Armenia/4 update information

20/09/2014 17:38

Written by Bradt Travel Guides

Chapter 2: Practical Information
Chapter 3: Yerevan 
Chapter 4: The Central Provinces 
Chapter 5: The Northern Provinces 
Chapter 6: The Southern Provinces
Chapter 7: Nagorno Karabagh
Reader updates 

Chapter 2: Practical Information

Visas (page 64) On 11th December 2014 the Armenian Foreign Minister, Edward Nalbandian, announced that from 1st January 2015 citizens of the United States of America would no longer require visas to visit Armenia. American citizens (like citizens of EU states) are now allowed visa-free entry to Armenia for up to 180 days per year. Americans who are of Armenian descent should review the Special Circumstances regarding departing Armenia with the appropriate embassy.

Foodstuff dates Somewhat disconcertingly for those of us used to 'sell-by' or 'use-by' dates, the date on Armenian foodstuffs is the date of manufacture. Somewhere on the packaging it should state how long the item is good for, although of course not necessarily in English. For mineral water it seems usually to be about a year.

Cycling (page 78-9) Cycling has really caught on in Armenia and is rapidly becoming more popular for both visitors and locals. It is even becoming popular in Yerevan but this creates an extra hazard for pedestrians as cyclists, who often go at considerable speed, seem to believe, with some justification, that pavements are safer than the roads. Well, yes, they are for the cyclists!

Driving (page 83) Turning left. In the guidebook I wrote "On dual carriageways it is not permitted to turn left across the carriageways. The procedure is to carry on past the turn-off you want, do a U-turn at the next signed U-turn position, drive back to the junction you want and turn right. The same procedure is followed when turning left after exiting a side road on to a dual carriageway. Turn right until you can make a U-turn on to the desired carriageway." Some expansion and clarification is required. In the UK (I can't speak for other countries) there are basically three types of main road - ordinary roads, dual carriageways and motorways - each with different rules. The situation is different in Armenia. Basically, there are 'ordinary' main roads and there are motorways (or highways). Very few multiple-lane roads in Armenia have any central reservation or barrier. Thus it may not be immediately obvious to those accustomed to motorways and dual carriageways having a central reservation, that it is a motorway. In Armenia a solid central line on the road surface does duty for a central reservation or barrier, which should not be crossed. As is normal practice on motorways elsewhere, in Armenia one does sometimes turn left (remembering that in Armenia one drives on the right) via a slip-road to the right. However, given that fly-overs and underpasses are not universal, the method described on page 83 (and above) is common ie: one drives beyond the turn-off one wants, does a U-turn at the next permitted U-turn position and then drives back to the desired junction and exits right. As cautioned in the guidebook this means that, given the lack of a central reservation, drivers must be aware that vehicles preparing to do a U-turn may be slow or stationary in the outside 'fast' lane. It also means that one joins the opposite carriageway in the fast lane, where traffic can indeed be very fast. An additional problem is that not all motorways have signs marking the places where U-turns are allowed. Instead the central line is a broken line. On a motorway, even if there is a tempting side road on the left at a U-turn position, one is not allowed to take it. As with motorways elsewhere, one only exits to the right. (Think of the U-turn position as an equivalent to a slip-road on the right, not as a place where one can turn left.) The golden rule is that on any road, crossing a solid central line is not permitted for any reason. (Visitors may see local drivers flouting this rule.)

Hail cannons In case others are as unfamiliar as I was with the metal, hut-like constructions carrying a solar panel, an antenna and an obvious, tall, conical structure, usually sited on agricultural land and sometimes on buildings, these are hail cannons. The theory is that the acoustic wave produced by the explosion of a gaseous mixture disrupts the formation of hailstones so that either slush or rain falls instead. (The idea is not new - a picture from 1901 shows a very similar device using gunpowder.) According to the website of the manufacturer (www.barva.am) of the most frequently seen type, as of December 2014 over 350 such anti-hail stations were sited in Armenia, Nagorno Karabagh, Russia, Georgia and Iran. The metal shelter houses the acoustic cannon, tanks of a propane/butane mix (six 20kg tanks in the one-cone variety), an electronic igniter (hence the solar panel and battery), a remote control facility (hence the antenna) and a quencher (presumably some sort of fire extinguisher). When operating, the cannon fires every 1-10 seconds. Each cone protects an area of 100-200m2 directly above it. The system has to be activated 25-30 minutes before the formation of the hailstones; it has no effect on already formed hailstones. The Zenith hail suppression system was developed and is manufactured by the Barva Innovation Centre in Talin (Aragatsotn province), is safety approved by specialists from The Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences and received the CE Certificate of Compliance to European Standards in April 2015. Most authorities claim there is no evidence for the effectiveness of hail cannon pointing out that thunder, a much more powerful sonic wave, is often found in the same storm which generates hail. Presumably the Armenian government and people think otherwise, or at least think that anything is worth trying, given the destruction caused by the huge hailstones which can fall from Armenia's slow-moving storm clouds.

