massive unemployment and hard-pressed to find a raison d’être. The gorge of the Hrazdan river remains striking for its varied climate and rock formations, and in its northern reaches, mountains and forests are the setting for an array of summer guest-houses and sanatoria. The riven crater of Mt. Ara dominates the western skyline of the marz. Beyond the upland valleys of the Getar river basin E of Yerevan, the Geghama range becomes a desolate but beautiful upland of eroded volcanic cones, almost uninhabited, while the southern border is the dramatic gorge of the Azat river and Garni/Geghard.

As a tourist destination Kotayk is rich indeed. Besides the traditional attractions of Garni, Geghard, and Tsaghkadzor, the region abounds in wonderfully sited rural monasteries such as Havuts Tar, S. Stepanos, Teghenyats and Meghradzor, forts such as Bjni and Sevaberd, and the splendid folk shrine of Kuys Varvara inside the Mt. Ara volcanic crater.

The Road to Garni and Geghard (Section 1; Map H)

First village after leaving Yerevan on the Garni road (up the continuation of Abovian St. through the Getar river gap, past Vano Siradeghian’s house and the zoo, take the off-ramp right at water world, and then bear left after passing through Nor Nork) is Jrvezh (5397 p, “Waterfall”), with a ruined cemetery complex of the 5th century. Next is Voghjaberd (918 p), with megalithic monuments nearby and a series of ancient or medieval caves cut in the cliffs above. S of this village, a small domed church of the 4-5th c. was excavated. If the dating is correct, this is one of the oldest churches of its type. Geghadir (652 p, till 1935 Kyarpichlu), settled in 1918-24 by residents of Van, Kars, etc. To SW were found four red stone sarcophagi and interesting grave goods of the 5-3rd c. BC. South of the road, about two hundred meters before the turnoff to Hatsavan (541 p), a low ridge has the remains of a fortification with half-round towers, dated by its excavator to the 1st-3rd c AC.

Garni Church

The village of Garni* (6877 p, until 1936 Bash-Gyarni) has been inhabited almost continuously since the 3rd millennium BC, with intermittent plunderings (e.g., Timur Lenk in 1386), earthquakes, etc. The current population derives from the Persian district of Maku, in an exchange of populations in 1829-30 following the Russo-Persian treaty of Turkmanchay. Medieval remains in the village include a ruined 4th c. single-aisle church (SE part of village), the 11th c. Astvatsatsin church (in the center), and the 12th c. “Little” or “Mashtots Hayrapet” church. There are also shrines of Tukh Manuk (NE), S. Sargis (NW on hilltop), and Queen Katranide (S of the fortress).

Garni Temple

The Hellenistic (3rd-2nd c. BC) fortress of Garni** =80= (40 06.72n x 044 43.84e), 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. Note a series of 9-10th c. Arabic graffiti on the walls. The four-lobed 7th-9th c church foundation abutting the temple is likewise heavily restored. Note the substantial fortress walls across and around the promontory, massive basalt ashlar blocks attached with iron clamps. The bath mosaic, with oddly named Greco-Roman sea goddesses and its enigmatic Greek inscription, "Taking nothing we labored" (perhaps the imported workmen were stiffed?), is inside of a mostly glass building now covering the old bathhouse, and can also be appreciated through the replica on the wall of the main hall of the Picture Gallery in Republic Square. Garni is a relic of one of the relatively brief periods in Armenia’s history when, poised between the Mediterranean world and the Middle East, it opted culturally as well as politically for the former.

In very ancient times (the third millennium BC.) a cyclopic fortress existed there. According to a cuneiform record found on the territory of Garni, the fortress was conquered by Argishti I, the king of Urartu, in the first half of the 8th century B.C. In the epoch of the Armenian rulers of the Ervandids, Artashesids and Arshakids dynasties (since the third century B.C. to the fourth century AD.) Garni was a summer residence of the kings and the place where their troops were stationed,

The palace complex included several disconnected buildings: a temple, a presence chamber, a columned hall, a residential block. a bath-house. etc. They were situated around the vast main square of the fortress, in its southern part, away from the entranceway, where they formed an ensemble. In the northern part there probably were the premises of the service staff, the king’s guards and the garrison.

The temple was built in the second half of the first century A.D. and dedicated to a heathen god, probably to Mitra. the god of the sun, whose figure stood in the depth of the sanctuary (naos). After Christianity had been proclaimed the state religion in Armenia in 301, the temple was probably used as a summer residence of the kings. A chronicle describes it as ‘a house of coolness’.

The sides of the stairway are decorated with bas-relief, placed symmetrically relative to the main axis of the building, showing kneeling Atlas with uplifted hands who seemed to support the torches which used to stand higher.

A two-storey palace was situated to the west of the temple.

The bath-house is situated in the northern part of the square. at an angle to the residential block. Built in the third century, it comprised no less than five premises serving various purposes, four of which had apses at their end walls. The first apsidal room from the east was a dressing room, the second one, a cold water bathroom, the third and fourth ones, warm and hot water bathrooms respectively. The bathhouse had a water reservoir, with a heating room in the basement. The floors were faced with baked bricks covered with a layer of polished stucco. They rested on round pillars and were heated from below with hot air and smoke which came to the underfloor space from the heater.

Garni Gorge basalt cliffs

The Garni Gorge* =70= (40 06.92n x 044 44.30e) and Khosrov Reserve entrance by car: Though the Garni Gorge can be entered on foot by taking a steep, rough path from the left side of the temple parking lot, one can also drive. The first of two vehicle entrances to the Garni gorge is reached by taking the paved road to the right about 1 km W of Garni (ie. before reaching the village when approaching from Yerevan). Continue straight over the bridge, then turn left at the cement wall (straight goes to a mysterious Physics Institute), and left again on the dirt road where the dachas begin. A narrow dirt road, barely passable for street cars, descends into the gorge and E along the river past wonderful rock formations and pleasant picnic places, joining up with the other road from Garni village. Note that beyond the Physics Institute, another road dead-ends at the bottom of the gorge at a small hydropower station. There is a footbridge across the river just upstream, leading to an excellent set of walking trails following the river.

