Armenia is like a small box of huge surprises, which has so much to please and surprise with. Being one of the ancient countries in the world, Armenia has passed through glory and “vagrancy”. Present-day Armenia has an independence of only 20 years; it’s a cherished independence for a nation that has seen empires come and go and presently, Armenians exercise every single effort to let the world know about who they are, where they come from and what cultural heritage they have. Since the collapse of Soviet Union travelling to Armenia is just as easy as it could be within your country with lots of agencies offering tour packages, with acommodation options ranging from cheap guesthousees and hostels to 5 star hotels and locals known as one of the most hospitable people in the world. Look up Armenian on the map and meanwhile here are 5 of the sites we think are must see on your tour to Armenia.
First off, it should be said that Armenia is the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as state religion in 301. Thus, don’t be surprised by the number of churches you will see there.
The location, the views and Akhtala monastery itself create a timeless feeling. The monastery is located in Lori region and was erected in the period of the Armenian Renaissance, which virtually started earlier than the European Renaissance. The name of the monastery means white blade.
Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God or Holy Virgin) is the main church of the monastery and dates to the 11th-13th centuries. This church stands out with its murals depicting Jesus Christ, the Holy Virgin and the apostles. Many of the murals are barely seen today, but the remaining ones provide evidence of how brilliant the church was in the past. It is even said that the walls of the church were so striking that the church priest ordered that the walls be covered by coal in order to attract visitors’ attention from the walls to the prayers.
Tatev Monastery is one of the top sites in Armenia. Over the past years a ropeway (aerial tramway) was constructed and put into operation. What makes the ropeway truly unique is its being the longest in the world. You need to take the ropeway to get to Tatev Monastery and the scenery around you will make you feel like a footloose and fancy free bird flying and singing below the blue of the sky.
The monastic complex of Tatev includes the following buildings – the Ruins of Saint Eustathius Church, Oil Press, Defensive Walls, Old Gate and Spring, East Gate, Saint Astvatsatsin Church, Stables and Student Dormitory, Pilgrim Inn, Tatev Matenadaran-Museum, Cells and Rooms, Belfry, Paul-Peter Church, Grigor Tatevatsi Mausoleum, Saint Grigor Lusavorich Church, Refectory, Kitchen, Bakery, Bishop Residence, Bath and 18th century school. There is really much to see and enrich your overall knowledge, and you would only benefit if you travel with a guide or find someone who could present the details.
Many people would hardly ever expect to find something like Karahunj in Armenia. Ever heard of the popular Stonehenge? Located in Syunik region Karahunj is the Armenian Stonehenge, which is older (it’s believed to have a history of 7500 years) than the British one.
Up to this day it’s not clear as to why exactly these tremendous stones were placed and erected. Some say Karahunj bore astronomical significance, others say it was a religious site, a third group says it had a ceremonial meaning.
Karahunj comes from “kar” meaning “stone” and “hunj” meaning “voice, sound, eco” in Armenian. During the course of time, Karahunj has been named “Ghoshun Dash,” which means “stone army” translated from Turkish. A legend has it that at a distance the stones used to resemble an army.
Ughtasar (The Camel Mountain) is one of the most mysterious sites in Armenia. It has captured public attention, especially the interest of people who are into archaeology, due to the petroglyph field found on top of this mountain. The petroglyphs are believed to be memorials commemorating the life and heroic stories of the dead. As you walking this “field” you will come across many petroglyphs depicting flowers, or animals. There are also a number of petroglyphs, which depict humans. Usually, humans are depicted hunting, dancing or fighting.
One thing to consider when visiting Ughtasar is that it is covered by snow for as long as nine months and so it appears quite hard to find petroglyphs under the thick cover of snow. July and August are the best months to visit the Camel Mountain.
On the whole, the center of Yerevan represents a whole set of sites worth visiting in the Armenian capital. Compared to other capital cities, Yerevan is so small that the major sites can be reached on foot. There is Matenadaran (Armenian pride), Mother Armenia monument, the Blue Mosque (the only remaining mosque in Armenia) and so on. The Cascade Complex is located very close to remarkable Matenadaran. It’s a huge stairway linking Yerevan center to the Victory Park, where the mentioned Mother Armenia monument is located.
Cascade Complex offers incredible views of capital Yerevan. It’s the right place to compare day-time and night-time Yerevan. The stairs can be climbed both by stairs and by escalators. Inside the stairway, Cafesjian Center for Arts is located. Cafesjian Center for Arts inside Cascade Complex represents a number of galleries the ultimate goal of which is to present contemporary art to Armenians. The galleries have different themes, and if you have time, you should visit them by all means. Note that there might be free exhibitions as well; make sure to check it out in advance.
Also, in front of the stairway and on it, there seems to be a sculpture field. Many interesting and impressive statues are erected here, among them works of such prominent sculptors as Lynn Chadwick (British sculptor, one of the giants of 20th century art), Barry Flanagan (Welsh sculptor), Paul Cox (English sculptor), Fernando Botero (Colombian artist) and many more. Cascade Complex is one of the most beloved places of Armenians irrespective of their age.
Photo credit: Tommy and Georgie