Walks

Vayots Dzor Province

Shativank Monastery If walking up the gorge from Shatin village, after turning left beyond the bridge, as described on page 287, follow the track up and where it starts to descend again strike right across the hillside to an electricity pylon. From here a mostly obvious path goes to the monastery, mainly keeping the stream to its left. Even where the path disappears the route is fairly obvious. It is not a difficult walk (about one hour) although there is loose scree in places. A good hiking loop would be to walk the 7km to the monastery on the track through the cemetery, as described in the guidebook, and then to descend via the shorter gorge route - just follow any of the paths going down beside the stream.

Shativank to Spitakavor On the jeep track between Shatin cemetery and Shativank (page 287) a path goes off eastward from small grassy plain just above the descent to Shativank and goes across the hills to Spitakavor Monastery (page 292). After a short steep section the grassy path runs almost level along the mountain side to join the track up to Spitakavor. There are superb views of the layout of Shativank and over the whole region, including Tsakhatskar Monastery and Smbataberd Fortress (pages 287-8), and later of Spitakavor and Proshaberd (page 293).

Syunik Province

From the road to Tatev (page 307) it is possible to walk down to some of the old villages on the side of the Vorotan Gorge, including those of Old Shinuhayr and Old Halidzor. The old villages were abandoned in the 1970s when the inhabitants moved to flatter land higher up with better access to the main road. The tracks down may be just about drivable (but not recommended) with a 4x4 but are more suitable for the donkeys and horses used by locals, and for walking. The villagers still use the old gardens for growing food and collecting firewood. It is possible to do, as I did, a loop going down to Old Shinuhayr, then along the side of the gorge to Old Halidzor then back up to the main road. It took me about 5½ hours which included plenty of stops to look at the ruined villages, to admire the scenery and to eat some of the cherries and mulberries growing along the way. If thinking of doing such a loop, it would be as well to try to arrange transport from the far end. Otherwise it is a long 5km walk back along the main road to one's starting point if transport has been left there. Wear stout shoes and, if walking through vegetation, stamp as you go; snakes are not uncommon.

The track down from the present village of Shinuhayr winds down giving good views into the valley of the Vorotan River with its striking rock formations. A track then goes off left and zigzags down to Old Shinuhayr through orchards, at one point becoming either the bed of a stream or an irrigation channel through which it is difficult to find a dry route. Old Shinuhayr has two ruined churches. The first one reached is the 17th century church of St Stephen, a large 3-aisled, barrel-vaulted basilica. The second, a little further towards the river, can be seen from high up but is more difficult to find once in the village when the vegetation is high. It seems to have been a monastic complex with a surrounding wall, a church (17th-century Mother of God) with a small entrance hall and, on a lower level, the barrel-vaulted 17th-century Hermitage of the Virgins. Elsewhere within the walls are domestic buildings.

Returning to the main track down from the main road, the track continues along the hillside towards Old Halidzor with superb views of the magnificent scenery of the Vorotan Gorge - roads zigzagging up and down, towering tree-clad peaks, high rocky cliffs and, when I was there, wild flowers, butterflies and chirping crickets. There were also bear droppings; we hoped the bears were asleep in the caves high up in the cliffs.

Where the track starts an impressive zigzag course down to the river (and up the other side) a narrow path continues more or less level along the hillside and eventually reaches Old Halidzor. Both the Shinuhayr and the Halidzor thirds of the path are reasonably obvious but the middle third disappears into the vegetation. It is a case of continuing on a more or less level course until the path becomes clear again. Old Halidzor was a large village and the streets and houses, although ruined can be traced. Some of the buildings have unusual, curved façades and there is a large cemetery. The church, seen as one approaches the village, has been restored. Nearby is a welcome spring, piped into a series of water troughs.

