Let Armenia convince you that this Christian country is more than ready to be discovered.
written by Berg Go
While there are many places in Europe and Asia that have already made it to the travelers’ radar, there are still plenty of beautiful destinations yet to be discovered. Armenia, for instance, is a country that not many would think of when planning a vacation. But the few fortunate enough to have visited it can a est that the country is a place of epic vistas, with history and tradition that really endures. Its splendor becomes evident once one is already there, because there is truly so much that this country has to offer.
There is hardly any other country in the world that has a culture as rich and as well-preserved as Armenia. A number
of historic biblical accounts, for one, are believed to have taken place in this Caucasus country, one of which is the landing of Noah’s Ark. It also has museums housing religious relics and wide collections of documents dating back to the Middle Ages.
If its culture and history offerings are still not enough to convince you to visit Armenia, there is also the nature side—the country is armed with sceneries so gorgeous it would make people wonder why they haven’t thought of visiting it before. Its scrumptious local cuisine is also something the gourmands would enjoy, and its humble locals are the cherry on top of this beautiful country.
Parks of Yerevan
Yerevan is the gateway to seeing Armenia’s splendor, and there is probably no better way to kick o the tour than by visiting its parks. Victory Park and the Yerevan Cascade and Sculpture Park are some of the capital’s must-visits.
Yerevan Cascade and Sculpture Park mirrors a kind of paradise you would imagine existed in biblical times—a garden palace with beautiful flower fields, sculptures, and fountain areas set against a striking giant stairway. At the top of the stairway, one can see an unobstructed view of Mount Ararat.
The cascade is also the site of Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan, where many of American-Armenian philanthropist Gerard Cafesjian’s personal art collections are displayed. The collection, donated by Gerard, contains the works of many influential artists, including Colombian artist Fernando Botero—who is known for his oversized sculptures. Fernando’s works have been recognized internationally, and his signature style of colossal art has since been coined in the industry as “Boterismo.” Some of his sculptures displayed at the museum include Roman Warrior, The Cat, and Smoking Woman.
For those who want to see Yerevan’s panoramic view, Victory Park is the perfect place to visit. The Statue of Mother Armenia is also located here. Mother Armenia is the female personification of the country, symbolizing peace and strength. The statue represents the country’s admiration for women as well, as it also symbolizess the values of the older female members of an Armenian family. Its location, being on top of a hill overlooking the capital, also signifies the mother being the guardian of the city.
Going Down History Lane
Armenia is one of the oldest countries in the world (with a recorded history of about 3500 years), so one of the things that should not be missed when visiting this country is taking on a journey through its past. Its countless museums, temples, and ancient cathedrals indicate that its history cannot be enclosed in just one facility.
One of the recommended stops when you go museum- hopping in Armenia is the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, also known as Matenadaran. This museum comprises over 17,000 books and documents dating back to the 5th century. It also holds one of the world’s biggest collections of medieval manuscripts—with a broad range of subjects ranging from history and philosophy, to cosmography and medicine, down to literature and arts.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kotayk’s Geghard is a 13th century-old monastery with various churches and tombs that were cut into the rocky mountain—accurately showing Armenian medieval architecture. Geghard is derived from an Armenian word that means “monastery of the spear,” the spear being the Holy Lance (the one that pierced Jesus on his crucifixion).
Another place to visit for pilgrims is the Khor Virap, located in Lusarat. The monastery is where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for over a decade before miraculously curing King Tiridates III of a disease—causing the king and the entire Armenia to convert to Christianity.
Those who want to see Armenia in its oldest period, meanwhile, should visit Temple of Garni—the country’s most famous symbol of its era before Christianity. This classical Hellenistic colonnade is built in the first century, and is the only standing Greco-Roman structure in the country.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Etchmiadzin Cathedral is believed to be the oldest cathedral in the world, being built in the 4th century. Its museum, Etchmiadzin Cathedral Museum, is where a part of Noah’s Ark is being held, along with the Holy Lance and other relics of Jesus’ Apostles and John the Baptist. All of these may be found in the town of Vagharshapat.
Pleasure in Unity
The oldest cathedral is not the only thing worth visiting in Vagharshapat. The Armenian charity and cultural non-government organization Cross of Armenian Unity (CAU) can be found here too. Founded in 1987, the NGO zeroes in on education and culture for the younger generation—arranging several art classes, interactive games, and cultural events to improve the skills of
the children, which in turn will hopefully help them better their future. Tourists can check out the classes that CAU holds, such as painting, pottery, cooking, carpet and rug making, and choir and vocal classes.
A Blue Eyed Beauty
Armenia is packed with picturesque sceneries that you need not go far to see them. This makes driving a very pleasurable activity in the country, as there are so many stops perfect for photo ops. One of those stops is Sevan Lake in Gegharkunik Province. Known as the Caucasus region’s biggest body of water, and located 1900 meters above sea level, this lake is perfect not only for taking photos, but also for just lazing about. It also doesn’t hurt that it has several public yet safe and clean beaches.
But what makes Lake Sevan unique is that this is where the world’s purest form of obsidian can be found. Obsidian is a natural glass made by molten volcanic magma, commonly used for making sharp objects. Varieties of this extrusive igneous rock from other regions (Mexico, Italy, Japan, and US) often include imperfections— which make them inapt for the luxury market. So while it’s hard to find perfect obsidians in other countries, it’s common in Lake Sevan.
Mount Ararat: A National Symbol
While there are so many impressive sights in Armenia, you really haven’t been to the country if you haven’t seen Mount Ararat. Although already a part of Turkey, this mountain is considered the national symbol of Armenia and the most important pilgrimage destination for the locals. Armenians hold Mount Ararat in such high regard not only because it’s a witness to so many of the country’s historical events, but also because it is believed to be where Noah’s Ark landed.
The Arch of Charents is a great place to get a good view of Mount Ararat. From here, the mountain looks like it’s hanging down from the sky, with nothing else to spoil the view—not even a single building. The arch was named in honor of Yeghishe Charents—one of Armenia’s beloved poets—because according to the locals, he used to frequent this place. On the arch are words written by Yeghishe himself: “Pass the whole world with its mountains white, to the beauty of Masis equals none!”
Megerian Carpets: An Armenian Pride
Carpets are one of the things that define Armenian culture and tradition, and these are very common in the country. In fact, there is hardly an Armenian house without a carpet. This is why there are so many carpet shops and museums peppered within Armenia, especially in Yerevan.
One of those is the Megerian Carpet Museum. is carpet shop-slash-museum- slash-restaurant is known to produce fine craft of handmade rug creations and restoration. Those created in this place are made with such excellence that they are regarded to be at par with global standards. Megerian carpets practically set the bar high in rug making all over the world that they even got the attention of famous personalities like Pope Francis and Kim Kardashian— who took the time to visit the museum.
In addition, among the rugs seen in the museum is the one that tells the heartwarming story of two sisters that got separated during the Armenian genocide in 1915. Before the tragedy parted them, the sisters’ mother cut the carpet in half and gave each to the two of them, hoping that one day, they would find each other. They eventually did 50 years later, and realized that they had even been going to the same church for the past 20 years. The carpet was then donated by the sisters’ granddaughters, and is now displayed at the museum.