Beautiful this is what this country is! From inside, to outside the beauty and serenity of this country shines in each of its towns. I wont hide from you the fact that Armenia, has left a special mark in me. This somehow neighbor country of mine has lived through it all and managed to stand back at its feet.
What am I talking about?
For centuries, Armenia was under occupation of the Ottoman and Persian empires. And while Eastern Armenia was annexed by Russia in the 19th century, Western Armenia knew the worst genocide on the planet. And yes by 1991 the Country finally announced its independence and has become the Republic of Armenia.
If I want to describe to you in a few words this Transcaucasia country that is bordered by Turkey, I would say: Outstanding nature and impressive culture & History!
One of the most enjoyable trips I Have had. The great part of it was that I decided to go there 10days before actually landing on Armenian soil. And as unpredictable as it was, it turned out to be one of my greatest experiences. The best part of it was that I had the privilege of discovering Armenia with a couple of Armenian friends!
The reason why I am writing this article is not only to show the Beauty of this Country to the Whole world. It is mainly to honor my friends Country and let the World really know about their amazing land and culture. Armenians are just like Us Lebanese. Everywhere in the world and this is because they had to flee from their land. So let’s show this Wonderful land our LOVE and respect! This is what I have for you my Armenians friends all the LOVE and RESPECT. You are the perfect image of devotion for the Homeland. And yes you are the Lesson that the whole World should Learn from!
I had many amazing road trips from Yerevan, that allowed me to discover this Country in the best way possible. So in this article, I am going to share with you some of those experiences outside of Yerevan. Those road trips were related mostly the the history and the culture of Armenia.
Before hitting the road, make sure to read about Armenia: Generalities, tips & extras to acquire the general knowledge you need😊 And now that you are all set,
Here it is! let’s discover Armenia’s top cultural and historical destinations😍
Etchmiadzin is the old official name held between 1945 & 1995 by the City of Vagharshapat . This city is one of the largest cities in Armenia and is visited frequently by tourists. Situated at 20KM from Yerevan, The city is famous for its Cathedral: The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin
Tip! Make sure to walk inside the area through it’s main entrance and admire the beauty of the Open Air Altar. This is the street’s name for you: Araratyan Street, Vagharshapat
The ride from Yerevan towards Etchmiadzin is not long at all. It actually took us around 30min to reach destination. What was pleasant is that there was no traffic to get out of Yerevan. And if you’d like to go there on your own you can take a taxi.
Recommendation! Check out the Hyur Tour. Their offices are in Republic square in center Yerevan. You can buy your tickets once you get to Yerevan or previously online. The tour prices are super affordable! And they offer many tour packages that include many important town and landmarks.
The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin
Etchmiadzin which in Armenian language means “the Descent of the Only-Begotten” is believed to be the oldest Cathedral in the World. The original church was built by Saint Gregory the Illuminator back in the years 300 following his adoption of Christianity. It is believed that it was built over a pagan temple, as a symbol of conversion.
The Cathedral is old! It is actually something different than the European Cathedrals. And this what makes the Armenian Church special.
Don’t hesitate to check it out and go inside discover some of the ancient treasures of the Armenian heritage and church. You will be surprised by many historically and monetarily precious items well conserved there.
Walking through the area & its gardens
Have a small walk in the nearby gardens and checkout the other surrounding small churches and monuments. Check out the impressive statue in front of The Saint Gayane Church.
Have a walk through the narrow alley of symmetrical trees. You will have a peaceful moment and discover more monuments.
2- St Hripsime & St Gayane Churches
Both Churches are at walking distance from Etchmiadzin. Hripsime Church being the furthest at 15min walk. What impressed me! The feeling that you get back decades in time just by looking at those structures! The fact that they were kept as their original design is simply impressive. You feel the real spirituality within those walls.
Saint Hripsime Church is a seventh century Armenian church and one of the oldest in the country. The current structure was completed back in 618 AD and known for its fine Armenian-style architecture.
Few years later the Saint Gayane church was built and remained unchanged this then. The design was inspired from the Saint Hripsime Church.
Tip! All Armenian Churches have a similar architecture which can be resumed by the following. Pointed domes, Stone vaulted ceilings and mostly Conical or semi-conical dome.
My Recommendation! Take your time in Saint Gayane, walk around its gardens and check out its outdoors treasures.