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Chapter 3: Yerevan

Restaurants

There should be no difficulty in finding somewhere to eat in Yerevan but readers may have found that some restaurants listed in the guidebook have already disappeared while others have sprung up. It is impossible to give a complete list of either. I enjoyed the two below, which were new to me.

Salon  8 Abovian St (just above the southern end of Northern Avenue); tel: 11 443333; www.salonarmenian.com. A new restaurant with imaginative Armenian cuisine. The main restaurant is on the second floor. It also has a covered roof-top dining area which is pleasantly airy in the heat.

Anteb  30 Koghbatsi St; tel: 10 530988; www.facebook.com/anteb.restaurant. Western Armenian cuisine with a hint of Lebanese; the food is a little spicier than most Armenian food so is a welcome variation. A popular, small restaurant which can be busy at times.

Shopping

[updated 06/04/17] p. 126. After a period of being closed, the re-opened Noah's Ark Bookshop has relocated from Republic Square to 8 Abovian Avenue.

What to see and do

For fast food near the Genocide Memorial there is the Dalma Garden Mall (3 Tsitsernakaberd Highway). It is a typical international shopping mall but the second floor has a number of Armenian fast-food outlets where the quality of the food is good, even if the acoustics mean conversation is almost impossible.  

The exhibition space in the Matenadaran (page 153) has been further expanded. The Genocide Museum (page 145-6) has been completely reorganised following the recent opening of an extension. Personally I found some of the technical aspects of the new presentation disappointing. For example, the English and Russian texts  are in a relatively small font, gray on a black background, which can be difficult to read. However, this sobering museum remains a must-see for anyone who wants to understand Armenia and its people, and is particularly relevant with 2015 being the centenary of the 1915 genocide (page 21).

On my pre-publication visit to Shengavit (page 149) I scrambled up a slope from the minor road which runs between the site and the Yerevanian Lake. This is not recommended! The easier and official entrance to the site and to the museum is via the grounds of the hospital which was built on part of this important Early Bronze Age site in Soviet days. The hospital, marked as Clinic No. 6, on Collage's Yerevan map (page 60), is entered from Bagratuniats Avenue. Go round to the far side of the hospital where you will find a small red-tuff chapel. Left of this is the locked door of the Shengavit Historical and Archaeological Culture Preserve (open: 10.30-16.30, closed Mondays). Ring the doorbell (high up to the left of the door) and a member of staff will come and let you in. The small museum has been upgraded and is well worth visiting. The exhibits on display are much the same as in the State Historical Museum (where many of the finds from Shengavit are housed) but this small museum is less overwhelming and there is the added satisfaction of knowing that the objects were found in the dwellings adjacent to the museum.

The large church beside Katoghike (page 134) which was being built at the time of writing the guidebook is now open; it is dedicated to St Anna. Alongside is the new Residence of the Katholikos (page 35).

As well as the markets mentioned under Shopping on page 125, two other markets are useful (and interesting for those who enjoy such browsing). The main entrance to kayarani shuka (station market) is to the right of the main railway station (page 142). It is essentially a food market with wonderful displays of fruit, herbs, vegetables, breads, cheeses, spices, jams, pickles and, of course, Armenia's delicious dried fruit and nut sweetmeats. (There is also an early morning street market outside the station itself where producers sell fruit and vegetables, usually in bulk, but by the time most tourists are likely to be at the station the traders are already packing up.) 

The Petak market (marked on the Collage map, lies somewhat north of the railway station, off Kristopori St which runs between Tigran Mets and Arshakuniats Avenues) is another Aladdin’s cave. It does not sell fresh food or very large household items such as sofas but almost everything else can be found here, whether you want a single nail, fishing tackle, an exercise bike, clothes, children's toys, household items or electrical goods. The list is endless! Despite what I say on page 76, this is one place where, I was told, you can buy adapters, transformers and digital camera batteries. 

If you feel like some gentle strolling I suggest the Vardavar Park with its Vardavar Lake at the other end of  Sasuntsi Davit St from the main railway station. Artificial Vardavar Lake was part of the irrigation system built by the Urartians under King Menua (c810--786BC) and his successor Argishti 1st (786--764BC). The lake was fed from the Hrazdan River by a canal some 15km long; it supplied the stronghold of Erebuni. The lake and some of the Urartian canals still form part of Yerevan's water system today.

