About halfway from Yerevan to the 13th century monastery of Tatev, there are large gates on an alpine mountain pass that signal the beginning of Persian territory – or at least, the end of Russian natural gas delivery, and the beginning of Iran’s in the southern province of Syunik. Another 50km and we would’ve been in Iran.
To get there we drove past the border with the Azeri controlled Nakhijevan region, where sniper fire at night led to building these 15 ft sand walls along the road. Stalin, in his wisdom, gave Nakhijevan to the Azeris in the 30s. The ceasefire has apparently been broken 300 times in the last week, but no longer on this highway, thank God. Further down the road we also saw tank outposts.
We didn’t take many pictures on the road – so you’re missing the many many villagers trying to sell homemade vodka (we bought the apricot kind – really amazing stuff!!), and also all the people picking mushrooms in the mountain plains after a couple days of rain. Buckets and buckets of mushrooms for sale on top of the hoods of Ladas and Volgas.
David and Kajia, some university friends from Canada, joined us on our journey.
Karahunj is a megalith site that some scholars claim is 7,500 yrs old. The Petroglyphs however date back to 12,000 BC. One of them shows the first depiction of human dancing.
Here’s a professional photo from the other side:
Tatev is a 9th century monastery – the spiritual centre of Armenia during the middle ages. It produced scholars, philosophers, painters, etc. who kept Armenia from joining the Roman Catholic church. During one of the Persian invasions, the route up the mountain to the monastery was cut off. Luckily the monks had dug a tunnel all the way to the bottom of the mountain – needless to say, the Persians were in awe at how long the monks held out.
Everyone told us that Tatev was a mystical place with strong “energy”. Our favourite place, however, was Noravank, built in the red canyons further north.
Maybe this was because we could finally hike a bit, and climb up to a cave in the cliffs.
I loved the architecture of Noravank. I felt like the scale was perfect, and there was a heightened sense of other-worldliness. All of the details and carvings seemed to fit the place and the site so well. This is definitely my favourite church in Armenia.