The Garni cobbled road into the gorge is also the route to reach the entrance to the Khosrov Nature Reserve, and an excellent jumping off point for Havuts Tar. The preserve takes its name from King Khosrov III, who ordered the planting of a massive forest to repair centuries of deforestation. Enter Garni village via the right fork at the WWII memorial. Continue straight till the road runs up against a large building, the House of Culture. Go left, then take the first significant dirt road right, slightly downward and passing on your left a very nicely restored, little red and black tuf stone church, set behind the homes. Just before the road veers left and levels, angle slightly to the right (avoid the sharp right that takes you back upward), a steep, white-cobbled road (an icy deathtrap in winter) leads into the gorge. Turning right at the bottom of the gorge takes one along the Garni river, to the 11 c. <medieval bridge, strange columnar basalt cliffs, colonies of house martins and swifts, lush greenery, and a series of picnic spots. Turning left, one bumps along a stream-traversed dirt road, past fishponds, across a bridge and up the far side of the gorge. At the top of the saddle is a padlocked cable across the road. The Khosrov Reserve guards at the gatehouse beyond may let you in, if you tell them you are visiting the “Surp” (St. Stepanos church). Officially, prior permission to pass must be obtained from the Ministry of Nature Protection in Yerevan or from Mr. Samvel Shaboyan, Director of the Khosrov Reserve, based in the town of Vedi (phone 21332). Just before the guard house, clambering up the hill to the left and back, you will find a footpath that quickly widens, following the contours east about 40 minutes to Havuts Tar, passing khachkars along the route.

Aghjots Vank/S. Stepanos

A rough dirt 4x4 track continues down into the Reserve, running upstream along the Azat river. At 5 km from the entrance, where Milli Creek (vtak), runs into the Azat from the left, the road straight across the bridge is closed by a gate (key in house on hill back to left). Turning left before the gate along an even rougher track brings one in 200 m to Baiburt. A simple, single-aisle basilica probably of the 5th c. stands left of the road among ruins of old dwellings of an Armenian population deported to Persia by Shah Abbas in the 17th c, and more modern ruins of its more recently departed Azeri population. Baiburt now houses three families of Reserve employees. There are allegedly pagan period remains in the vicinity. Another few km uphill past Baiburt, on a poor jeep track, is the hamlet of Mets Gilanlar, with a few simple wooden huts. Turning left just before Gilanlar, where a less travelled track winds around the side of the hill (rather than the better dirt road to the village) the track continues to a valley across which (20 minutes on foot) are the evocative ruins of the Aghjots Vank/S. Stepanos Church* =80= (40 06.45n x 044 48.53e)of the early 13th century (though founded, according to local legend, by Gregory the Illuminator on the site of the martyrdom of a certain Stepanos, companion of St. Hripsime). Added to the W end of the church of 1207, funded by Ivane Zakarian and the local prince Grigor Khaghbakian, is a gavit with many inscriptions and khachkars, now partly fallen down the hill, and N is a small chapel of 1270 with with a carved portal flanked by Saints Peter (left) and Paul (bearded, right). The monastery was sacked by the Persians in 1603, subsequently restored, despoiled again in the 18th century, and ruined permanently in Muslim-Christian clashes in 1905/6. S. Stepanos can also be reached on foot or horse (and, in good weather, maybe Jeep) from Goght, about 3 hours of stiff but highly rewarding climb. See below under Goght.

Opening the barrier and crossing the bridge to follow the road along the Azat River, one reaches after a few km a fork back to the right, which fords the Azat river and leads S over a difficult mountain track to Gelaysar and then on to Dvin and the southern part of the Khosrov Reserve E of Vedi. Just beyond, a fork left leads to Kyorpikend and (maybe) to Mets Gilanlar and another approach to Kakavaberd. At approximately 8 km from the Bayburd bridge, a stream across the road forms a barrier to most vehicles. Beyond it on a hill to the left is a ruined hamlet, an early habitation site. Somewhere nearby is a ruined medieval church and cluster of khachkars called Vanstan. On the sheer summit east of the river is Kakavaberd*, more properly Geghi or Keghi Berd. This well preserved fortress of the 9th-13th c. is attested in manuscripts as a family fiefdom of the Bagratunis, then the Pahlavunis, site of a defeat of the Arab chieftain Beshr by Gevorg Marzpetuni in 924, and where Prince Ivane Zakarian took refuge after his defeat by Jalal ad Din Mingburnu, the last Khwarezm-Shah, near Garni in 1224. Besides walls and towers, there is a medieval church in the fortress. In the vicinity are or were five large dragon monuments (vishap), carved standing stones, with designs of bulls and birds.

Continuing along the Azat river-stream on foot, past where the car track ends, you enter a much narrower and thickly forested gorge. This is a beautiful area, and a great place for a hike. At one point (about 30 minutes hike past the end of the car track) there is an approximately 50 meter slippery rock slide area just above the trees by the left bank of the river. This will take you up the side of the mountain to a large cave, with some ancient dwellings and steps inside. The trail is now overgrown, involving a half an hour hike straight up, but the cave may prove difficult to find without the assistance of a local.

Back out of the gorge on the main road from Garni, Goght village (1891 p), between Garni and Geghard, is known from 13th c. manuscripts as Goghot; turnoff to right is 4.9 km past the Garni W.W.II monument. Past the main square, straight ahead down the dirt road, is a ruined little basilica church of the 17th or 18th (?) century, with good khachkars built into the walls.

