Central Armenia

Echmiadzin Cathedral

Central Armenia is Armenia's political, cultural, economic, and transit hub, home to the political and spiritual capitals of Yerevan and Echmiadzin.

Regions

Central Armenia includes the marzes of Aragatsotn, Ararat Marz, Armavir and Kotayk.

Cities

Understand

Three khachkars (cross- stones) in the courtyard in front of the Theological Seminary, Vagharshapat

This is the heart of the nation, with Yerevan at its center. Much of it is comprised of the Ararat valley, which is flat and dry most of the year, and provides spectacular views of Mt. Ararat on a clear day. The valley was split in half after a Turkey invaded shortly after WWI, and the border is still a sensitive area, with Russian troops and bases guarding the Armenian side.

Talk

As with the rest of Armenia, Armenian and Russian are pretty much universally spoken, while English, French and German are spoken by few. English is of course gaining in popularity.

Get in

Most tourists arrive in Armenia at Zvartnots International Airport, in the middle of this region, and stay in Yerevan.

Get around

You'll never be more than an hour away from Yerevan.

Day trips can get you anywhere quite easily. There are plentiful cheap, guided day tours offered by tour agencies all over Yerevan to place like Khor Virap, Garni/Geghard and Echmiadzin/Zvartnots. You can also hire taxis for 100dram/kilometer (30 US cents) and about 1,500/hr ($5) for waiting time if you want to do things at your own pace. Car rentals are more expensive, but useful if you want to strike out on your own into Khosrov Reserve or just explore the Hrazdan Gorge at your own pace.

See

West end of Central Armenia

Talin Cathedral

Amberd Fortress and Byurakan Observatory and Church

Amberd Fortress

On the southern face of Mt. Aragats, Amberd Fortress is a quick trip from Yerevan and a popular escape from the Yerevan summer heat. The fortress looms over a small church, and both overlook the Ararat Valley and Mt. Ararat across the valley. Further up the mountain is a nice lake which is the starting point for the hike up to the southern peak of Mt. Aragats.

Before reaching Amberd, the village of Byurakan offers the ancient church of S. Hovhannes. Tucked away behind some houses, it is marked with the old Christian cross used before the Armenian cross design came into use. The observatory in the same village was home to Viktor Ambartsumian, a famous astrophysicist, and offers tours during the day, or star gazing at night. Both are usually by appointment, though showing up and asking nicely has been known to work.

Ashtarak and Kasagh River Gorge monuments

Hovhannavank Monastery

The picturesque town of Ashtarak is less than half an hour from central Yerevan. It has 3 very old churches standing and 2 in ruins. It is also home to Ashtaraki Dzor Restaurant Complex - well worth a stop for a reasonably priced meal and nighttime entertainment show, all outdoors, and long popular with Armenians.

Northwestern Kotayk

The northwestern parts of Kotayk are mountainous, forested and popular with Armenians as places to go and relax. Hankavan, Tsaghkadzor, Bjni and Aghveran are all well known by Armenians as places where nature is nice, and relaxation is possible not far from Yerevan. Each place has different things to offer, but all offer hills, mountains and forest.

Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery

Garni Temple

These are absolutely obligatory stops for any visitor to Yerevan, for good reason. Garni, a small Roman temple built in the first century by the Armenian king is incredibly sited atop basalt cliffs, and has a ruined bathhouse and the foundations of a temple in the fortified compound as well.

Geghard monastery

Arguably the most awe-inspiring site in Armenia is the 13th-century Monastery of Geghard, much of which is carved out of the solid stone of the mountain it abuts. Once housing (and still named after) the lance that pierced Jesus' side, it is sited at the end of a canyon, surrounded by steep rock mountains, with fortified walls, holy springs, an upper chamber with unparalleled acoustics and many intricate khachkars. Monastery of Geghard together with the Upper Azat Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sardarapat Monument and Museum

Most in the Armenian Diaspora know the famous song Sardarapat about the battle fought here which saved Armenia from complete annihilation by Turkey after WWI. The monument is large and looks out over today's border with Turkey, drawn after that battle. Adjoining is Armenia's largest ethnographic museum, with a large collection of artifacts from different parts of Armenia. Well worth a visit if you like to see how people lived back in the day.

Echmiadzin Cathedral

The Cathedral of Echmiadzin, founded in 301 by St. Gregory the Illuminator and rebuilt and added to for over 1,700 years now is the heart of the Armenian Church, and seat of the Catholicos of all Armenians. The altar is built over an ancient pagan fire worshiping pit (accessible from the museum behind the altar), the inside has some interesting frescoes, altar, lamps, and thrones. The intricate bell tower entrance is an addition from the 1800s, and the surrounding grounds have gardens with examples of khachkars from throughout Armenia and further. Near the new entrance gates are a few exquisite khachkar examples from Jugha (now in Azerbaijan) - which had by far the largest khachkar collection in the world. The thousands of khachkars which remained there were destroyed during this decade by the Azeri government.

Two other important churches in the same town, both honoring Roman virgins who were martyred for refusing to marry Armenia's heathen king are.

Khor Virap

Khor Virap Monastery

Deep in a pit at Khor Virap, Armenia's Christianity began. Imprisoned here for his heretic faith, St. Gregory the Illuminator was not released until he cured Armenia's king of a terrible disease (some legends say he had turned into a boar). The king, in gratitude converted himself, and Armenia with him, into the first officially Christian nation in the world. The fortified monastery sits on a small hill in a very flat Ararat Valley. The view of the mountain is the best you'll get, though the monastery otherwise is not so remarkable. 45 minutes from Yerevan, this is an easy morning trip, or a quick stop along the road heading to Southern Armenia.

Other sites worth visiting

Ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral

Do

  • Mt. Aragats - Armenia's highest peak, and a popular climb. Most climbers start out from the lake above Amberd Fortress at 5AM and head up to the southern peak (2 hours or so), then head back down (1 hour). After sunrise, the likelihood of cloud cover is much greater. This climb is usually undertaken from mid-July to mid-September when the snow pack is mostly melted. The other peaks are much more difficult and should be under taken after consulting a guide or book.
  • Mt. Ara - Mt. Ara has a crater inside it which is a technically easy climb, and if you head left you can sit upon the nose. Do not descent in steep and slippery areas, the rocks can crumble and you risk severe injury. Stick to the solid, milder slopes.

Eat

Outside of Yerevan, Central Armenia has a limited food selection to offer. Some of the bigger towns have restaurants or bistros, but outside of this and a small number of roadside barbecue (khorovats) joints, there is very little.

Drink

Drinks and sometimes bars are available where food is served.

Stay safe

Central Armenia is very safe for residents and visitors alike.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, November 19, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.