For evening relaxation I can recommend joining the Yerevanites as they enjoy the spectacular dancing fountains (rather more than the three stated on page 128) on Republic Square. The variety of patterns and colours formed by the many jets which make up the fountains and the way the water does indeed seem to dance in time to the different types of music is truly enthralling.

The Eduard Isabekyan Gallery (7a Mesrop Mashtots Avenue, www.eduardisbekyan.com, Mon-Sat 11.00–17.00, entrance fee: AMD500) is well worth a visit for art lovers despite its unprepossessing entrance. Edward Isabekyan was born in 1914 in what is now Eastern Turkey. He went on to graduate from Yerevan Art School in 1931 and is regarded as the founder of the thematic compositional genre in Armenia. Between 1967 and 1987 he was the director of the National Gallery of Armenia (p152–3) and a hall in this gallery is now devoted to him. Much of his work is based on the history of the Armenian nation and the relationship betwen these people and their landscape. Following his death in 2007, Isbekyan was buried in Yerevan's Pantheon cemetery (p152).

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Chapter 4: The Central Provinces

Aragatsotn Province

A window has been inserted in the front of the bema in Oshakan church (page 161) to allow a view of Mesrop Mashtots grave. It is possible to descend into the mausoleum via steps to the side of the bema. To the northeast of the church is Didikond Hill, visible from the church. A cemetery (medieval to modern gravestones) lies at the base of the hill and on top of the hill are the impressive excavated remains of a 7th to 5th-century BC citadel. The remains were discovered when Armentel began to dig pits for the foundation of the cell phone tower. The huge blocks of dressed stone which form the massive walls of the square fort make one realise why such buildings are termed cyclopean. A road skirts the base of the hill; the dirt track seen where the gas pipe goes up and over leads to the top of the hill. The inside of the small church of St Grigor on top of the hill disappoints; for some reason it is painted a shiny orange colour. On the northwest edge of the town is the 7th-century St Sion (or St Mankanots) church, a small tetraconch (comprising four apses) church, one of only a few such churches in Armenia, the best known being Karmravor Church in Ashtarak. The nearby pillar on a stepped base is traditionally believed to mark the grave of the Byzantine emperor Mauricius (539-602) (or  his mother) who was said, by one Armenian historian, to come from the village. 

Hovhannavank (page 163) What is marked on the plan as 'ruins of 5th-century church (under restoration at time of writing)' and described as such in Khalpakhchian's Architectural Ensembles of Armenia (page 356) is now said to be not a church but the building where the dead are received prior to burial. It is kept locked.

For those who enjoy exploring the remains of  Bronze Age fortresses a detour to Shamiram village (the easternmost access road to the village has the better surface) off the M1 between Ashtarak and Talin may be worthwhile. The remains are situated above the merging point of two relatively low but attractive gorges. On the opposite side of the furthermost gorge is a huge tomb field with some very tall standing stones. (Note that the position of the Shamiram 'ancient ruin' symbol on the Collage Armenia and Mountainous Karabakh map is misleading.)

Armavir Province

Musaler En route to Ejmiatsin many visitors may notice a red tuff arch at the top of a flight of steps to the north of the main road but few actually visit it. This is the Musaler Monument commemorating the resistance of  Armenians from six villages on the coast of Turkey during the 1915 genocide. Rather than obey Turkish orders to evacuate their homes (and face almost certain death) they built fortifications on the mountain of Musaler and resisted Turkish troops for 53 days. They were then rescued by French and British naval vessels; some 4,200 people were evacuated to Egypt. After several relocations some settled in Armenia in the present village of Musaler. Inside the red tuff building, with its enigmatic carving and whose shape resembles an eagle, is a museum (entrance round the back) detailing the history of Musaler. A second building holds an ethnographical museum showing the everyday life of the people of Musaler. An adjacent open space, with rows of low, narrow platforms, is where the traditional harissa (a thick porridge-like soup) is prepared. Every year on the third weekend of September descendants of the survivors of Musaler gather to celebrate and partake of the harissa which has been simmered and stirred overnight. With 2015 being the centenary of the genocide, the plan is to cook 100 pots of harissa.

Ejmiatsin
Cathedral precinct

In the baptismal chapel (page 190) the previous provision for adult baptism by immersion (sunk into the floor) no longer exists. Apparently a number of people accidentally fell into it, in spite of it being roped off, and the cathedral authorities thought it safer to remove it.