Havuts Tar Vank* =85= (40 07.38n x 044 46.18e), 11-13th c., 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.

From Goght, follow the dirt track from the far end of the main paved square, past the ruined basilica church, then bear left on the asphalt road to the end. Go through a green metal gate into a farmyard (friendly folk), then bear right past the barn down cement steps to a clear, steep footpath down into the gorge, across a wooden bridge, then up to farmlands. In the far right corner of the fields, the path continues steeply up, about fifty yards to the left side of a little gully and vertical rock spine. Most of the way up, a clear path goes right following the contour line. First you reach a cluster of small shrines/tombs, then the monastery, and beyond it the Amenaprkich church on the western outcrop. Amenaprkich was built in 1013 by the young Grigor Pahlavuni (ca. 990-1058), son of the lord of Bjni and nephew of the sparapet Vahram Pahlavuni. A fascinating character who went down in history as Grigor Magistros from the Byzantine imperial titles he received after the Armenian kingdom of Gagik II Bagratuni passed into Byzantine hands in 1045. Having given his own lands to the Emperor, Grigor Magistros received estates in Mesopotamia and was ultimately appointed governor of large tracts of historical Armenia. He was also a major scholar of the period, author of a grammatical treatise, a 1000-line (each rhyming on “-in”) verse rendition of Holy Scripture, and a book of letters in an erudite but untranslatable style.

The bulk of the monastic complex is 12-14th c., rebuilt in the early 18th c. by the Katholikos Astvatsatur after being ruined in the great 1679 earthquake. The walled enclosure preserves a rich trove of inscriptions and carvings from earlier times, as well as vaulted guest rooms.

From Goght, a jeep/mule track descends into the gorge, crosses, and climbs up and over to reach S. Stepanos monastery. Driving into Goght on the paved road, turn left on the dirt road just before the paved square. After 200 meters, the right fork descends E into the gorge, fords the stream, and rises steeply up to the top of the ridge. On foot from Goght, following the jeep track, you reach in about an hour the ruined hamlet of Almardan (left of track a little khachkar beside a ruined apsidal church?), then slope up W to the summit (another hour). The right fork leads around the slope, descending to the ruined hamlet of Ellija, and continues E, passing just above S. Stepanos before ending in a series of particularly bad goat tracks. The left fork follows the crest of the ridge E into the deep mountains. Note that the track is steep and likely to be covered during wet weather in very greasy mud. There is also a mule-track that ascends the ridge more directly, starting from the same point at the bottom of the gorge but bearing off to the W. After reaching a lower saddle W of the jeep track, take the left downhill fork following the contour, and then take the jeep track downhill.

At Goght, a road branches left to the village of Geghard (333 p), but the straight road ends in the parking lot of Geghardavank** =100= (40 08.47n x 044 49.12e), “Monastery of the Spear,” otherwise known as Ayrivank. A spearhead-shaped metal object, now in the Ejmiatsin treasury, but once housed at Geghard, gave the monastery its name, as the lance with which Christ was wounded in the side. Nestled at the end of a rugged gorge, Geghard was clearly a sacred spot even in antiquity, with a seep of water coming out of the rock. Though there are inscriptions dating to the 1160s, the main church was built in 1215 under the auspices of the brothers Zakare and Ivane, the generals of Queen Tamar of Georgia, who took back most of Armenia from the Turks. The gavit, partly free-standing, partly carved in the cliff, dates to before 1225, and a series of chapels hewn into the rock dates from the mid 13th century following the purchase of the monastery by Prince Prosh Khaghbakian, vassal of the Zakarians and founder of the Proshian principality. The chamber reached from the NE of the gavit became his tomb in 1283. The adjacent chamber has carved in the rock the arms of the Proshian family, including an eagle with a lamb in its claws. A stairway W of the gavit leads up to a funerary chamber carved out in 1288 for Papak Proshian and his wife Ruzukan. All around the monastery are caves and khachkars. The monastery was defunct, the main church used to shelter the flocks of the Karapapakh nomads in winter, until resettled by a few monks from Ejmiatsin after the Russian conquest. Restored for tourist purposes but now with a small ecclesiastical presence, the site is still a major place of pilgrimage. Outside the far door is a table for ritual animal offerings (“matagh”), and a bridge over the stream.

Nothing has remained of the original structures of Airivank. According to Armenian historians of the 4th, 8th and 10th centuries the monastery comprised, apart from religious buildings, well-appointed residential and service installations. Airivank suffered greatly in 923 from Nasr, a vice-regent of an Arabian caliph in Armenia, who plundered its valuable property, including unique manuscripts, and burned down the magnificent structures of the monastery. Earthquakes also did it no small damage.

The existing ensemble dates back to the 12th-13th centuries, the time of the flourishing of national culture, especially architecture. Under the princes of Zakharia and Ivane the chapel of Grigory the Enlightener - the most ancient surviving structure of the monastery - its main temple and its vestry, as well as the first cave church were built. In the second half of the 13th century the monastery was bought by the Proshyan princes. Over a short period they built the cave structures which brought Geghard well-merited fame - the second cave church, the family sepulcher of zhamatun Papak and Ruzukan, a hall for gatherings and studies (collapsed in the middle of the 20th century) and numerous cells. In one of the cave cells there lived, in the 13th century, Mkhitar Airivanetsi, the well-known Armenian historian. The one- and two-storey residential and service structures, situated on the perimeter of the monastery’s yard, were repeatedly reconstructed, sometimes from their foundations as it happened in the 17th century and in 1968-1971.

The chapel of Gregory the Enlightener, built before 1177, stands high above the road, a hundred meters away from the entrance to the monastery. It is partly hewed in massive solid rock; its composition was, in all probability, largely influenced by the shape of the cave which existed there. The chapel, rectangular in the plan and having a horseshoe-shaped apse, is adjoined, from the east and from the northeast, by passages and annexes hewed at various levels and even one on top of another.

