Just like most immigrants, my relationship with my homeland is a bit complicated. I haven’t gone back to Armenia ever since I left it twenty seven years ago, until this fall. As my kids grew up here in America, they have heard many stories about our life in Armenia at our dining table. But, one day I suddenly realized these were just stories to them and not the experiences they can feel and understand with their heart. I suddenly felt that it is my responsibility to take them to Armenia and introduce them to the land of their ancestors, understand the history of Armenian people and see the beauty of Armenia as a country in much bigger depth.
When there, we got on the road to explore and discover as much as possible about this absolutely gorgeous country, rich with color and history. I have to be honest and say that in twenty some years I lived in Armenia, I have not taken a trip like this. It all felt new to me… but yet very familiar. Armenia is truly a beautiful place and at the early stages of a tourism boom (1.5 mil in 2017 and the numbers are dramatically rising!), I am very happy to share my finds with you.
Did you know that Armenia is the first sovereign nation in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion?! So yes, Armenia is a small country, but it certainly has an important place in history. In about 300AD, Gregory the Illuminator, came to Armenia to spread Christianity, but was persecuted by the king and thrown into a deep pit where he spent 13 years. The legend says that after a 13-year ordeal down in the dungeon, Gregory was let out by the same king who persecuted him because the king fell terribly ill and his sister had a vision that only Gregory the Illuminator can cure him. Once Gregory was out, he cured the king and, naturally, converted him to Christianity. The king, out of gratitude, accepted Christianity as a state religion.
I got to climb down into the pit where Gregory the Illuminator spent long 13 years, and honestly cannot imagine someone not to go insane after spending so many years down there. I am sure it wasn’t so lit and dry as it is now, and there were no stairs to go down… But that’s just me…
There are many medieval churches spread throughout Armenia. Most built on top of hills or on the edge of cliffs. They are composed almost entirely of volcanic stone and stand out beautifully in the middle of mostly uninhibited countryside. As we drove on the rugged roads through the endless rows of hills and mountains, we could see the churches’ pointed domes peak out above the trees and rise tall at the edges of cliffs. This struck me as truly unique, impactful, and incredibly beautiful.
Garni, a Greek temple that was built in the 1st Century AD, is also worth visiting. It is one of very few structures left from the times prior to the spread of Christianity in Armenia. It was built for the son of God in Armenian mythology. Just like other temples, it was destroyed when King announced Christianity to be the official state religion. Garni temple, however, survived enough to be restored. You can easily spot the stones that were added new and the ones that were two thousand years old. Incredible!
The nature in Armenia is absolutely breathtaking, and was justifiably glorified by painters and poets. Truly magnificent mountain rangers surround Armenia all around and almost the entire Armenian territory is located on the height of at least 3000 feet above the sea level. No matter where I stood, I could see the vast canyons. There are no rails or gates that protect you from getting too close to the edge, so approach using your common sense. But at the same time, there are also no rails or gates to obstruct your absolutely breathtaking view. One of the most beautiful ones, is where Tatev Monastery located. To reach it, we took a reversible cableway, recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest in the world. It travels high above the ravine of Vorotan River at the altitude of more than 1000 feet!
Armenian lakes and waterfalls are beautiful and lush. There are stories and legends attached to many of them. The one I loved the most was form Jermuk Waterfall, a nobleman who lived in a steep cliff had a beautiful daughter, and men all over the world wanted to marry her, but her heart belonged to a shepherd’s son. Every night she would throw a long rope to the boy so he could reach her house, but her father found out, destroyed the rope, and cursed her that if she meets him again, she would become a mermaid. Of course, when she threw her hair to the boy the next night, she became a mermaid and her hair turned into waterfall…
Armenian scenery is absolutely amazing. It is so beautiful how the churches are designed with nature in mind, almost as if they are here to enhance the nature’s beauty. Armenian people enjoy art tremendously, and I wrote about it in Armenia: Culture, Food, and Travel Tips. Make sure to check it out, and leave your comments! I would so love to hear your impressions, opinions, and questions! xo