Metsamor Town

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Metsamor (Arm: Մեծամոր), Armavir Marz

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.

Source: Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook