The moment you slow down, listen to people you meet on the field, hitch-hike by school bus and truck, trust from the first word and open your heart from the first site, you will hear the Armenian heart beating …
It was not Rome, not Greece, not Russia. It was Armenia, who was the first Christian country in the world. Not many know it, which is a huge pity, as in Armenia you are able to admire Christian treasures without huge lines, entrance tickets, and crowds. Here the history is simply there, caught in the nature with the Mount Ararat on the horizon.
After short time in Yerevan, we decide to travel to the Southern Provinces of Armenia. Our final destination is Yeghegnadzor, where we are supposed to spend the night at the place of the family of the friends of our friends (sounds complicated, but believe us, in Armenia everyone at the end becomes your family and you are shedding tears every time you leave someone’s house). Our first stop is the Khor Virap Monastery, where the history of Christianity started. We take a marshrutka from Yerevan there.
It doesn’t stop at the monastery but at the crossroads, so there is this like 30 minutes’ walk left. There are a few Asian tourists visiting this place as well. You can feel their distrust in local people the moment they leave the marshrutka. Although there is always a possibility to take a taxi up to the monastery, we decide to walk. After some time, we pass a couple gathering tomatoes on the field close to the road. They wave to us and shout to come to them. We join them and start talking. (Russian is the language that will allow you to travel through Armenia and the rest of the Caucasus. If you don’t know it, you will be able to communicate but never be able to touch people’s souls). We of course have to try their tomatoes, fresh from the field, growing at the bottom of the Mount Ararat. They are indeed the best tomatoes we’ve ever eaten. The rest of the road we hitch-hike, at the end it’s a taxi that stops and agrees to take us up for free.
Monastery Khor Virap
The history of the monastery started during the times of King Trdat IV, who had Gregory the Illuminator tortured to persuade him to give up Christianity. When Gregory the Illuminator did not agree, the king imprisoned him in a pit full with snakes for 12 years, that’s where the Khor Virap Monastery is.
Gregory the Illuminator was not the only Christian prosecuted by the king and at one point, I guess God had enough of this evil king, Trdad IV got sick. His sickness was more on the psychological level, but strong enough to make him look as a crazy person. No one could cure the disease. And this is when the king’s sister had a vision, that said that the king will be cured if he releases Gregory the Illuminator and buries the martyrs. And so it happened. Trdad IV got his health back, became Christian, proclaimed Christianity the state religion, and made Gregory a bishop. But, even if you don’t know the history of the Monastery, don’t worry, there will definitely be someone from Armenians who will be willing to tell it to you. Being the first Christian country is a pride for Armenians and they like to tell the stories how it all began.
Before we leave the monastery, I talk to the teacher of a school excursion and they without any problem agree to give us a ride to the highway, where we can get to our next destination: Areni – the center of Armenian’s wine industry. Armenians are a very helpful nation, so don’t be afraid, think out of the box, and we guarantee during your trip, you’ll have much more fun. We say goodbye to our happy school bus and start to hitch-hike further. We get from to Areni with a huge truck. When it stops, we have to climb two steps to see the driver. He is just on his way to the Armenian region close to the Iranian border. We stop few times, every time he comes back with something to eat for us. An amazing hospitality is the most characteristic feature of Armenians.
Areni Winery is one of the best wines in the world. The wife of the owner treats us with coffee/tea and then with wine, and helps us to get transport to our next destination: Noravank Monastery. The monastery lies 6 km from the main road, where hardly any cars drive unless to visit it. Therefore, we don’t want to risk hiking 12 km and ask locals for help in organizing the transportation. We agree on the price before the ride and the driver agrees to take us to Noravank and then further to Yeghegnadzor. Getting a car with a driver is not really expensive in Armenia, especially, if it is not a “real” taxi driver. What is important: negotiate the price before the drive!!!
Noravank is in the top 10 monasteries we’ve visited so far.
Not only it looks beautiful, especially the two-storey church with very characteristic steps and many khachkars (Armenian carved cross-stones), but as well, because it has a beautiful location.
Don’t forget to visit Momik’s museum, he was one of Armenia’s greatest stone carvers and also a great illustrator of manuscripts.
Why it is worth visiting sacral buildings in Armenia? Well they are different from any churches you’ve seen so far and they are definitely older, a 10th -13th century church is in Armenia is a very common sight.
Feel free to share: