Armenia is a truly enchanting destination nestled in the heart of the Caucasus region, boasting a wealth of historical and cultural treasures alongside breath-taking natural landscapes. Whether you're a history buff, an adventurous explorer, or a leisurely sightseer, Armenia has something special to offer for every type of traveller. During my visit to Armenia in February, which is one of the coldest months of the year, I was unable to explore all the places I had hoped to due to the weather conditions. However, despite the chilly temperatures, I was still able to see a plethora of sites that left me in awe.
The country is home to a wealth of ancient monasteries, imposing fortresses, and picturesque villages that are just waiting to be explored. At the same time, its modern cities buzz with vibrant energy, rich culinary delights, and a thriving cultural scene. In this blog post, we invite you to discover some of the must-visit places in Armenia, which are sure to leave you enchanted.
Khor Virap Monastery:
The monastery is close to the border between Armenia and Turkey, on a hill near the village of Pokr Vedi. In ancient times, it was the site of the Armenian capital, Artashat. Today, Khor Virap Monastery is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Armenia, renowned for its stunning views of Mount Ararat, which is considered a sacred mountain by Armenians. According to legend, Gregory the Illuminator played a pivotal role in the conversion of Armenians to Christianity in 301 CE. As a result, King Tiridates III imprisoned him due to his Christian faith, but when he was eventually released and Armenians adopted Christianity, the site of Khor Virap gained significant religious importance. The dungeon where Gregory was held captive for 13 years is still visible today and can be reached using a narrow ladder. Khor Virap Monastery is considered a gem of Armenia and should definitely be added to your itinerary.
Azat Reservoir viewpoint:
The Azat Reservoir viewpoint is a hidden gem in the Ararat region of Armenia, situated above the village of Lanjazat at around 1050 meters above sea level. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the reservoir, surrounded by the Yeranos Mountains and views of Mount Ararat. The view is particularly breath-taking during sunrise and sunset, as the colours of the sky reflect on the water. It is a must-visit destination if you're looking for a unique and picturesque location near Yerevan.
The temple was built in honour of the ancient Armenian god Mihr, god of the sun, light, and purity. In 301 CE, Armenia officially adopted Christianity as its state religion, leading to the destruction of many pagan sites. However, the Garni Temple, located in the Kotayk region, is the only surviving pagan temple in Armenia today. The temple is renowned for its unique architecture, featuring columns and arches reminiscent of ancient Greek temples. Despite its pagan origins, the Garni Temple has become an important cultural landmark and a symbol of Armenian identity, attracting visitors from around the world to marvel at its exquisite beauty and historical significance.
Geghard Monastery, situated in the Kotayk province of Armenia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its stunning architecture and intricate stone carvings. The monastery is uniquely carved out of a mountain, making it a true masterpiece of medieval Armenian architecture. The site's history dates back to the 4th century when it was founded by Gregory the Illuminator at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave. However, it wasn't until 1215 CE, during the flourishing of national culture and architecture under medieval Armenian royalty, that the main cathedral was built. The monastery's full name, Geghardavank, which means "the Monastery of the Spear," originates from the spear that allegedly wounded Jesus during his Crucifixion, which was brought to Armenia by Apostle Jude, also known as Thaddeus. Today, Geghard Monastery stands as a testament to Armenia's rich cultural and spiritual heritage, attracting visitors from around the world with its timeless beauty and historical significance.
*As you can see from my photos, during my visit to Geghard monastery there was some construction work taking place which did not detract significantly from the overall experience of visiting the monastery. I still recommend it as a must-see destination for anyone visiting Armenia.
Church of Saint Hripsime:
The Church of Saint Hripsime, located at the entrance of the ancient city of Etchmiadzin, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It stands on the site where Saint Hripsime was martyred in the 3rd century for refusing to marry King Tiridates III. Originally, a small chapel was built on the site of her execution, and in the 7th century, the church was constructed in her memory. The church is renowned for its exceptional architecture and represents a remarkable example of early medieval Armenian architecture. Its unique design, characterized by its central dome and intricate stone carvings, has stood the test of time and remains a source of inspiration for architects and artists alike. Today, the Church of Saint Hripsime is a testament to the enduring legacy of Armenian Christianity, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to marvel at its beauty and historical significance.
Etchmiadzin Church and Museum:
Etchmiadzin Church, located in the city of Vagharshapat, is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and is considered to be the most important religious site in Armenia. It is also known as the "Catholicate of All Armenians" and was established as the seat of the Catholicate for the entire Armenian nation in the 4th century, following the conversion of King Tiridates III to Christianity by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 301 CE. The establishment of the church was marked by a miraculous event when St. Gregory had a vision of the Son of God, surrounded by a mighty angelic host, striking the ground with a golden hammer to indicate the place where the Mother Cathedral of the new Christian nation was to be established. The name Etchmiadzin, which means "the place where the Only Begotten descended," refers to this event. Today, the church is not only an important religious site but also a symbol of Armenia's rich cultural heritage and history.
The church also houses a museum that displays a vast collection of religious artefacts and manuscripts, making it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Armenian history and culture. The sacred relics of the Etchmiadzin church are kept in the museum, including the spear that pierced the side of Christ, a fragment of Noah's Ark, a piece of Saint John the Baptist's arm bone, a fragment of the True Cross, and a fragment of the Crown of Thorns.
Saint Gayane Church:
Saint Gayane Church, located in Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), the religious center of Armenia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Church was built by Catholicos Yezr between 630-641 CE and is believed to be constructed on the site where Abbess Gayane was tortured and martyred on the orders of Armenian King Tiridates III. Before the church was built, there was a chapel on the grave of Saint Gayane. The church is renowned for its unique architecture, combining a three-nave basilica and central domed church, making it one of the most outstanding examples of Armenian architecture.
In conclusion, Armenia is a truly beautiful destination that will captivate your heart and soul with its rich history, vibrant culture, and natural beauty. Armenia has something to offer for everyone. Don't miss out on the opportunity to explore this hidden gem. Pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime!