Easy Day Trips from Yerevan [Armenia]

Yerevan is a very good base for visiting Armenia so I took full advantage of its location.

So, the first chance I had was to go straight to Sevan Lake. It is the biggest lake in the Caucasus, situated at an altitude of 1899 meters above the sea level and it is considered one of the highest located lakes in the world. I was surprised to find out that Lake Sevan takes 3% of Armenia and while it has 28 rivers flowing into the lake, only one flows out. From 1933, Sevan Lake was exploited carelessly and no measure was taken to replenish the water consumed to ensure drinking water in the region, on top of irrigation and electricity. The Soviets understood this problem and they tried to help, but their efforts were not enough. Today, the lake’s water levels are going up – slowly, but steady, and there is an increased attention to avoid another environmental disaster (similar to what happened to Lake Aral).

With this set aside – I got to the lake on a lazy morning and the clouds above it where just magnificent.

One place not to miss on the nortwest part of the Sevan Lake is the Sevanavank Monastery, a beautiful example of medieval Armenian architecture. Located on a beautiful peninsula, during the 9th century this place used to be an island in the lake. Monks first arrived here at the end of the 8th century, and starting with the 9th century they built the small chapel we see today.

Although it can get a bit crowded, the place is simply beautiful.

From here, a couple of kilometers away I found the Hayravank Monastery. The views over Sevan Lake are stunning.

Built between 9th and 12th century, this is a place of legend: in the 1380s a monk by the name of Hovhan was living at Hayravank when the enemy troops of Amir Timur invaded the land. When Amir Timur reached the monastery, Hovhan decided to jump into the lake and die rather than watch the destruction of his monastery. However, God saved him by granting him the ability to walk across the lake. Shocked by the sight of a man walking on water, Amir Timur promised Hovhan that if he would meet with him, he would grant whatever the monk wished. Hovhan agreed and met with Amir Timur, and his wish was for the conqueror not to kill anyone who could fit inside the monastery. Tamerlane agreed, and people began to seek refuge inside the compound. Miraculously, everyone was able to fit inside, because the monk was turning people into doves in order to make space for more people to fit in the monastery. Amir Timur had no choice but keep his word.

Driving more to the Southern part of Lake Sevan, we found Noratus and its famous cemetery, due to it having more than 800 medieval khachkars (which is an Armenian cross-stone, carved, a memorial stone slab bearing a cross, often with additional ornaments such as rosettes, botanical motifs and complex patterns), the largest cluster of khachkars in the world. The oldest khachkars displayed in open-air at Noratus date back to as early as the 10th century. Apart from khachkars, the cemetery also displays examples of medieval tombstones, which depict daily life scenes like weddings, religious ceremonies, farm life and others.

After a quick stop for lunch, we said goodbye to the lake and started going back to Yerevan. On our way back, we stopped at Geghard Monastery, which was extremely crowded and filled with dusty air (there was a dust-storm coming our way).

Armenia takes pride in being the the world’s first country to adopt Christianity as state religion back in 301. As so it happens, in the same century, Saint Gregory the Illuminator founded this monastery complex at the site of a holy spring inside a cave. This was destroyed in a fire 600 years later, and what we see today was built in early 13th century, quite contemporary by comparison.

With the storm still behind us, we made our way to Garni Temple which has one of the most interesting histories. It was once a pagan temple dedicated to the Armenian sun god Mihr. Built in the middle of the 1st century by the Greeks, the Temple of Garni survived the destruction of pagan temples once Armenia converted to Christianity in the 4th century. On top of that, the temple survived plenty invasions and earthquakes until it finally collapsed in 1679. The temple was excavated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and it was reconstructed in the 1970s. Today it is the only standing Greco-Roman structure in Armenia and it is seen as a symbol of Armenia’s ancient past which must have been intertwined with Greece and Rome. Excavations are still taking place very close so, more ancient ruins will be discovered here.

The moment we stepped inside the car the dust-storm finally caught us and after we waited a couple of minutes we made our way back to Yerevan and we called it a night.

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