View of ancient Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia - three small towers and one large one

Armenia - The Best Bits

Author: Sue
Date: 23rd May 2009

A five night extended weekend trip. It was the last time the company ran this tour - there was no demand for Armenia, they said. A shame. It's a pretty and tranquil country.  The mountains are beautiful and you can always use them as a fallback  when the monasteries begin to pall. There are a lot of monasteries. The weather was gorgeous and the buildings perfectly framed.

Armenia - A Very Brief History

Armenia has an ancient cultural heritage. The first Armenian states dates back to 860 BC(Urartu), and the sixth century BC (the Satrapy of Armenia). The Kingdom of Armenia reached its height under Tigranes the Great, in the first century BC. In the year 301 Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Over time, the ancient Armenian kingdom was split into western and eastern sections divided by different empires. this culminated in the rule of the Ottoman and Persian empires, with both parts repeatedly ruled by either of the two over the centuries.

By the nineteenth century, Eastern Armenia had been conquered by the Russian Empire, while most of the western parts of the traditional Armenian homeland remained under Ottoman rule. According to Wikipedia, 'During World War I, 1.5 million Armenians, living in their ancestral lands in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated - the Armenian genocide. . Many people fled abroad, at this time, establishing strong communities in the US, Russia and France. More Armenians (5.6 million) live abroad than in Armenia (3 million).

Eastern Armenia became the First Republic of Armenia after the Russian revolution, but was then subsumed into the Soviet Union. The modern Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991 during the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.


Yerevan, the capital. It is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, constructed 29 years before Rome. No prizes for guessing why they call it the "Pink City". Many of the buildings are constructed of rosy hued tufa stone. Highlights are: the genocide museum, Liberty and Republic Squares and the Cascades open air staircase area, (still being constructed with two cranes at the top).

Etchmiadzin Cathedral

There's also the fourth century Etchmiadzin Cathedral, headquarters of the Armenian Church. The music was sublime and the Patriarch himself was there, celebrating mass. He had a very kind face.


The Graeco-Roman Temple of Garni (The latter is the only pagan temple in Armenia, probably built by king Tiridates I, in the first century AD, as a temple to the sun god Mihr.)

Khor Virap Monastery

Khor Virap Monastery is a pilgrimage site on the Ararat plain in Armenia, near the closed border with Turkey, The monastery was host to a theological seminary and was the residence of the Armenian Catholicos. Khor Virap's notability is attributed to the imprisonment here of Gregory the Illuminator by King Tiridates III of Armenia. Saint Gregory subsequently became the king's religious mentor, and they led the proselytizing activity in the country. Armenia was the first country in the world to be declared a Christian nation in AD 301. The first chapel was built here in 642. Mount Ararat looms in the distance.

Geghard Monastery

Medieval Geghard Monastery is n the Kotayk province of Armenia; it's partially carved out of the adjacent mountain, surrounded by cliffs and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Lake Sevan

Serene Lake Sevan (Black Van) and its monasteries. Noratus Cemetery near here has the biggest open air collection of ancient Armenian Khachqars (cross stones)and tombstones

Noravank Monastery

We climbed down a steep path to some basalt pillars by the lake and went on to Noravank, an impossibly picturesque 13th-century Armenian monastery in a narrow gorge made by the Amaghu River, near the town of Yeghegnadzor

Tatov Monastery

Tatov Monastery, the most scenically placed of them all. Like Machu Picchu the view is best from above

  • And a few other monasteries whose names I can't remember
  • We ate roundels of lavash bread (its UNESCO listed) and heaps of herby salad leaves
  • There were lots of storks, their nests on the top of posts - they're the national bird and they're sacred

You can read about my second trip to Armenia on the Golden Eagle Luxury train here.

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