Ruben Sevak Museum (Open 10.30-17.00) Born Ruben Chilingaryan, Ruben Sevak (1885-1915) was an Armenian writer, poet and doctor who was born in Ottoman Turkey. (He took the name Sevak because of his dark eyes, sev meaning black in Armenian.) After school in Constantinople he moved to Switzerland to study medicine at the University of Lausanne, graduating in 1911. He married a German woman (they had two children) and practised medicine in Lausanne until 1914 when he and his family moved to Constantinople. Along with other intellectuals, he was arrested on the night of 24th April 1915 at the start of the Armenian genocide and killed on 26th August. He is known mainly for his lyrical love poetry and love songs. My thanks to Nicholas Goulder who sent the following update:

"The museum, located in the 18th century building called Ghazarapat within the Mother See, was renovated by the sponsorship of the French-Armenian philanthropist Hovhannes Chilingaryan, Sevak’s nephew. Around 200 unique and valuable paintings are displayed in the museum, which were donated by Mr. Chilingaryan. There also are charcoal drawings belonging to the renowned martyred intellectual Ruben Sevak, personal effects and documents, sacred historical items, valuable Armenian art works and pieces by Western artists. The handwritten letters that Ruben wrote to his wife, Yanni, are in French and are deeply touching. In 1915 the Turks offered Sevak his life if he would accept Islam and marry the daughter of a Turkish official; he chose to be loyal to his wife and children, and was murdered."

Ejmiatsin town

If you have spare time in Ejmiatsin there are four other small museums, all near the cathedral precinct.  The Mher Abeghian Art Gallery (on the left as you face the statue of Komitas in Komitas Square; labels in English) houses paintings by Mher Abeghian (1909-1994) which he donated to his home town of Ejmiatsin. Abeghian's paintings also hang in other galleries including the National Gallery in Yerevan and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. He was an accepted (and decorated) artist in the Soviet era in spite of  painting subjects which were  officially forbidden. The Ejmiatsin gallery contains three of his large triptychs including the best known, Mother Armenia.

Next door (through the archway on the left) is the Hovhannes Hovhannisian House Museum. Hovhannes Hovhannisian (1864-1929) was born in the house which now houses the museum. Poet, linguist, translator and teacher, he was a key figure in the Modern Armenian literature movement. He studied in Moscow and travelled extensively in Europe before returning to Ejmiatsin where he lectured on Greek and Russian language and literature. He translated ancient Armenian manuscripts into modern Armenian and also translated works by writers such as Homer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Ibsen, Pushkin and Schiller. He supported the Russian revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union. He is buried in Yerevan's Pantheon (page 152). There is no information in English in the museum. For non-Armenian speakers the main interest is perhaps in the house itself and its furnishings.

Across Komitas Square is the Ejmiatsin Historical and Ethnographic Museum. This well presented museum, with labels in English, has a good section on pre-history including a helpful model of a round house. The ethnographical section has all the usual artefacts as well as some more unusual ones including a contraption for shoeing oxen and cattle, as well as horses, and an anti-wolf dog collar.

The Khoren Ter-Harutian Sculpture Museum is across the road from the main entrance to the cathedral precinct. Khoren Ter-Harutian (1909-1991) was born in Western Armenia (present-day Turkey). He, his mother and his sister were the only members of a large extended family to escape the genocide. They arrived in the USA in 1921. Moving between America, Jamaica and Europe he was a painter, carver and latterly a sculptor. In 1983 he donated the majority of his work to Armenia. Personally, while I enjoy immensely the sculpture and statuary in Armenia's public spaces I am not a great fan of collections of sculptures in museums. I do not therefore feel qualified to comment further on Ter-Harutian's work but sculpture lovers may well find a visit to the gallery worthwhile. It is well laid out and labels are in English.

Elsewhere in the province

Unfortunately Metsamor Museum (page 193-4) still suffers from electricity cuts when repair work in the nearby village is required and the museum still awaits the promised upgrading. However, archaeological investigation is ongoing and visitors may be lucky enough to witness excavations. A booklet with colour photographs of the museum's most important artefacts is now available. Although currently only in Armenian, it makes an attractive memento of a visit. When more money is available it is hoped to produce an English version.

Gegharkunik Province

Nerkin Getashen (page 206) - restoration of the Mother of God Church was well under way in the summer of 2015.

Sotk Pass - the road between Vardenis and the Sotk Pass (page 208) is now asphalt all the way. (Preparatory work, such as bridge construction, for upgrading the road east from the Sotk Pass (page 328) is underway but at the time of writing it remains a (good) dirt road.

