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My route through countless monasteries in Armenia

 

    Length of stay: 14 days.

    Period: July 2015.

 

Armenia, that country located in the southern Caucasus in the imaginary border between Europe and Asia, is considered the cradle of agriculture and civilization in its early stages. Later it became the first country to adopt Christianity as the official state religion and where the first Christian cathedral was built.

It sounds interesting, right? Let’s details the route that I did.

armenian_routemap
 

    Monasteries of Lori’s province

I reached the country crossing from Tbilisi, Georgia, and the first Armenian province where I got was Lori. I had read about Sanahin and Haghpat, two important monasteries that are part of the World Heritage List by UNESCO, so I planned to be here only one day, but in the end seeing it was full of ancient monasteries surrounded by beautiful mountains were a few more.

haghpat

I was sleeping in the town of Alaverdi, as it is in the center of the province so it was easy to move from one monastery to another and because the monastery of Sanahin is right there. The monasteries of Haghpat and Akhtala were a few kilometers on the way to the North, while in the opposite direction, about 10 kilometers South you can find already Odzun church and the wonderful views from this village located in one of the many high mountains of the region. Continuing few kilometers further south we will find the monasteries of Horomayr and Kobayr. All of them such an authentic delight.
 

    Sevan lake, Garni & Geghard

Beginning already the route to the south, and halfway to the capital, we find the Sevan Lake which is the largest in the country. In the middle of this, a small mountainous peninsula with an also small monastery above, that provides us with incredible views to the lake and is a great place to pitch a tent and spend the night.

sevan-lake

Further down south and turning aside a little to the left before reaching the capital, we will find first the ancient temple of Mihr at Garni and then the monastery of Geghard.

On the left, the temple of Mihr. On the right, the Monastery of Geghard.

 
The first one is the only building with Greco-Roman columns across the country and is the symbol and the best known structure of the pre-Christian Armenia, while the second is a monastery dug in much of the adjacent mountain, both being again considered world Heritage by UNESCO.
 

    Yerevan

As soon as we arrived to the capital, I got sincerely surprised very positively. Yerevan is a young city, full of life and things to do. In the center (Kentron in Armenian) is found the famous Republic Square, before Lenin Square, always full of tourists and locals, where every night at 22h there is a show called “singing fountains” and some water suppliers follow a choreography to the beat of the music while they are illuminated with different colors. In the same square there are two museums, the National Gallery of Armenia and the Museum of History, both highly recommended, especially the second in order to make a leap in time and discover the past of Yerevan and this ancient people.

 

Also next to the center there is a long staircase called “cascade” that as a small park makes you climb a mountain of 120 meters. These create different levels where in each of them there are sculptures and gardens, until you reach the fifth and last floor where you can see the magnificent views of city center and the whole city. Finally, even further from the center, are the memorial and the museum of the Armenian genocide narrating the atrocities to which this people were subdued just a century ago.
 

    Zvartnots & Echmiadzin

Leaving the capital behind already, 10 kilometers west of Yerevan we will find the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral. This was built in the first century when Armenia was under the control of the Byzantine Empire and remained standing until late tenth century where it was destroyed and buried over time. It was not discovered, and thus dug, until early last century.

On the left, part of the excavations of Zvartnots. On the right, the cathedral of Echmiadzin.

 
Ten kilometers to the west lies the Cathedral of Echmiadzin, which was the first cathedral of Christianity and is currently the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church, so its top representative on earth, the main bishop, lives here. I liked it quite a lot but it coincided that the whole cathedral was covered with scaffolds as they were restoring some parts so obviously my impression was diminished.
 

    Khor Virap

I went towards Yerevan and when I arrived to the capital I started going south until I reached Khor Virap, where I decided to spend the night. This is a monastery that sits above a hill a few kilometers away from the Turkish border and from where you can see the famous Turkish Mount Ararat.

khor virap

Having no house next to me for several kilometers, I camped up there and between the quietness, the soft and fresh wind, the view and the super-starry sky, I assure you I could not have slept better.
 

    Tatev Monastery

I continued towards the south and before crossing to Karabakh, I visited the monastery of Tatev. To reach it there are two possible ways: to take a cable car that will take you all the way between the mountains to the monastery, or to keep on going down the road by yourself. I, as usual, chose the second.

The first advantage of not catching the cable car is that on the way you find the so-called Devil’s Bridge, which crosses the river Vorotan, and you can take a refreshing dip as you’ll see more than a local do.

The road in total is about 15 kilometers and includes several levels up and down mountains, but if you have time, it’s worth it for the quietness of the place, the views and a hidden monastery over there called Tatevi Anapat, inaccessible if you go with the cable car.

Tatev Monastery from Armenia

Once we get to the fortification of the monastery we will see that consists of three churches (Saints Paul and Peter, St. Gregory the Illuminator and Saint Maria), a library, mausoleum, and other administrative buildings. So now you just have to stick your head everywhere and enjoy all the parts of this construction that began in the fourth century with the Christianization of Armenia.
 

    Goris & Vardenis

Finally I went through the towns of Goris and Vardenis as a gateway and exit to the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Read the explained route in this post!) but the truth is that if you do not plan to go to Karabakh these cities are completely dispensable.

Well, here’s how I spent my two weeks in Armenia, a beautiful land, full of monasteries and that smells like history in every corner. Did you like my route? Do you think I missed something? Let me know in the comments. Enjoy!

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