Thursday, May 2, 2013

Essential Armenia Tour

Envoy Hostel in Yerevan offers tours throughout Armenia, whether or not you are staying there.  Today I went with five others on their Essential Armenia tour.  The tour lasted 10 hours, included all of our entry fees and lunch with an Armenian family.  Not bad for 17,500 AMD ($42.50).

Our first stop was at the Sevanavank Monastery, Սևանավանք.  The complex is on the northwest shore of Lake Sevan, Սևանա լիճ, which is the largest lake in the Caucasus region.  It is also one of the world's largest fresh-water, high-altitude lakes.

The two churches are Surb Arakelots, "Holy Apostoles", and Surb Astvatsatsin, "Holy Mother of God".  The monastery was founded in 874 AD by Princess Mariam.  In addition to being a place of worship and pilgrimage, the monastery was a place of exile for noblemen who had fallen into disgrace and monks who had sinned.  The complex underwent restoration from 1956 to 1957.

Vacation spot for Armenian writers

The monastery was originally built on a small island.  During the Stalin era the lake was drained and the island became a peninsula.

Nearby Russian military base

On the southern shore is a guesthouse of the Armenian Writers' Union.  The eastern shore is home to the Armenian president's summer residence.  There is also a Russian military installation nearby.

Hayravank, Հայրավանք, is another monastery on the shores of Lake Sevan.  It was built in the late 9th century.  The monastery was actively used until the 12th century.

The Noratus Cemetery, Նորատուսի գերեզմանատուն, is about 90 km (56 miles) north of Yerevan.  The seven hectare (17 acre) cemetery is home to over 800 khachkars carved between the 9th - 17th centuries.

A khachkar is an Armenian cross-stone.  In 2009-2010, the US Embassy in Yerevan provided financial support to rehabilitate the medieval cemetery.  The symbolism and craftsmanship of khachkars has been on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010.

Tombstone depicting a wedding celebration
Most of the cross-stones are covered in moss.  Many include depictions of weddings and farm life.  The oldest khachkars here date back to the 10th century.

Noratus is now the largest surviving collection of Khachkars in the world.  Previously, the world's largest collection was in Julfa, Azerbaijan but they were destroyed by the Azeri government from 1998 to 2006.

We then went to Lchashen, Լճաշեն, a town with around 4,500 people, where we had lunch with an Armenian family.

Lunch was great and I tried my first tarragon lemonade.  While popular in Armenia, Georgia and Russia, it's not my favorite.

The monastery at Geghard, Գեղարդ, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.  It was founded in the 4th century at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave.  The original monastery was destroyed in the 9th century by Arabs.  The main chapel was built in 1215.

The monastery has been known as "the Monastery of the Spear" because the spear which wounded Jesus Christ at the Crucifixion was supposedly brought here by the Apostle Jude.  Today it is stored in the treasury at Echmiadzin.

Garni, Գառնի, is a temple complex about 7 k (+4 miles) southwest of Geghard; 32 km (20 miles) from Yerevan.  It was built in the 1st century AD.

The temple was erected in 115 AD.  It was sacked in 1386.  Then in 1679 it was destroyed by an earthquake.  The temple was rebuilt from 1969 to 1975.

Charents Arch was built in 1957.  It is between Geghard/Garni and Yerevan.  It is a great place for a view of Mount Ararat and the valley.

Mount Ararat

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