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Attractions in Armenia

“Gladzor University” Historical & Cultural Museum “Gladzor University” Historical & Cultural Museum

Located in Vernashen, the “Gladzor University” Historical and Cultural Museum includes St. Hakob Church of Vernashen and the Monastic Complex of Tanahat. Its collections are devoted to the history of the university, its activities, and its roles and significance in the spiritual, scholarly and public life of medieval Armenia. This famous Armenian educational establishment of the 13th-14th centuries was a center of religious, political, and philosophical thought as well as a center for the development of creative thought. Over 250 artefacts discovered in the area surrounding the university are displayed in the museum, and are also used by academics and scientists to gain further insight into the life and cultural values of its time.

“Matenadaran” Scientific Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts named after Mesrop Mashtots “Matenadaran” Scientific Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts named after Mesrop Mashtots

A historic endeavor of Medieval Armenian bibliographers, clergymen, historians and authors, was to gather old manuscripts, journals and works in order to preserve and add to the growing collection. Combining the past spiritual heritage and reviewing their great efforts would later become spiritual heroic lessons for future generations. Mesrop Mashtots, the author of the Armenian language and creator of the first Matenadaran, and many future specialists gathered these texts and stored them as best they could, connecting the centuries of Armenian literature. As eternal treasures they confronted all disasters and led the Armenian people towards the light.

The Mashtots Matenadaran was was similarly created in 1959 to house and preserve millennia of Armenian manuscripts and books, as well as works in many other languages. It stands as a symbol not only of preservation in the 20th century, but also of the centuries of collecting that happened before – thereby connecting the spiritual unity of the past with the present day.

Amberd Fortress Amberd Fortress

A relatively intact fortress that housed Armenia’s rulers since the Neolithic times, Amberd is strategically positioned high above the Amberd and Arkhashen River gorges, right on the edge of the steep ravines. Together with its tall walls, it was impenetrable for thousands of years.

Although artifacts from Neolithic times have been discovered there, much of the currently standing fortress was built during the Urartian era, with the large fortress emerging later in order to protect the newly converted Christian forces. The smoldering volcanic cone of Aragats would have provided a warm, moist environment allowing for agricultural development, but as the civilization of the area grew and cut down much of the forest, and Aragats fell dormant, the climate rapidly changed the landscape to a high-alpine, snow-covered wasteland. Amberd provided protection from the seasons, as well as a much-valued retreat to the following Armenian kings.

Even with the high walls and natural protection, the fortress still came under attack by invading forces who would try to starve the occupants out. To combat this, a secret covered walkway was built in a cleft in the rocks that descended a precariously steep route into the gorge to the river. Notwithstanding, the castle was destroyed during a Mongol raid and left untouched until its rediscovery in 1936. The insides were found to be amazing! A magnificent entry hall and staircase led to five beautifully detailed rooms, decorated with elegant carvings, oil-lamps and incense holders, silks, bronze, gold and silver ornaments – all spread out over its three stories. This was no primitive campground!

A medieval church was built in the 11th century, with a simple exterior and minimal décor reflecting the harsh and severe landscape. The area around Amberd is also rich with history, with petroglyphs and Vishaps (Dragon Stones), peppered throughout the rugged landscape of Mt. Aragats. While you are here, hike up to Kari Lich (Stone Lake) or the southern peak of the mountain, or descend into Byurakan and admire the Soviet observatories and medieval church.

Ani Overlook Ani Overlook

The majestic ruins of medieval Ani lie just over the current border with Turkey, but the Armenian side of the border affords an amazing view - with the entire town laid out in front of you.  Once a rival of cities like Constantinople, it was known as “The City of 1,001 Churches” and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  From the ruins you can see how the churches once dominated the landscape.  Due to the sensitive location in a Russian military base, visits are only possible with either an organized tour, or with a request for permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Archer Caves Archer Caves

Archeri Karandzav, or Bears’ Cave, named after the bones of the animals found in the cave, is over three kilometers deep! Descending into its labyrinthine passages with no natural illumination present is a claustrophobic nightmare even with a guide. For those of you brave enough, its sheer expanse and beauty of its cave features are definitely reason enough to explore. Formed by underground streams steadily eroding the rock hundreds of thousands of years ago, it is now a series of enormous caverns linked by narrow passageways that need to be crawled through, with barely enough room for a helmet to squeeze through! The water still dripping from the ceiling has most likely spent hundreds of years filtering through the layers of dense rock above, and the pools it forms are the most still and crystalline clear water you may ever see.

Erebuni Fortress Erebuni Fortress

Considered the foundation of today’s Yerevan, the Erebuni Fortress was an Urartian stronghold, founded in the last quarter of the 8th century. B.C. by King Argishti I.  The exact date of the fortress is known thanks to a large cuneiform inscription, which places it at 782 B.C.

Located within the Yerevan city limits, the striking archaeological remains are an excellent reminder that the bustling capital of Armenia has been continuously inhabited for almost three thousand years.  The fortress itself was built on top of the 65m high hill known as Arin-Berd.  The natural triangular shape of the hilltop determined the shape of the fortress as well, which overlooked the cramped town known as Yerebuni, built at the base of the hill, and had a commanding view of the Ararat plain as well.

The blank 12-metre high walls, which were built flush with the steep slopes of the hill and fortified with regularly spaced rectangular buttresses, gave the citadel a formidable and forbidding appearance. The entrance to the citadel was on the southeastern, more gently sloping side. At the entrance, the walls were erected in two and three rows, which split the monolithic exterior in this part of the citadel and livened up its severe appearance to a certain extent.  

A visit to the site today reveals the excavated remains of the fortress, along with some reconstructions of sections of it to give you a good idea of what parts of it looked like, and how it was decorated, and models of the fortress show where the palaces, temples and residences were located.

The excavations revealed a veritable treasure trove of archaeological discoveries. At the base of the hill is a museum containing countless relics which were uncovered, giving a great glimpse into the distant past.  Some of the well-preserved items are showcased at the State Museum of Armenian History in Yerevan.