Armenia’s history is long and sometimes rocky, but the melting pot of historical sites left behind makes this nation one of the most interesting to visit. With many religious and cultural influences throughout history, Armenia has become an incredible blend of beautiful landscapes and ancient history.
Nestled near the town of Sisian in Armenia’s Syunik Province lies one of the country’s most remarkable historical sites. Often referred to as Karahunj, Carahunge or Zorats Karer, the original name roughly translates to ‘speaking stones’, due to the sound made when wind passes through the multiple holes bored in the rocks. Perhaps the most popular term for this monolithic structure is ‘Armenia’s Stonehenge’, a nod to England’s more well-known rock structure.
Over the years, researchers have suggested that Karahunj could be the world’s oldest astronomical observatory. Others dispute this, stating it may be the ruins of a city wall, while some suggest it could be a burial site for someone important. Regardless of the origins, this display of standing rocks is a must-see.
In total, 223 stones have been identified, many of them weighing up to 10 tonnes. Mostly, the arrangement of the stones appears circular, with two main rows stretching to the north and south. While its history is largely unknown, many suggest Karahunj dates back to the Middle Bronze Age. Importantly, it remains a popular attraction for anybody exploring the Caucasus Mountains.
Near the town of Yeghegnadzor in Armenia, located in a gorge created by the Amaghu River, lies the Noravank Monastery. A 13th-century building, the site was founded in 1105 by Bishop Hovhannes. Easily the largest and most impressive section is the Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) church, which is often referred to as Burtelashen, after Prince Burtel Orbelian, who financed its construction.
Also included are the Surb Karapet Church and the Surb Grigor Chapel. Those who visit Armenia can also see several remaining khachkars, which are carved memorials featuring a stone and cross with other decorative elements. While the architecture is impressive, visitors are also treated to the beautiful landscape around the site, particularly the sheer, red cliffs towering above.
Often called ‘the monastery built on the edge of nothing’, the Tatev Monastery is another beautiful relic in the Syunik Province of Armenia. The 9th-century Tatev Monastery sits on the edge of a deep gorge in the Vorotan River and has been a huge part of Armenia’s history. While obviously having much religious significance, the site also housed the University of Tatev, which has been credited for preserving Armenian culture during turbulent periods of its history.
There are three main churches that form the monastery. The church of Saints Peter and Paul was built first, between 895 and 906. The Church of the Holy Mother of God was added in 1087. The Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, existed at some point before 1295, but this was when it was redeveloped following an earthquake.
Importantly, the Tatev Monastery and its surrounding areas have now been added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From a traveller’s point of view, you should definitely enjoy the ride out to the monastery. Since 2010, access to the site has been via an aerial tramway called the Wings of Tatev, which is the world’s longest non-stop double-track tramway.
Known as the country’s spiritual centre, Echmiadzin is one of the Armenia historical sites you can’t afford to miss. Prominent in the area is the Echmiadzin Cathedral, which dates back to 303 AD when it was built over a pagan fire altar. It is the oldest standing church in Christendom, making it a significant cultural, religious and historical site for Armenians. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Most importantly, the cathedral is one of the most-visited in Armenia, as it serves as the spiritual centre for all Armenian Christians. It is so significant because it was built over a pagan altar, signifying the country’s shift from paganism to Christianity. In fact, Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as an official state religion.
Dilijan is a beautiful place, often called the ‘Little Switzerland’ of Armenia. Nearby is the stunning 13th-century Haghartsin Monastery. The monastery is a great example of medieval Armenian architecture and comprises several church buildings. The major part of this site is the St Astvatsatsin Church. The oldest structure is the St Gregory Church, while the smallest section is St Stepanos Church.
The monastery lies in the Dilijan National Park, making it a protected area. In 2011, the monastery also underwent a major renovation in order to preserve it for much longer. So, while today it features a gift shop, bakery and other facilities, it hasn’t lost any of its cultural or historical significance.
There is no doubt that when you travel Armenia, you’ll be treated to a number of significant cultural and historical sites. There are many more than those mentioned above, so if you’re keen to explore the rich history of Armenia and the Caucasus region, contact Crooked Compass today.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.