Kotayk Province

A pleasant place to eat on the road to Garni is the restaurant at Hyelandz Eco Village Resort (2nd St, Geghadir Village; mob: 093 212275; email: czakarian7@gmail.com; www.hyelandz.com) in Geghadir village. Hyelandz (a pleasing play on words!) is a hotel which prides itself on its ecological credentials, producing on site most of what is consumed in the restaurant. The hotel's welcoming proprietors, who eschewed the frantic pace of life in the USA for a slower one in Armenia some 12 years ago, are more than willing to show diners what the hotel offers. The food, said to be Mediterranean Armenian cuisine, is interestingly different from standard Armenian fare (and they produce a delicious walnut liqueur!).

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Chapter 5: The Northern Provinces

Shirak Province

Gyumri It is obviously far quicker to rebuild a church than to restore one as Gyumri's churches (page 228) demonstrate. St Gregory the Illuminator has gone from a mere remnant to a fully rebuilt and functioning church in less than two years while the painstaking restoration of Holy Redeemer continues slowly but surely, as it has done during the 14 years since my first visit to Armenia.

Tavush Province

A reader reports that in 2015 the road between Hnevank and the Debed Gorge (page 262) had deteriorated even further and was "barely drivable" even with a 4x4.

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Chapter 6: The Southern Provinces

Vayots Dzor Province

When visiting the northern part of the province, in particular the valleys of the Herher (page 295) and Yeghegis (289) rivers, it is possible to do a loop over the hills between Herher village and Hermon village. The road is mainly a good dirt road although there are some more difficult, steep sections above Goghtanik for which a 4x4 is advisable. As always in Armenia's mountains, the scenery is superb and in spring or early summer the colour from the swathes of wild flowers is breath taking.

As the crow flies it is not far between northern Vayots Dzor and northern Syunik's Ughtasar petroglyphs (page 303) although of course it is much further by road. Petroglyphs are widely scattered over the mountains of this part of Armenia and there are some on Mt Muradsar which are accessible for a slightly longer period than those at Ughtasar. In mid-June the route had recently become snow-free. The Mt Murad petroglyphs are at a height of 3,070m and are some 26km from Herher village. An off-road vehicle is essential. About 2km before the petroglyphs are reached the route passes a large 6,000 years-old cemetery. The staff at LucyTour Hotel Resort (page 282) can arrange transport and guides to the petroglyphs. They can also provide transport and guides to other sites in the region. A new experience for me was a trip to the bowl-like interior of a volcano, Mt Vayots Sar, reassuringly extinct for 240,000 years! 

For those without a 4x4 who want to see yet more magnificent scenery than already experienced the road to Khachik, near the border with Nakhichevan, is a possibility. It is an excellent asphalt road. Khachik has a restored church and the nearby monastery of Karkop (under restoration) but the journey itself is the main reason for going. The climbing, sinuous road starts at Areni village and initially follows the next gorge to that in which Noravank Monastery stands. At one point there is a view down to Noravank from a great height. On the way up, across one of the small side valleys, there is a startling contraption looking at first sight like a huge pile of pallets. It is designed to trap large boulders during the snowmelt, thus protecting the village below.

Syunik Province

For the first time in many years I found the Sisian Historical Museum (page 305) open! There is no English. The best part of the museum remains the outside display of stone artefacts but some booklets about the stones and about other items in the museum are on sale inside.

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Chapter 7: Nagorno Karabagh

Sotk Pass - see above, under Gegharkunik province, for an update on the northern route (pages 208 & 328) to Nagorno Karabagh.

Stepanakert

There is now a small tourist information kiosk on Veratsnound Square, opposite the Armenia Hotel.

A new restaurant has opened on Veratsnound Square, on the corner of Tumanian Street. The Florence Garden restaurant (57 Tumanian St; tel: 2020 - the Stepanakert code is not needed if phoning from a local mobile or landline) has overtaken the restaurant in Vallex Garden Hotel (page 330) for the best food in town. Florence Garden is a large establishment with a number of colourful eating spaces, catering for a variety of people and events. I had an excellent meal there, the cost being the equivalent of about £7 per person. The owner used to run Tro's pub in Yerevan and in the bar area (which does not impinge on the restful dining area) there is still something of a pub atmosphere.