At only 10KM from the Capital, there is this town called Zvartnots. There is not much to see in the town itself. The reason to visit Zvartnots is to check the leftovers of it’s historical Cathedral! Translated to English, Zvartnots Cathedral means: ‘”celestial angels cathedral” and while its name is divine, its cause of destruction remains a mystery!
Sad fact! The Cathedral only stood for 320 years before it got fully destructed by the 10th Century. While the two theories pf destruction are either an earthquake or Arab raids, the first one remains the most probable.
Is it worth the visit?
Although, it’s just leftovers and ruins, yes if you are a history and culture lover its worth the visit. The Cathedral design was inspired by Greek architecture, and this is shown by the ruins on site. I suggest is to pass by Zvartnots after visiting Etchmiadzin.
What you will find?🧐
You will find an archeological Armenian site with a small rebuilt section of the ruins of the Cathedral. There is also many standing unique with the partially reconstructed “Armenian Ionic” capital on top of them.
There is many types of ruins and left overs there. One of them that marked me was the one with the Eagle sculpture. The Eagle itself being a symbol of the city.
Tip! If you are interested, there is also a small historical museum right next to the Cathedral’s ruins.
How to get there?
Zvartnots Cathedral is on your way from Yerevan to Etchmiadzin. The landmark is like 15 min away from Yerevan by car. So if you are not into guided tours, you can always order a Taxi. Address: Zvartnots Cathedral, Vagharshapat, Armenia
4- Khor Virap
This is one of the most iconic places in Armenia. I have heard about it a lot and it was on top of my list. Standing proudly on a hill that overlooks Armenia’s countryside, this monastery is 40km south of Yerevan and next to the Turkish borders. Khor Virap is a true remarkable place, you can’t fly to Armenia and miss it, its visit is really worth it.
How to get there?
The monastery is at around 50min away from the Capital. Although as you know it by now, I took another day drip from Yerevan there, you can always take a taxi or drive your way there. A two ways taxi will cost you about 30 USD.
Tip! There is a local mini bus that can take you from Yerevan to the closest stop which is: Ararat.
What makes this place this special?
The place itself is a historical landmark, but what makes it this special is the ride there! During your trip to Khor Virap you will get the chance to admire the amazing peaceful Armenian country side. And above all you will get the chance to have a glimpse of the Majestic close by Mount Ararat.
News flash! I don’t want to disappoint you, but don’t get your hopes so high. There is a possibility that you might not see clearly Mount Ararat but simply the silhouette of it. This iconic landmark is often shaded by clouds.
Now let me tell you the story behind Khor Virap!🤓
You can’t visit Khor Virap without learning about it and why it represents much importance to the Armenian people. So here is the short story of it: Khor Virap was a Prison back in 180BC and not the kind of prison people come back alive from!
This is where King Tiridates (Trdat) III threw Grigor Lusarovich to die for practicing Christianity. He threw him in its deep dungeon pit and legend say that there was a women who kept him alive. She was feeding him daily by dropping bread in the pit. That was until 13 years later, when the King got sick and was convinced by his sister to order Grigor’s release for he can heal him.
Afterwards, the king converted Armenia in 301 to become the first official Christian Country. And well his healer, Grigor became no one else than Gregory the Illuminator.
So this being said, and now that you know the symbol of this sacred place what are you waiting for? Include this Iconic landmark in your trip and go visit it! Oh yes what to do there? Well start by admiring the views on the way, visiting the monastery and the ancient ruins, Take those magnificent pictures of Mount Ararat and Oh yes visit the pit!
Tip! For the best views of the Mount Ararat go to the south side of the monastery complex. Or if you are up to it, you can always hike up the hill right behind it and admire it from there.
Can we actually visit this historical pit?!
So here is the most interesting and unique part of the experience! Yes you can go down this narrow hole in the chapel on the side and reach the pit. This is where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years.
At first I was scared! I won’t lie to you I didn’t even want to do it. The hole is so small, its steep and all you can see is the steel ladder. But then I faced my fears and decided to go down. I was happy & proud!🤩 It’s easy to go down if you are not afraid but the way up demands a bit of physical efforts. BUT HEY! If you are claustrophobic or a bit afraid of dark confined spaces, Don’t do it!
- If you want to go down the pit, make your Journey early to Khor Virap before it gets crowded.
- To make your day trip worth it, Combine your visit to Khor Virap with a visit to Noravank Monastery.
5- Areni Cave & Winery
Are you both and adventure and wine lover? If that so, make sure to include Areni region in your itinerary. This is another kind of experience in Armenia where you get the chance to discover a town known for its Wine production. This village situated in Vayots Dzor Province in Armenia is known for its dry almost deserted nature.
