Armenia is a land of monasteries, mountains, brandy, and pomegranates. Since I’ve come here for the very first time in summer 2012, Armenia never ceased to amaze me. This tiny country is a home to so many true gems. Surpsingly, it is still quite an undiscovered yet underrated place. There are many reasons why you should pay this little landlocked state in South Caucasus a visit. You will find three of them on UNESCO World Heritage List.
World Heritage Sites: Armenia
1. Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin
As many monastery complexes in Armenia, Haghpat and Sanahin were built in a stunnigly beautiful surroundings of Lori region in northern Armenia. Located very near to each other, both Haghpat and Sanahin are situated in a old, deep, almost untouched forest. Both monasteries date back to 11th (yay!) century. They were important centres of education and culture back then, especially Sanahin, which was very famous for it’s school of illuminators and calligraphers. Haghpat and Sanahin are splending examples of Armenian religious architecture style inspired by Byzantine and Caucasian traditions. Today they are both empty. Time stood still behind their walls. Being there alone and trying to imagine how lively and different the monasteries could be thousand years ago is an incredible experience.
Hagpat and Sanahin are 3 hour drive away from Yerevan.
I visited the place in autumn and I’d recommend you to do the same. The colors of the forest and the warm autumn light make the experience unforgettable.
2. Cathedral and Churches of Echmiadzin and the Archeological Site of Zvartnots
Echmiadzin, a town in Armavir region, is the center of Armenian spiritual life. This is where the catholicos of all Armenians (aka the head of the church) lives.
St. Gayane Church and St. Hripsime Cathedral were both built in memoriam of the Christian virgins killed by the Armenian king back in Pagan times. Both the churches are the finest examples of early Christian architecture in Armenia and the Caucasus.
Then, there is the Angels of Sky Cathedral. Founded in 301 by St. Gregory the Illuminator. It’s the oldest state-built church in the world! Of course, it has been renovated but…um…that’s just a detail.
The cathedral is not only the single building. It is a whole complex situated in a walled compound. You can find a monastic school, a library a museum and a beautiful garden, where you can sit and watch the world passing by. The gardens hide a great collection of khachkars, Armenian engraved cross-stones.
Last but not least, there is Zvartnots, a 7th century Armenian cathedral. Really imposing, centrally planned building influenced by Byzantine architecture. Now in ruins, it remains absolutely pittoresque.
I visited Echmiadzin in winter, summer and autumn. Can’t wait for spring to come so I can go and explore it again!
3. Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley
One more monastery? Yes! The monastery of Geghard is a very unique yet impressive complex of churches, tombs and rock-carved stone crosses. A very fine example of Armenian medieval architecture is partly cut into the rock. The harmony of the manmade and the natural is fascinating. Pay attention to the mind-blowing cliffs at the entrance to the Azat Valley.
If you decide to visit Geghard, go to the Hellenic Garni temple located nearby. It’s so worth it!
Both Echmiadzin and Geghard are less than an hour drive from Yerevan and they make perfect half-day trips. They are accesible by mini vans (marshrutkas) but it’s probably more comfortable to hire a taxi.
Armenian UNESCO world heritage sites are waiting for you to visit! Add them to your travel bucket list for 2014!
This article was written by Zofia Bałdyga aka Zof, a Polish NGO worker interested in international migration issues, translator from Czech and Slovak, an occasional poet and photoblogger. A visual addict. Her blog, The Picktures presents photo essays from her travels. Currently based in Armenia, she feels at home everywhere but her favorite places in the world are Prague and Yerevan.