Friday, May 3, 2013

Enlightened Armenia Tour, Armenia

Today's Envoy Hostel adventure was their 10 hour Enlightened Armenia tour which focuses on Echmiadzin, Khor Virap and Noravank.

Echmiadzin, Էջմիածին, is the fourth-largest city in Armenia; about 18 km (11 miles) west of Yerevan.  It is home to around 58,000 people.  Echmiadzin is the seat of the Catholicos which is the head of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church so it is the spiritual heart of the country.

Saint Hripsimé Church, Սուրբ Հռիփսիմէի եկեղեցի, was built in 618 AD and is one of the country's oldest churches.  During Soviet times, this was one of the few churches in Armenia that remained active.

Tombstone of St. Hripsimé

Hripsimé was a beautiful Christian nun in Rome who was to be forcefully married to the Roman emperor Diocletian.  Hripsimé, the abbess Gayané and 38 other nuns fled to Armenia.  King Trdat discovered where the nuns were hiding.  He fell in love with Hripsimé and later Gayané.  As each refused his advances they were both tortured and martyred.  Churches were built at the sites where they were each tortured.  King Trdat later converted to Christianity in 301 AD and made it the official religion.

Saint Gayané Church, Սուրբ Գայանէ եկեղեցի, was built in 630 AD.  The dome and some ceilings were renovated in 1652.

The Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, Մայր Աթոռ Սուրբ Էջմիածին, is the administrative and spiritual headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church.  There is a theological seminary, chancellery, residence halls, museum and cathedral.

The Mother Cathedral of Holy Echmiadzin, Մայր Տաճար Սուրբ Էջմիածին, was built in 301 - 303 AD.  It is the world's oldest state-built church.

The treasury is home to many holy relics.  The Holy Lance is the spear which pierced Jesus Christ, while he hung on the cross during the Crucifixion, and was brought to Armenia by the Apostle Jude.

This piece contains a piece of wood from Noah's Ark.

The churches of St. Hripsimé, St. Gayané, and the cathedral are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Khor Virap, Խոր Վիրապ, is a monastery and probably one of the most visited sites in Armenia.  The first chapel was built here in 642 AD.  The current chapel was built in 1662.

Mount Ararat & the Turkish border
Khor Virap is 30 km (19 miles) south of Yerevan and only about 100 meters (330 feet) from the Turkish border.  The border between Armenia and Turkey is closed but there is an awesome view of Mount Ararat.

Our next stop was in Pokr Vedi, Փոքր Վեդի, for lunch with another Armenian family.  It was so good!!  After tea we continued on to our next destination.

Noravank, Նորավանք, is a 13th century monastery 122 km (76 miles) south of Yerevan.  The monastery was founded in 1205 AD.  The complex hosts two churches.

The most famous is the two-storey Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) which was completed in 1339.  Narrow steps on the face of the church are the only way to get to the top.

The second church, Surb Karapet, was built from 1216 to 1227.

A 6,100 year old winery was discovered in 2007 in caves in the village of Areni, Արենի.  Archaeologists believe it to be at least 1,000 years older than the next oldest winery.  In 2008, the world's oldest shoe was found here as well.  The leather shoe found here is 5,500 years old.

On our way back to Yerevan we stopped at a local winery in Areni for a tour.  The winery opened in 1994 and had several good wines which we got to try.

This was another fun-filled day in Armenia.  Between yesterday's Essential Armenia tour and today's Enlightened Armenia tour, we covered 520 km (323 miles).

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