Traces of plaster with remnants of dark frescoes show that there were murals inside the chapel.

The first cave rock, Avazan (basin), situated north-west of the vestry, is hewn in place of an ancient cave with a spring in the forties of the 13th century by architect Galdzag. His name is inscribed at the base of the tent decorated with reliefs showing pomegranates.

The Proshyans’ sepulcher and the second cave church of Astvatsatsin situated east of Avazan, were hewn in 1283, presumably by Galdzag, too.

Of interest is a rather primitive high relief on the northern wall, above the archways. In the center, there is the head of a lion with a chain in its jaws; the chain is wound around the necks of two lions with their heads turned to the onlooker. Instead of the tail tufts there are heads of upward looking dragons - symbolic images gong all the way back to heathen times. Between the lions and below the chain there is an eagle with half-spread wings and a lamb in its claws. This is presumably the coat-of-arms of the Princes Proshian.

Cut on the portals of the chapel are sirins (fantastic harpy-like birds with women's crowned heads) and on the church walls there appear human figures with their elbows bent, wearing long attires and having nimbuses around their heads. These are probably members of the princely family who had these structures built.

North along Hrazdan Gorge -- Bjni (Section 2; Map H)

Hrazdan Gorge is impressive primarily for its Paleolithic-looking rock formations, and for the Paleolithic persons who inhabited them, leaving along the river bank ample worked stone traces of their presence. The drive is a pleasant alternative to the main Sevan highway, slower of course, but over a generally decent asphalt road.

The first village N of Yerevan is Arinj (5219 p), with remains of a medieval fort nearby, with dragon carving of 1501 on lintel and eagle commemorating Bishop Hovhannes. A new St. Mary's Church was consecrated on May 30, 2002. The new church's benefactor is Gagik Dzarugyan and is built near the destroyed old church of the same name. A Hellenistic settlement is nearby. E of the village is Dzagavank or Getargeli S. Nshan, with a ruined 7th c. church (S. Nshan) and a formerly two-story 13th c. church E of it. To reach Ptghni (907 v), you leave Yerevan on the main Sevan highway, take the U-turn at the traffic police (GAI) station soon after all the roads from Yerevan converge, before the Abovian turn-off, then immediately right, following an asphalt road that curves down to the right into Hrazdan gorge. Taking the first right turn possible into the village, thread along an unconvincing asphalt road until a grotesque, silver-painted concrete WWII memorial on the right looking fiercely over the gully. Take the first left thereafter, and the 5-6th c. church of Ptghni* =55=, an imposing ruined basilica, comes immediately into view. Verin Ptghni (772 p) is adjacent. Getamej (659 p, till 1948 Ketran) is the next village north inside the gorge. Founded in 1317, many of its residents came from Turkey in 1920. Its road network is twisted at best.

To drive to Hrazdan inside the gorge, easiest way is to backtrack to the main Sevan road and take the second Abovian exit, 5.7 km N of the GAI post (“Abovian 2 km”). Turn left at the top, and cross the high bridge over Hrazdan gorge. At 4.2 km from the Sevan highway is an intersection W to Mrgashen. Keeping right, first village is Arzni (2515 p), Soviet Armenia’s first spa town, founded in 1925. Until the late 1980s, the village was predominantly Assyrian Christian. Many of this minority emigrated, their houses taken over by refugees from Azerbaijan, and some rancor remains. The mineral springs are N of the village, in the gorge. Old coins found in cleaning one of springs prove the mineral waters were used from early times. Treatment lasted 26 days for adults, 45 for children; Paleolithic (Acheulian - 300-100,000 year old) stone tool open air workshops have been found along the river near the spa. Entering the village, the right paved fork leads to an unusual fine small domed 6th c. church* built on a square platform. An odd late antique capital and column base, and the mouldings of the platform, suggest that the church was placed atop a pagan shrine. Next is Nor Hachn (9458 p), noteworthy for its diamond factory. Founded in 1953 on the site of abandoned Silachoy, it has a museum to the heroic 1920 battle of Hachn in Cilicia. W is Nor Artamet (871 p), home of the Zoology Center of the Academy of Sciences, dedicated to preserving native fauna.

Byureghavan (7023 p) is E of the road. Founded in 1945, this industrial town had a glass crystal factory, a marble works, the Arzni mineral water plant, and a reinforced concrete production unit. Next is Nor Geghi (4932 p, till 1957 Chatghran), which had an agromechanical collective. In the gorge E of Nurnus (529 p) is an important Stone Age (Upper Paleolithic) stone tool production center. Just before the village of Argel, a paved road angles down into the gorge, passing a cemetery and the narrow turnoff left to S. Gevorg church, a basilica built in 1890 embodying some earlier remains. In the wall of the gorge behind the cemetery are two important Mousterian-Mesolithic cave sites, Lusakert I and II, littered with worked obsidian flakes. The road continues past a lake to the Gyumush hydroelectric plant. The map shows, now incorrectly (the bridge is gone) this or another road leading to Charentsavan by way of Karenis (767 p, former Gyumush), which preserves a 5th c. single-aisle basilica and the 15th c. Matteos Arakyal (Apostle Mathew) monastery.

