The World’s Very First Christian Nation Boasting An Impressive Array Of Medieval UNESCO World Heritage-Listed Church & Monastery Complexes
Armenian Genocide Memorial & Museum, Yerevan, Armenia. March 24, 2015
Armenia (March 24-27 2015)
One of the world’s oldest civilizations and the world’s very first Christian nation, Armenia is a landlocked republic in southwestern Asia. Formerly an Asian soviet, the country impresses with a pretty capital & an array of medieval UNESCO World Heritage-listed church & monastery complexes.
Posts From The Armenian Road (Presented In Chronological Order)
YEREVAN - THE CAPITAL
I arrived in Yerevan, Armenia, early yesterday off the overnight train from Tbilisi in Georgia. I leave the city later today. It was only ever going to be a quick visit to the capital of one of the world’s oldest cultures and the capital of the country that was the world’s first Christian nation – Armenia nailed it’s colours to the Christian mast in the early 4th century (the official date is 301 AD) becoming the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. So needless to say there’s plenty of religious history here. Maybe not in the laid-back, cafe culture capital (ironically Yerevan’s largest church is one of the city’s newest structures) but certainly where I’m headed, the village of Alaverdi in the north of the country. There are plenty of ancient remnants of the Christian past in the hills around here, mostly churches & monasteries some of which are UNESCO-listed. I’ll explore those tomorrow but for now here’s a few pictures from yesterday & today, pictures from the limited time I gave myself taking a look around Yerevan.
Modern Armenia is but a fragment of ancient Armenia which was one of the world’s oldest civilizations; throughout 2500 years the Armenian people have been invaded and oppressed by their neighbours, notably the Ottoman Turks in the early part of the 20th century, a bleak period in the county’s history commemorated at Yerevan’s somber Tsitsernakaberd (The Armenian Genocide Memorial & Museum).
DEBED CANYON MONASTERY COMPLEXES
Not that one would want to of course, but it’s hard to avoid churches here in Armenia. The country adopted Christianity way back in 301 AD making it the world’s very first Christian nation. So needless to say churches (& monasteries) are dime a dozen & collectively they rank as probably Armenia’s premier tourist attraction.
Lori’s Debed Canyon || Angkor For Churches
My time in Armenia was always going to be brief but still I couldn’t leave the country without visiting some of its medieval church & monastery complexes. Lori, one of the marz, administrative regions the north of the country, offers these in abundance, not to mention some nice scenery. So I stopped off for a few nights en route from the capital Yerevan back to Tbilisi, Georgia. I based myself on the outskirts of the town of Alaverdi, the largest of many such villages hugging the bends of the region’s Debed Canyon. With its ugly copper mine & rows of apartment high rises, both remnants of the dark Soviet days, Alaverdi itself is a bit an eyesore. But it’s the hills – oh the hills – surrounding the town that are the attraction, dotted as they are with ancient, atmospheric churches & monastery complexes. It’s like Angkor for churches & I used a combination of taxis & my feet today to visit three well-known monastery complexes, two of which, Haghpat & Sanahin, are UNESCO-listed sites.
UNESCO commenting on the Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin
This place, Haghpat, has architectural splendor in abundance. Oh, and it has quite the location too. Perched on the lip of the Debed Canyon means the views of the surrounding landscape and of the far-off snow-capped peaks are pretty sweet & worth the hike to get here alone (I walked 5 kilometres to get here & another 12 kilometres to get from here to Sanahin).
Founded around 976, Haghpat’s golden period of construction was the 12th century when it was a a bustling centre of learning. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000, Haghpat’s location coupled with its ensemble of churches, a bell tower, a refectory, a book depository, and over 80 khachkars (a cross-stone characteristic of Medieval Christian Armenian art, a carved, memorial stele bearing a cross and often with additional motifs) meant this was my favourite location of the day & I spent quite a bit of time here poking around.
A 2 hour, 12 kilometre hike from Haghpat brought me to moss-covered, crumbling, dusty, dark, eery, grave-infested Sanahin, the sort of place to play out those Halloween fantasies.
Sanahin means ‘older than that one’, a reference to its younger cousin Haghpat. The 10th – 13th century monastery is perched above the lip of the Debed Canyon high over Alaverdi. This was another monastery complex that was once an important learning centre – a library was created here in 1062 & it even a medical school flourished in the 12th century. Of all the Debed Canyon monastery complexes, Sanahin was the first to attain UNESCO listing when it when it attained World Heritage status in 1996, 4 years before Haghpat.
The other monastery complex I visited, & the first I visited on this day, was 13th century Akhtala. While Akhtala may not boast UNESCO protection, it has something both Haghpat & Sanahin do not – stunning frescoes, its big drawing card.