How did I get there?
So the second stop of my guided tour after Khor Virap was this town. We drove around 1h20 min to reach destination. The drive was pleasant and the scenery well it was different! I felt like traveling the the Gulf desert but with a bit of greenery on the side.
The Areni Cave
So the first thing we visited there was the Areni cave also known as the ” Bird’s cave”. The moment I got there, I was impressed by its rock formation. But what dazzled me was how much history was hidden between those rocks.
What am I talking about?
Well before 2007 the cave was considered as a simple cave. But excavations since then, showed that this cave was once used for religious purposes. Many tools, skeletons, belongings and ritual items were found.
The oldest Winery in the world!🍷
But most importantly the compound that gives red wine its signature color along with grape stems & seeds were found there which led scientists to conclude that this cave was one day a winery. And to believe that it was the Oldest one in the world.
To be honest with you it was the first time for me in a cave. (If I don’t count the Antelopes of the Grand canyon) So yes I was excited and found that experience pretty cool. The Cave is not so deep and not large so everyone can go inside. Also it wasn’t dark so there is no fear about that. What impressed me most is the fact that I was actually wandering in such a historical place that hides a lot of stories and secrets within its rocks.
News flash! Here is one of those secrets for you. The World oldest brain (4000 BC) was actually found in that cave.
Hin Areni Winery
After visiting the Cave, we went to the close by winery to have lunch and of course followed by a wine tasting. Address: H40, Areni 3604, Armenia
Small Note! Hin Areni is not the only Winery in Areni. But this is the one that was included in my tour.
The lunch was actually included in my Guided tour, I had the option to chose between two menus. One being a Vegetarian menu and the other one included meet. So yes they offer everything you don’t need to worry about that and it’s a traditional Armenian food!😊 So go ahead and enjoy it!
The Winery Tour!
It’s a small Winery and the tour was not long. We visited the caves and learnt about how the process works. We ended the visit by having some wine tasting! It was the first time I have Armenian wine and I pretty much liked the red one!
My last destination in this day trip was Noravank Monastery. This 13th-century Armenian monastery, is located at 122 km from Yerevan. I went far from the Capital but the road trip was totally worth it. The monastery itself is an iconic landmark, and the sceneries along the way wont fail to impress you.
As you probably know it by now, you will find many churches and monasteries in Armenia. But this one is special because of its surrounding nature. I witnessed another kind of nature there, a special one because of its sheer, brick-red cliffs, that surrounds the monastery.
The drive to Noravank
If you decide to rent a car and drive from Yerevan to Noravank the drive will take you about 2hrs. Noravank Monastery is situated within a deep gorge that was formed by the Amaghu River. And this is what makes the drive impressive! You will drive through this Canyon for about 15min from the main road, to reach the monastery.
Tip! Although I advice you to take a tour there, the drive itself is something. So if you like those kind of road trips go ahead and enjoy it. The views are breathtaking!
So what is Noravank?
Noravank Monastery was founded back in 1205 by Bishop Hovhannes. The master sculptor behind it is burried there. Noravank, that means “New Monastery” in Armenian is composed of three churches, St. Karapet Church, Surb Astvatsatsin Church and St. Stepanos Church.
The first church at the monastery was built in 1223 and named Surb Karapet Church. Its temple is unique and known for its decorative ornamentation. The second and most modest one was constructed in 1275 and named Surb Grigor Church. It houses today the tomb of prince Orbelyan.
Finally, the most magnificent building of the monastery is the two-storey St. Astvatsatsin Church. This one constructed in 1339 by the Prince Burtel Orbelyan is the one standing proudly and attracting tourists from all over the world.
The monastery has survived many attacks from Mongols and the Timurid dynasty, as well as a major earthquake in 1340.
I took my time there to enjoy both the sceneries and the historical landmarks. We spend around 45min in Noravank. I enjoyed all the artistic work in the sculptures and the history engraved in all the walls of that Monastery. In my opinion, the most striking of those three churches was the Surb Astavatsatin Church.
The only way to the Second floor of that church is to climb those stairs without a handrail. So I had to do that, but trust me the way down wasn’t the funniest thing to do!
But why are those stairs that narrow and the front door this small? Because back in time they were afraid of the attacks towards the church with the horses. So they used to build narrow stairs and a small door, to prohibit the horses from getting inside the Church.
Tip! If you’d like to spend more time in the area there is a small museum & a Restaurant there.