Argel (2546 p, until recently Lusakert) had a medieval fort and church, destroyed by Timur Lenk. There are Bronze Age burials nearby. Back on the main road, which jogs right and left at the far end of the village, one continues on to Karashamb (669 p). Almost 3 km E is the small church of S. Gevorg, 7th c. Caves, negligible remains of a cyclopean fort, Aghzibir deserted medieval hamlet. W of the village is an important set of Bronze Age tombs excavated by Vahan Hovhanisian, better known as leader of the Dashnaktsutyun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) in Armenia. The turnoff to Teghenik (516 p, formerly Tghit) is 1.4 km ahead on the right. This village has a 7-8th c. church and, on a hilltop 2.5 km W, a fort of the 13-9th c. BC. About 3.8 km past the turnoff is Arzakan (2679 p, formerly Arzakyand), with quarries and hot mineral springs. There are some private pools in the village which can be rented out in their entirety by the hour for about $10/hr per pool (not per person). It is mentioned as Artavazdakan in medieval sources. 3km NW is Neghutsi S. Astvatsatsin Vank, church of 10th c, gavit with 13th c. inscriptions. Inhabitants came from Maku ca. 1829. Continuing on the left fork leads up a side gorge to a series of pensionats, owned by the Interior Ministry and other worthy organizations.

Bjni Church

In Arzakan, turn right and then take the left (straight) fork to Bjni (2791 p). You will pass two ambitious, incomplete hotel/restaurant “obekt”, one a complex fantasy covered with rounded river stones. Two tenths of a mile beyond, across the river, is an impressive natural bridge. Entering Bjni, the 9-10th c. fortress* of the Pahlavuni family will appear on a mesa overlooking the river at the far end of the village, with the [S. Astvatsatsin church]* =50=, 1031, built by order of Prince Grigor Magistros, looming below on the left. A hundred meters below the large church, with a collection of excellent khachkars, is the small rectangular S. Gevorg church of the 13th c., with older stones built in. A narrow dirt road rises straight to a water tank near the NW end of the berd =20=, thence a 50-meter scramble to the summit. Castle walls are poorly preserved. There are remains of two cisterns, one with vaulting partly intact, and low foundations of a 5th? C church near the far end, past the one standing medieval structure. A covered passage leads to the river. Nestled between the berd and the village is a small ruined shrine employing massive stones.


Solak (2312 p), is the next village, with Mayravank Astvatsatsin church of the 7th c. perched on the hill, with fort and cemetery. There are several Late Bronze Age/Iron Age forts in the vicinity. Kaghsi (2196 p) has 3rd Mil. BC burial sites, 17-19th c. churches. The road next skirts an artificial lake (restaurants) on the outskirts, and then enters Hrazdan, (43926 p, formerly Akhta), noteworthy for the Hrazdanmash plant, jewel in the crown of Armenia’s Soviet-era military-industrial complex, now struggling for a reason to exist, and for the Hrazdan thermal power plants, whose district heating pipes run hither and yon over a once pleasant valley. While passing 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, upon reaching the building, turn right towards 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 difficulties.), now an outlying neighborhood of Hrazdan and site of the Makravank* =65= (40 31.46n x 044 44.18e) {spelled in the Russian Alphabet "Makpabah" on map H.} monastery. There is a half-ruined 11th c. chapel, a 13th c. domed S. Astvatsatsin church, and the lower walls of the gavit. North of Hrazdan is Jrarat (380 p), incorporated in 1982 as the administrative center of a dairy complex linked to Aghavnadzor. There is also the district formerly known as Atabekian, for an early Secret Police chief, with ruins of a medieval caravansaray. Directly N of Jrarat, approx. 4km is the small village of Kakavadzor, with a monastery* on the NW edge of the village.

Most easily reachable from the main Sevan highway rather than the gorge, Charentsavan (19708 p) was founded in 1948 to house workers building the Gumush hydroelectric station, called Lusavan, then renamed in 1967 in honor of the famous but somewhat dissolute poet Eghishe Charents (born Soghomonian in the city of Kars, who died in prison in 1937, accused of nationalist deviation (note his photograph, with distinctive nose, blown up on the wall of the Abovian Street Pizza di Roma, and his house museum on Mashtots Blvd.). Charentsavan waxed fat on cheap electricity, becoming a major industrial city. The Charentsavan machine-building factory, the city’s largest employer, is no longer booming. Note at the entrance to the city the bronze “Renaissance” monumental group, inspired by Charents’s “Curly-headed Boy” opus. Inside the greater Charentsavan boundary is Vardanavank (2354 p, until recently Alapars, anciently and perhaps now again Aylaberk). Refounded in 1828-30 by immigrants from Maku and Khoy, the village center has the General Vardan church, built by Prince Grigor in 901 and rebuilt in the 19th c. According to local legend, one of the stones contains a drop of blood from Vardan Mamikonian, the hero of the famous defeat of Avarayr on May 26, 451 at the hands of Persians attempting to restore the Zoroastrian religion in Armenia.

Tsaghkadzor and the Marmarik Valley (Section 3; Map H)

Tsghkadzor lifts/slopes

Best way to reach Tsaghkadzor, Armenia’s premier sports facility and the former training ground of the Soviet Olympic Ski Team, is to make a U-turn (at the marked location) just after the second (now non-existent) Hrazdan exit from the Sevan highway. At 4.2 km, one goes straight at the large traffic circle. At the second traffic circle (0.7 km further), going straight takes one to Tsaghkadzor =70= (40 32.00n x 044 42.50e) (1578 p, in Persian times Darachichak), the Kecharis Monastery* =75= (40 32.02n x 044 43.05e), and the ski slopes. Right goes to Meghradzor and Hankavan.

