Tag Archives: Armenia

Monasteries – Armenia

Besides Yerevan, the only other things we had time to see in our extremely short sojourn in Armenia were two monasteries.

Haghbat Monastery (975AD)

This is a medieval monastery complex with several structures, the largest of which is the cathedral of Surb Nishan.  With its dome supported by 4 large pillars, it is a typical example of 10th century Armenian religious architecture, in fact, the entire site has been recognized by UNESCO for its architecture.

Haghbat Monastery - Armenia

There are tombs in the entranceway

tombs - Highpat Monastery - Armenia

And a fresco of Christ Pantocrator inside

Christ Pantocrator - Highpat Monastery - Armenia

Huge numbers of crosses of all different styles are carved into the stones in the outer walls around the monastery site

crosses - Highpat Monastery - Armenia

And there are several examples of Chachkars (Armenian cross-stones) from the 11-13th centuries scattered around, including one of the famous Saviour Chachkars.

Saviour Chachkar - Highpat monastery - Armenia

The free-standing bell-tower dates from 1245

belltower - Highpat Monastery - Armenia

But for me, the most beautiful part was the Church of St Gregory (1005).  I love how the light and shadow are playing here.

Church of St Gregory - Highpat monastery - Armenia

Khor Virap

Standing in the shadows of Mt Ararat, Khor Virap is one of the key pilgrimage sites in Armenia, as it was here that the Christian, Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator), was imprisoned in a pit for 13 years by King Tiridates III. 

Khor Virap - Armenia

Grigor was forgotten, presumed dead, and the King went on to persecute Christians (the King himself was a pagan) before going mad due to being spurned by the girl he wanted to marry.

However, thanks to the efforts of a local Christian widow who regularly lowered food and water down the pit, Grigor did not die, and it turned out that, according to repeated visions that the King’s sister had, the only way to bring the King out of his madness was for Grigor to be set free.  

Grigor was subsequently released, and King Tiridates III was cured and embraced Christianity thanks to Grigor’s intervention.  From this event, Armenia became the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion in 301AD.

One of the key sites at Khor Virap is, of course, the pit where Grigor was imprisoned.  6m deep and 4.4m in diameter, you have to climb down a ladder to access it.  There’s not much down there … it must have been a pretty miserable 13 years!

Grigor's pit - Khor Virap - Armenia

The other main attraction is the St Astvatsatsin Temple – a working church (women must wear a headscarf) where I managed to catch a small part of a service taking place.

Mass at Khor Virap - Armenia

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at Khor Virap on the day we visited, Mt Ararat was well and truly covered in clouds – it must be an amazing sight with blue skies!

Khor Virap and Mt Ararat - Armenia

Yerevan – Armenia

After having spent a few days in Tbilisi, Georgia arranging our Iranian visas (more about Georgia coming), our circuit through Armenia was also, unfortunately, very short.  However, we did manage to get just over a day in Yerevan – the capital of the country. 

I have to say – I really liked Yerevan – where areas of interest to tourists (Republic Square is really quite amazing!) are just part of the normal functioning of the city.     This is quite the contrast to the old cities of Tbilisi (Georgia) in particular, and Baku (Azerbaijan), where the regular city is removed from the part that is popular with tourists.

About an hour after I arrived, I did the Free Walking tour of Yerevan which provided a great introduction to the city.  I try to do this with most cities when I arrive, as these tours generally provide a great orientation, lots of interesting information, and the opportunity to ask questions of the guide about traditional foods to try, what traditional jewelry is like, etc.

Some of the key things we were introduced to on the tour:

Traditional Armenian construction.  Lots of balconies hidden behind stern Soviet facades in inner courtyards.

Traditional Armenian construction - Yerevan

Armenian Chachkar – Armenian cross-stones that, not surprisingly, feature a cross standing on a disk, and often elaborate engravings of leaves, grapes and pomegranates.  When Azerbaijan took possession of large chunks of Armenia during the Russian years, they systematically destroyed many of the Chachkars, which is partially why the Armenians hate the Azerbaijanis so much, though genocide also has a tendency to cause friction.  For this reason too, the remaining Chachkars were added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010.

Armenian Chachkar - Armenia

The Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church – this is the oldest surviving church in Yerevan, and the burial place of Ananias the apostle (you can visit his tomb).  It is a little tricky to find, as it is surrounded by high Soviet apartment blocks – a very deliberate move by the Soviets in their efforts to suppress all religion in the USSR.

Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church - Yerevan - Armenia

The metro.  As I learned in Almaty, if a city in the old USSR had a population of more than a million people, the Soviets would build a metro system for them.   As in Almaty, Yerevan’s population was less than this, and so the Armenians bused in loads of people from the surrounding areas to raise the population to the required number.   The Yerevan metro has 1 more station than Almaty, but is nowhere near as beautiful.  It also operates with tokens and seems to be more used than Almaty’s metro.

Yerevan metro - Armenia

Other highlights of my time in Yerevan:

The Yerevan Train Station is really gorgeous, though empty when I went there.

Yerevan train station - Armenia

Lots of cool statues.  Particularly loved this one of Alexander Tamanian, the Russian-born, Armenian architect behind the plan for the modern city of Yerevan (among much else).

Alexander Tamanian statue - Yerevan - Armenia

And this lion.  Made from tyres – he looks like a fire lion to me 😊

Lion statue - Yerevan - Armenia

The Yerevan Cascade (still not quite finished 46 years after it was started) is really amazing with some very beautiful features

Yerevan Cascade detail - Yerevan - Armenia

And the perfect place to hang out and watch the sunset over Yerevan and Mt Ararat.

View of Mt Ararat from top of Yerevan Cascade - Yerevan - Armenia

I also managed to catch part of the dancing fountains show that happens in front of the History Museum in Republic Square every night – it’s kind of kitch, but also kind of nice just sitting there 😊


Would have loved to have spent at least a week in Yerevan exploring actually, and was really disappointed that I didn’t get to see a show at the puppet theatre (especially having missed it as well in Tbilisi)!   I went to buy tickets, but it turned out (if I interpreted correctly the miming of the lady at the ticket office who only spoke Russian and Armenian) that what was on that night was actually an audience participation event. One thing I was certain of – there were no puppets involved.   When I Google translated that question into Russian on my phone and showed the lady, the answer was a definitive “nyet” ☹