Karahunj (Zorats Karer): The Mystical Hidden Gem
History of Zorats Karer (Karahunj)
Approximately 7,500 years ago, ancient Armenians laid out more than 220 basalt slabs on a high plateau. These massive stones remain to this day, but we still don’t know the exact purpose they served. Travel back in time with a visit to the mysterious Zorats Karer Settlement Historical and Cultural Reserve and come up with a theory for yourself!
Exploring the Mysteries of Zorats Karer (Karahunj)
Zorats Karer translates to “Majestic Stones.” Also known as Karahunj, the ancient site is located in the highlands of Armenia’s Syunik region near the town of Sisian. The area spans seven hectares of land against a backdrop of the majestic Zangezur mountains. Since it resembles the famous site in England, Karahunj is often called the "Armenian Stonehenge.” But actually, since Karahunj precedes Stonehenge by thousands of years, it’s more correct to say that Stonehenge resembles Karahunj! And you’ll probably notice that the names even sound similar. The site boasts complex arrangements of large standing basalt slabs, some of which are positioned in circular patterns and others in rows. In the centre of the structure, the stones form two concentric rings. Archeologists still speculate over their exact purpose and function. One prevailing theory is that the area served as an astronomical observatory or an ancient astronomical calendar. The alignment of some of the stones with celestial bodies has led researchers to believe that Karahunj marked astronomical events like solstices, equinoxes, and lunar cycles.
More than 80 of the stones are adorned with small holes drilled from various angles. These enigmatic perforations may have been used to observe celestial phenomena. They are probably also the reason behind the name Karahunj, which comes from the roots “kar” or “rock” and “hunj” or “sound.” When the wind blows through the holes in the rocks, it makes a whistling noise. Although the specific purpose of these holes remains a mystery, archaeological evidence suggests that they connected ancient civilizations with the universe, prompting early contemplation of their place within it.
In the 1980s, after her astronomical studies, researcher Elma Parsamian concluded that the site was most likely used to study the stars. Researcher Paris Herouni hypothesised that Karahunj functioned as a complex with an observatory, temple and university. In 2001, the professor N.G. Bochkarev, the president of the Euro-Asian Astronomical Society, discovered Karahunj’s unique periscope stone, further reinforcing the theory that it operated as one of the world's oldest observatories. Still, the site is full of secrets. Some people believe that the area also functioned as a burial ground, with some of the stones marking graves. A few stones even depict oddly shaped beings eerily reminiscent of aliens.
We may never know the true purpose of the site, but the mystery surrounding it only increases its appeal. While you cannot enter Karahunj after hours, enjoy the surrounding area under the cover of night. Bring a telescope if you have one and observe the sky for yourself. Because there is very little light pollution in the area, Karahunj remains to this day an excellent place for stargazing!
Tips for Visiting Zorats Karer (Karahunj)
The weather in Karahunj is most inviting between May and November, but as summer in the Syunik region can be incredibly hot, we recommend visiting in autumn. Karahunj is open from Monday to Saturday between the hours of 10:00 and 18:00. Visitors are admitted until 17:30. Adult visitors must pay 1500 AMD to enter. Students, refugees and Armenian citizens who are pensioners enter for half price. Children under 12 are admitted free. There are no bathrooms on site.
Some background information about Karahunj is posted on signs in the area. Guided tours are also available in Armenian (3000 AMD), English (5000 AMD) and Russian (5000 AMD). There is a museum education program available for 1500 AMD. You can also organise a private or group trip with a tour agency or hiking group from Sisian, Goris or Yerevan.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I touch the stones at Karahunj?
You sure can!
Can I take photos at Karahunj?
Absolutely. We encourage it!
What else should I see while I’m here?
While in the area, make sure to visit the nearby Shaki Waterfall, one of the Syunik region’s natural wonders. It is located seven kilometres from Karahunj. The beautiful town of Goris and its cave dwellings are about a 35-minute drive away. From there, you can easily reach the Tatev ropeway and monastery complex, the swinging bridge and cave town of Khndzoresk and the magical mineral deposits and hot springs at Devil’s Bridge.