Turning left from the main square of Tsaghkadzor, the Writer’s Union guest house is among many options for those wanting to spend the night. Other hotels, B&Bs and cottages are also widely available, and reservations are a good idea during ski season. The road bearing right through town leads to Kecharis Monastery, founded early in the 11th c. by Grigor Magistros Pahlavuni (see Havuts Tar above), who built the S. Grigor church (the northernmost), and may also have built and occupied the smaller funerary chapel of S. Nshan (1051). When the Zakarians liberated the region, they gave the church to Prince Vasak Khaghbakian, father of Prosh, who sponsored the Katoghike church and (probably) the gavit of S. Grigor. Architect of the Katoghike was Vetsik, who left a khachkar inscribed, “Remember in your prayers the servant of God, the stonecutter Vetsik, who built this new church and, with its completion, completed his own life as well.” About 100 meters beyond the monastery is the smaller funerary church of S. Harutyun (the Resurrection) from 1220, sitting in a medieval cemetery. Close to the monastery is the House Museum of the Orbeli brothers, distant descendants of the Orbelian princely family and distinguished scholars: Levon (1882-1958) was a famous physiologist and member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences; his younger brother Hovsep (1887-1961) was Russia’s leading Orientalist and director of the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad; Ruben the eldest (1880-1943) was the father of underwater archaeology in the USSR. Only one was born in Tsaghkadzor, but all spent childhood years here when their father worked here in the Czar’s service.

At the monastery, the left fork goes to the Armenian Olympic training facility, the right fork to the ski slope. The lower chair lift runs all year, creaky but charming (500 dram), with excellent views of the forests surrounding. Skiing is indeed possible -- small entrepreneurs in the parking area rent out skis and boots, on a one-size-fits-all basis. The Writers Union House also rents out skis and boots of all sizes and in good condition. If you are spending a couple days here, hike a little over a kilometer SE over the ridge to the village of Makravan, mentioned in this chapter, with a nice monastery as well.

Following the Marmarik river (reputedly rich in fishing possibilities) from the second roundabout, jog left, and pass at 7.5 km from the 2nd circle the turnoff to Aghavnadzor (1261 p, till 1948 Babakishi, founded in 1829 by emigrants from Alashkert). At 9.4 km, Marmarik (763 p) with various hostels and summer camps. S. Hovhannes church in village. At 11.5 km, the turn-off for Meghradzor (2678 p) on the Meghradzor (“honey gorge”) river. Another 0.8 km (exactly 3 km from the Marmarik turnoff) further, a footbridge left crosses the Marmarik and a foot track ascends the wooded S. slope in a 15-minute stiff climb to the 12th c. “Chalcedonian” (Georgian Orthodox) monastery of Tejharuyk* (40 35.90n x 044 38.71e), built by the Georgian general/dynast Ivane Zakarian in 1196-99. His vassal, Prince Bubak, and the latter’s heirs are buried in the gavit. N above Meghradzor, a road leads past a disused gold mine awaiting foreign investment, and the 9 km-long rail tunnel under the mountain, connecting Hrazdan and Yerevan with the Dilijan-Kazakh line. The road over the mountain is a jeep track, closed in winter.

After Meghradzor, a spur left goes to the hamlet of Dzorak, formerly Korchlu. Next comes Pyunik, formerly the Azeri village of Akhundov, (till 1939 Dadaghishlagh), a famed Azeri communist who, among other things, translated Marx and Lenin into Azeri Turkish. Next, just before a disused reservoir and some excellent camping sites, is Artavaz (547 p, formerly Takyarlu, an Azeri village), with Artavadz Vank in or near the village and a ruined church across the river. Just beyond the originally Greek village of Hankavan, (118 p), at a decrepit summer camp, the asphalt ends. However, rising at various points are dirt roads leading N and W up to the grassy hilltops above. In good weather and a sturdy car, it is allegedly possible to drive over the mountains to Aparan. A few Greeks remain in Hankavan, where you can supposedly still get a good Greek meal. The hot springs in the village are open for business.

Abovian and the Foothills (Section 4; Map H)

Beginning on the Sevan highway, one takes the first exit right, signposted Abovian. First village is Balahovit (3004 p, till 1968 Mhub, renamed by the Supreme Soviet at the request of an Armenian-American group to commemorate an ancient village of that name in Turkey), settled in 1828-29, site of Yerevan Veterinary Institute’s experimental station. Abovian (38876 p), a new industrial city founded in 1963 on the site of the early village of Elar, was named after Khachatur Abovian, Yerevan school inspector, climber of Mt. Ararat, and founder of modern Armenian literature (1809-1848? -- his mysterious disappearance, perhaps at the hands of Czarist authorities fearful of Europe-inspired revolutions, has never been explained). Abovian is laid out ambitiously with wide streets and high-rise apartments. The ancient village of Elar, a key site at the time of the Urartian conquest, occupies a hill just S of town, but has been almost entirely obliterated by the modern cemetery (chapel of S. Stepanos). Elar was inhabited from the 4th millennium BC, as attested by chamber tombs and other finds. An Urartean cuneiform inscription of Argishti I refers to it as Darani.

Turning right at the traffic circle before Abovian, about 3 km from the Sevan highway, one passes Mayakovski (1740 p, named after the Russian poet). Right of the road is a locked basilica church of S. Tamar (or maybe S. Cross), started, per an inscription, in 1825. Inhabitants came from Hijvaz village of Salmast district in 1829-30. From Mayakovski, a paved road turns S to Dzoraghbyur (2026 p), cyclopean fort nearby, shrine. Inhabitants came from Khoy, Alashkert in 1828-30. E of Dzoraghbyur is Zovk (828 p, until 1978 Kyulluja).

Continuing SE from Mayakovski, however, one sees just before the village of Aramus a long, narrow hill, just right of the road, with remains of an Urartean (8th c.?) circuit wall, with sherd scatter, some chipped obsidian, and sketchy house walls. Aramus (3237 p), is listed in early manuscripts as Aramonk. By legend, got its name as the place where Queen Shamiram looked for the corpse of Ara the beautiful. In the 4th c, the village belonged to the Katholikos in Ejmiatsin. Left of the village main street, there are partly restored ruins of a late 6th or 7th c. tetraconch church, probably built by Katholikos Hovhan. Katholikos David I Aramonetsi (728-741) built a church here and made it his seat. Other medieval constructions in vicinity, and 13-14th c. khachkars. A new paved road running N from before Aramus ends at the new and ambitious “Getap” hotel/restaurant compound on the Getar river, well fortified and suitable for weekend assignations or gangland funerals.

