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When in Armenia, Go Where the Armenians Go
By: Zara Hovasapyan
There are too many secrets about Armenia being kept from the world. The truth about the Genocide is the most obvious example. However, for the purpose of this blog, a tribute to Armenia, I will write about Armenia as the best-kept secret in tourism! To write a complete tourist guide would result in volumes of books so, I’ll just tackle my favorite parts of Central Armenia!
1. Yerevan. If you start your excursion at Victory Park, you will have a perfect view of Mayr Hayastan (Mother Armenia) holding a sword to protect her people. Leaving the park, you can take the famous staircase, known as Cascade, from which you will have a panoramic view of the city. From there you can chose to go to Matenadaran, the repository of ancient Armenian manuscripts, or continue down to the elegant Opera House. From the Opera House, enjoy a nice stroll down Abovyan St which will lead you to the beautiful Republic Square of Yerevan! Hanrapetutyan Hraparak, the endonym of Republic Square, is an architectural masterpiece by Alexander Tamanian who began working on the complex in 1926. Made of local pink tufa stones, it gives Yerevan the nickname of “the Pink City.” In the center of the city, Hraparak is an enclave made of seven buildings including the National Gallery and History Museum, the Government House, the Ministry of Foreign Affaris and the central post-office. Formerly known as Lenin Square, it currently encircles the “singing fountains” that spray water in sync with Armenian and international music played nightly at Hraparak. A beautiful place to spend your nights in Yerevan, Republic Square’s romantic and leisurely atmosphere will make you fall in love with the city. Hopefully, this will only be an iota of your trip in Yerevan, as the city is filled with countless attractions and landmarks worth visiting!
2. Echmiadzin Cathedral and St. Gayane Church. The cathedral of the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Echmiadzin was built originally built between 301 and 303 AD by Gregory the Illuminator, the founder and patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who dreamt of Jesus’ descent from Heaven to show him where the church should be built. Vahan Mamikonian’s commission of a cruciform church in 480 AD later replaced the original, dilapidated basilica. Until the 18th century, improvements were implemented on the basilica such as the construction of a stone dome and decorations in the interiors of the rotunda. Today, Echmiadzin Cathedral, stands as one of the oldest Christian churches with its breathtaking floor plan and colossal size. For all the literature enthusiasts and war hero fans, next to the Echmiadzin complex is St. Gayane Church where Raffi’s Khent (Fool) and Andranik’s companion Smbat Zoravar (Makhluto) were buried. Definitely worth the short half-mile walk to St. Gayane.
3. Khor Virap Monastary. “Deep Dungeon” Monastery, as it is translated to English, was the prison of Gregory the Illuminator for 13 years until King Tiridates III was cured of his fatal disease by the patron saint. In 301 AD King Tiridates proclaimed Christianity as the state religion after converting to it following his miraculous cure. When visiting Khor Virap monastery, tourists are allowed to enter the dungeon where Gregory the Illuminator was trapped for over a decade and survived with the help of a Christian woman. The main building in the monastery, St. Astvatsatsin Church, was built in the 17th century and surrounds the Nerses Chapel built in the 5th century. However, arguably the most impressive attraction at Khor Virap is the view of Mount Ararat. Looking west, tourists see the picturesque mountain that has been a symbol of Armenia and the hardships of our history. One begins to feel even more possessive of the alluring summits of Sis and Massis that appear closer to reach. Laden with history and religious significance, Khor Virap is a must see on your itinerary!
4. Garni Temple and Gheghard Monastary. King Tiridates built Garni Temple, an Ionic order temple in Kotyak province, in the first century AD with the money granted to him by the Roman Emperor Nero. In 1679, the temple was destroyed in an earthquake but was later reconstructed in the Soviet Union. Made of basalt, the peripteral temple stands tall today and is open to visitors to see how an ancient temple would look like without the destruction, as it has been preserved well. From Garni Temple, I recommend that you continue to travel northeast to Geghard Monastery. Partly constructed within a mountain, Geghard Monestary existed since the 4th century AD though the main cathedral was built in 1215. The entire complex includes caves, outdoor shelves for good luck, residences, rock-attached vestries, sepulchers, the chapel of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, and the main cathedral. Next to the monastery is the breathtaking, picturesque canyon Ghegharda-dzor. Truly an Armenian treasure! Also, on your way to Garni and Geghard, don’t forget to stop by the Charents Arch for a spectacular view of Mount Ararat!
5. Lake Sevan. If you are Armenian and don’t have a friend named “Sevan” or “Sevanna,” I recommend you meet more Armenians. Lake Sevan is one of Armenia’s gems and highly coveted resorts. Located in Gegharkunik Province, Lake Sevan is 1,900 meters above sea level and has a surface area of 940 km2. Contrary to conventional wisdom, only 10% of the outgoing water is drained by the Hrazdan River and 90% evaporates. Sevanavank Monastery, built on the peninsula of Lake Sevan, includes Surb Arakelots (Holy Apostoles) Church and Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) Church. After you visit the churches, I suggest renting some pedal boats and enjoying the serenity of Lake Sevan to get your mind off anything that causes stress in your life. The pristine lake is an integral part of a tourist’s experience in Armenia! However, your Lake Sevan experience will be incomplete if you don’t buy a newspaper-made cone of sunflower seeds from any of the street vendor! Enjoy your time!
These are only a few of the myriad attractions in Armenia. I hope that your impending trip to Armenia will be most memorable and if you haven’t made plans yet, don’t wait any longer to travel to Armenia! If you love it there enough, repatriation is even better!
P.S. The pictures do no justice to these magnificent attractions. All the more reason to visit Armenia!