Stepanakert Art Gallery (page 335) I may inadvertently have misled readers as I was under the impression that the display of thought-provoking paintings by Karabagh artists, which I saw when I visited prior to publication, was a permanent display. It was not. The ground floor houses temporary exhibitions of a varying nature. The upstairs display of sculpture is permanent. Thankfully, by contrast, the excellent display of works of art in the State Museum of Fine Arts (page 341) in Shushi is permanent.

Shushi

The gorge of the Karkar River below Shushi forms part of the Hunot Gorge State Reserve. As well as being accessed from Karintak (page 342) it can also be reached from the road which goes southeast towards Shosh and Hadrut. There is a yellow sign to Hunot Gorge on the road just after Shosh village and further access from the west end of Mkhitarashen village. The well-marked track, popular with locals, starts off high above the river opposite Shushi then descends into the impressive gorge to run along the river. An arched bridge of 1720 leads to the ruined village of Hunot, founded in the 18th century and abandoned in the 1930s. Further on the zontik (umbrella) waterfall is reached, below which is a pool, popular with children. The water flowing over the umbrella and into the pool is cold!

Northwest from Stepanakert

On the way up to Gandzasar Monastery from Vank village (page 337) there is a small café where freshly made jingalov hats, Nagorno Karabagh's herb-bread specialty, can be bought. The quality is as good as that in the market in Stepanakert which I mention in the boxed text on page 331.

Metsaranits Monastery Just before crossing the Kachenaget River on the way to Gandzasar the map shows a minor road going southwest to the village of Kolatak. This road has been upgraded and is now 6.9km of some of the best asphalt road surface in Karabagh. From the village an upgraded dirt road leads to Metsaranits Monastery (or St Jacob Monastery) on the hillside above. At present the monastery buildings are ruined but I was told that restoration is planned. The monastery reminded me very much of better-known Dadivank further north. Like Dadivank it has a complex lay-out with buildings on two levels. Being nearer to Stepanakert and on the way to Gandzasar, and with its good road access, I can imagine that if restored it could one day rival Dadivank. The key-holder told me that the site dates from the 4th century. Most of the buildings seen today date from 8th-18th centuries. The oldest inscription, on a khachkar pedestal later built into a wall, refers to 851. Others relate to a rebuilding in 1212. Repairs were probably carried out in the 15th and 16th centuries. An inscription records the construction of domestic buildings in 1725.

On the upper level there are two churches, a gavit and an arcaded entrance gallery which leads into the other three buildings. On the lower level are other monastic and domestic buildings. The whole complex is surrounded by a largely intact, high wall with a tunnel-like western entrance. The oldest building is probably the easternmost church, the smaller of the two churches. Its style, with a high bema underneath which are small cells, suggests a 12th-century rebuilding on an older construction. The arcaded gallery adjoins the west wall of this church and in turn it has the second, larger, church to its north. This larger church has a gavit on its west side. All four buildings (churches, gallery and gavit) are barrel-vaulted and are paved with massive slabs and gravestones. The north walls of the gavit and the larger church form part of the monastery's external wall.

It is known from manuscripts that Metsaranits Monastery was the centre of a diocese and, in the 13th century, the residence of the Katholikos. Bishops and katholikoi were buried there. It was an important educational and manuscript centre in the Principality of Khachen (1261-1750), a medieval Armenian principality on part of present-day Nagorno Karabagh.

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Reader updates

[Updated 29/10/15] A reader has made favourable comments about a local tour operator in Yerevan, one which is not mentioned in the guidebook. The reader booked from the UK with Armen Tour (24 Mashtots Avenue, Yerevan; www.armeniatour.com). He writes that they "were reliable, very honest and a pleasure to deal with. I certainly recommend them. They were very efficient and answered all my emails immediately."

The same reader stayed at Diana Hotel (Artsakhian Highway, Goris; www.hoteldiana.am) in Goris and comments "the rooms were nice and it had a nice swimming pool. However it seemed to be entirely equipped with what must have been 10 watt bulbs, i.e. it was gloomy." The hotel is on the M12, the main Yerevan to Stepanakert highway, so some distance from the centre of Goris.

[Updated 06/04/17] p. 37. In Armenia the sign of the cross is made in the same way as in the Roman Catholic Church (left breast before right) and not in the same way as practised in the Orthodox Church (right breast before left). The sign is made with the thumb, index and middle fingers held together, representing the Trinity, and the other two fingers touching the palm of the hand and it ends with the palm in the centre of the chest while saying 'Amen'.

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