Beyond Aramus, the road continues E to Kamaris (2079 p, until 1978 Gyamrez). There is an unexcavated Bronze Age/early Iron Age fort of Gyamrez S of the road to Geghashen. Bronze age tombs 2 km SW of fort; in village 18-19th c ruined church, inscription of 1840 refers to destruction of Akori village; shrine of S. Astvatsatsin rebuilt in 1258; in 1679, residents came from Maku, in 1829 from Khoy and Bayazit. SE of Kamaris is Geghashen (3693 p), until 1935 Chatghran, till 1967 Hrazdan, with various shrines and a ruined church; inhabitants came from Ispahan, Alashkert, Khoy in 1829-35 and 1870.

To the Geghama Mountains (Section 5; Map H)

The road to the Hatis and Geghama mountain slopes begins at the first signposted turn-off from the Sevan highway to Abovyan. From the off-ramp, continue NE about 3 km to the first traffic light, with a large pink building on the right and the Abovyan train station ahead on the left. Turn right at the traffic light, and follow the road past the cemetery, with S. Stepanos church of 1851 built on medieval and prehistoric precursors. Bear left at the gas station, first to Nor Gyugh (1473 p), with the 1886 S. Astvatsatsin church on the right (locked). Then comes Kotayk (1521 p, until 1965 Yeldovan), settled 1830-31 from Bayazit, with S. Nshan and S. Astvatsatsin churches in village. Continue straight (L fork) to Kaputan (1261 p), with the tiny vertical two-story Kaptavank church * of 1349 standing alone on a tall hill NW of village. To approach the church by car, turn right into the village, then take a dirt road left that leads behind the church hill and past the cemetery. Bypassing Kaputan, the paved road continues to Hatis (425 p, until 1978 Kyankyan), with dairy production. The inhabitants came as refugees from Bayazit in 1918-20. The area is a treeless upland, with eroded volcanic cones (Mt. Hatis rises to 2528 m), tumbled boulders, and wonderful dirt roads for mountain biking leading toward the far Geghama mountains. From behind the school in Hatis, a dirt road leads NNE about 3 km to Astghaberd, a cyclopean fort used as a place of refuge from the Bronze Age till medieval times.

Continuing past Hatis, one passes the village of Zovashen (196 p, until 1948 Dallaklu), founded in 1914 by refugees from Turkey. E and S are ruined settlements. A few km beyond Zovashen the road reaches a T, with a fairly good asphalt road leading NNE (left), past an empty reservoir, completed in 1982, to Sevaberd* (332 p, till 1948 Gharaghala, both meaning “Black Castle”). There is indeed a black stone castle, or at least the tumbled stones from one, on the right through a hole in the fence as you enter the village. The villagers say the fort was the stronghold of Ashot II Yerkat (“Iron Ashot”), King of the Armenians from 914 to 928, and report that a sword blade found a few years back in the rubble is now in a museum. There is another prehistoric fort about 3 km NE. This upland village, end of the paved road and jumping off point for the Geghama mountain range, survives on stock-rearing and wheat. Much of the population has emigrated, with 65 families remaining, 7 of which Yezidi. Mkhitar the mayor lives down in Abovyan. A bad jeep trail leads E from the village to Aknalich (“White Lake”), about 15 km, with fishing and reportedly splendid spring/summer wildflowers. Above the lake toward Sevsar and Shekhichingil are spread out a gallery of petroglyphs from the 6th-1st millennium BC, including swastikas, hunting scenes, ritual dances, and mythological images. Just N of the lake are two fish-shaped vishap (dragon stones)

Petros & Poghos

Returning by the other branch of the T, one passes Zar (1350 p), and Akunk (1800 p, Armenians and Kurds, until 1946 Bashgyugh, by which it is still known), founded in 1829. A paved spur goes N from the Akunk-Zar road 0.5 km E of Akunk, leading to a striking fold in the rock with the late medieval Poghos-Petros shrine* =25= below a series of caves and springs, since antiquity and even today a place of pilgrimage and sacrifice. There are cyclopean fort remains nearby, and the hillsides between Zar and Akunk are rich in Paleolithic and Neolithic open air workshops. Katnaghbyur (554 p, meaning Milkspring) is just S of Akunk. This region, known in Persian times as Kirk Bulagh (“Forty Springs”), gave the Getar river its earlier name.

The East Road from Abovian (Section 6; Map H)

Continuing N at the main intersection at the entrance to Abovian, an older asphalt road leads over foothills and wheat fields to Jraber (423 p, with forestry, pig farming). Some 1 km N, between the old and new highways, is an area used by Paleolithic man to chip obsidian tools in the Olduvien, Acheulian, and Mousterian epochs of the Lower Paleolithic. Then Fantan (1026 p), founded in 1829 on S slope of Gutanasar Mt. Three of its villagers won Hero of Socialist Labor status for their high wheat yields. The inhabitants of Lernanist (2529 p, till 1978 Verin Akhta), came from Persia in 1827-28, S. Hakob shrine and khachkar.

Into Mt. Ara (Section 7; Map H)

From entrance ramp to the Red Cross Hospital on the Ashtarak Highway, pass the villages of Kasakh (4278 p), near the Defense Ministry, and Proshyan (4364 p). At 10.5 km take right off-ramp (signposted “Egvard”). At 12.3 km turn left (no sign) on asphalt road. At 13.9 km turn left (signposted “Nor Yerznka”), asphalt. Nor Yerznka (1470 p), founded in 1949. Go uphill through village (mudholes). At 17.4 km keep straight at fork in road. At 17.7 km bear right at 3-way fork (asphalt). At 18.4 km continue past the factory (on right), orchards. At 24.2 km turn right at T (by pump station -- going left takes you through a Yedidi hamlet to an impassible track up the back side of the mountain). At 24.4 km turn left over canal onto rocky jeep track (going straight leads eventually to Yeghvard).

