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Tigranakert - A view from our expert author


A medieval fortress sits at the foot of the dramatic site of the ancient city of Tigranakert, founded by Tigran the Great.

Beyond Aghdam, on the Martakert road, is the excavated site and State Archaeological Museum of Tigranakert (about 36km north of Stepanakert, halfway between Askeran & Martakert; www.tigranakert.am; open: daily 09.00–19.00; English-speaking guide sometimes available; AMD250). A medieval fortress sits at the foot of the dramatic site of the ancient city of Tigranakert, founded by Tigran the Great (ruled c95–55BC). Behind the medieval castle a wave-like escarpment on the southeastern slope of Mount Vankasar (879m) rises from the plain. The triangular fortified city, with the citadel at its apex, occupies the lower third of the slope above the castle.

State Archeological Museum Tigranakert Armenia by Deirdre HoldingThe medieval fortress which houses the State Archaeological Museum of Tigranakert © Deirdre Holding

The site covers some 50ha and excavations, started in 2005, are continuing. Already two of the main walls of the city have been uncovered. Built of local white limestone, without mortar, the stone blocks were dove-tailed together by means of triangular joints. Also notable are the steps carved into the rock on the edge of the escarpment. The many finds, dating from the 5th century BC to the 17th century AD, are now displayed in the museum which opened in the medieval fortress in June 2010. Information is in Armenian, English and Russian. Note that, although the museum entrance is signed straight ahead of the entrance gate, to follow the exhibition chronologically either go in via the door to the left or make your way there once inside.

South of the castle the foundations of a 5th- to 7th-century basilica have been excavated. Beyond the fortified site a small renovated cross-dome church stands on the peak of Mount Vankasar. The church holds nothing of interest but it makes a good endpoint for a walk which gives a bird’s eye view of Tigranakert and views across the Azerbaijan plain. It takes about an hour of moderately steep walking to reach the church, the first part made easier by the ancient steps carved into the rock. It is worth starting early in the day before it becomes too hot. Even if not wishing to reach the church, walking to the top of the excavated site is worth it for the overall impression of this important site.

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