Mt. Ara with Ashtarak in foreground.

Ascend along a gully approximately 1.5 km, or a 30-minute uphill walk into the heavily eroded and mysterious volcanic crater of Mt. Ara*, named after the handsome early Armenian god/hero/king killed and brought back to life under mythological circumstances involving Queen Semiramis. Built into a mossy cave, complete with sacred spring, is the shrine of Kuys Varvara (the Virgin Barbara), also known as Tsaghkevank, with saint’s tomb, altar, ferns, and candle vendors. The Vatican has decided that St. Barbara, like St. Christopher, is probably mythical, but if she did exist she was martyred by her cruel father for espousing Christianity, or alternatively snatched away by angels. Local holy person will say prayers and help you nick the comb or ear of rooster or sheep before you sacrifice it down below in gratitude for/anticipation of the saint’s healing intercession. Picnic tables available.

In the gorge leading into the crater are house and fortification walls. Further up the crater to the right of the shrine is another small cave with a cross and some pictures of the saint. To the left of the shrine, along a narrow path, are faint traces of a medieval building. There is at least one bear roaming the mountain, and two snakes; also, other caves, rock formations, and a strenuous but scenic hike around the crater rim (ca. 3 hours; the trail up, like St. Barbara herself, existentially challenged).

To Yeghvard and Bujhakan (Section 8; Map H)

At the far (W) end of the Kievyan bridge turn right, paralleling Hrazdan gorge. At 2.3 km, take the right fork, passing the Davitashen bridge. At approximately 6.5 km, you reach Zovuni (4517 p), founded in 1965 for the residents of Zovuni village (mostly Yezidis) near Aparan, which was flooded out upon construction of the Aparan reservoir. Taking the right fork in the village and turning right again on a dirt road 150 m down, take the left fork twice to reach a promontory overlooking the Hrazdan gorge. This is the site of the medieval castle of Karmir Berd* (“Red Castle”), built on a prehistoric fortress. At the NE corner, the Iron Age gateway is preserved, including a cuneiform inscription that is still undeciphered. The leading Russian expert dismissed it as a medieval or modern forgery, but it may well have been an effort by an illiterate local dynast to imitate the Urartians at Erebuni across the way. The paved road continues on to Kanakeravan (2971 p) and Mrgashen (1635 p, till 1964 “the town attached to Sovkhoz No. 36”, founded in 1950).

To reach Yeghvard, follow the main road turning slightly left. Pass under the underpass signposted for Ashtarak and Arzni. Entering the outskirts of Yeghvard, go to the end of the divided bit of road and turn right at 16.5 km (shop “Presents” on right). Continue another 1.8 km to the edge of town (“Commercial Shop” on left), turn sharply left and 50 meters thereafter zig right again. This is the road that leads to Bujhakan and Aparan.

Yeghvard Church

Yeghvard (10783 p) is a large, tidy, ancient village with the small, two-story S. Astvatsatsin* =65= (“Mother of God”) Church (1301 or 1321), steeple visible from afar, and an important 5/6th century ruined basilica about 350 m NNW of it.

Zoravar Church

Some 4 km past the Yeghvard zigzag, at the entrance to the village of Zoravan (1175 p, formerly Pokravan), is a small cemetery on the left, turning at which one reaches after a few hundred yards the Zoravar church, a ruined circular church and graveyard, built by Prince Grigor Mamikonian (661-685), on the lower slopes of Mt. Ara. In the cemetery above is a small funerary chapel. About 200 m N of Zoravan, a dirt road right (opposite an old stone-cutting plant) leads in 1.2 km to a reservoir and (right of the road) the important fortified settlement of Dovri*, primarily Urartian but with Bronze Age, Hellenistic, and medieval traces as well. Take the right fork and park by the little church of 1879, which incorporates khachkars from an abandoned medieval hamlet. The Urartian fortress walls are best preserved on the N edge.

A distance of 10 km from Yeghvard is Aragyugh (1006 p, till 1946 Gharajoran), birthplace of an early ASSR finance commissar. (signposted “Aparan 30, Hrazdan 25”). A side road leads W to the hamlet of Saralanj (325 p, till 1945 Tulinabi), whose inhabitants came originally from Mush region.

Bear leftish toward Aparan and continue 5.5 km to an unsignposted asphalt road to the right, which leads across the valley to the village of Bujhakan (1690 p, once Babakishi) and the splendid ruined Teghenyats* =65= (40 29.03n x 044 31.46e) monastery in a forested fold of the Tsaghkunyats mountain range. Set between two streams, with a distant view of Mt. Ararat, the site has sheep and horse-shaped tombstones, an impressive half-intact gavit (narthex) beside the ruined sanctuary (12th century), parts of a monumental dining room (13th c.), and lots of atmosphere. From the entrance to Bujhakan, take the left fork through the center of the village. At the far end of the village (1.8 km), where the asphalt turns left, keep straight along a dirt road. Continue 1 km to a large, half-built pensionat, then go straight another 0.6 km to a fork, at which turn left. Bump along the rutted track, cross the stream, up to the top of the rise. Bear right and the monastery buildings will be visible on the left. The road, dubiously passable, allegedly goes on to Tsaghkadzor.

There are walking/mountain bike trails and picnic ambiance. The final bit of road is not recommended for street cars (except someone else’s). On the east side of the village of Bujhakan is a 6th-7th century ruined church.

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index