The third day in Armenia was spent on the tour as well. This time we participated in a tour to Eastern Armenia, which was also arranged by our hostel. We travelled in a minibus with approx. 15 other people, but luckily our guide told new stories and not the ones we’ve already heard during our previous two days.
First we arrive to Armenia’s biggest lake, Lake Sevan, which is 78km at its widest point and 56km at its longest point. During the Soviet times the water level lowered by 20 meters. Now there are efforts to get the water level to rise and it has in fact risen by 13 meters, but there is still a lot to do.
The color of water in the lake looks lovely blue, but the water is really cold and it gets warm enough to swim in only around July, which is no wonder considering the size of the lake. But once the water is warm, apparently there are a lot of people swimming and sunbathing around the lake.
There is of course a monastery near the lake called Sevanavank. Originally the monastery was built on a small island on the north side of the lake for bad-behaving monks. They were sent here because there wasn’t any connection to the land and the life at the island was rather harsh. During the Soviet times the water level lowered and the island became a peninsula. Because of this the life on the island became easier and the place became a popular sightseeing spot.
Near the monastery, just on the shore of the lake there is (of course) also a summer residence of the Armenian president, so there is a metal fence a short way from the monastery.
On the west side of the lake there is one more monastery worth mentioning called Hayravank, which was built during the years 800-1200. The monastery was surrounded by a small cemetery, so there was a lot of old tomb stones and khachkars i.e. Armenian cross-stones.
The view towards the lake was also beautiful despite there being some Soviet-time communication towers in the background.
From here we continued south to Noratus cemetery, which has the largest amount of khachkar cross-stones in whole Armenia and the largest collection left in world after the destruction of khachkars in Julfa by Azerbaijani. The oldest stones are estimated as being from the end of 900s and no stone is the same. It was the pride of the khachkar-makers so that they would come up with new designs for every stone.
Some stones are carved with the life story of a person buried or the event that led to their death. According to our guide the stone below is carved with a story how Mongols attacked a wedding party and it ended with bloodshed.
The cemetery had also newer graves, e.g. headstones popular during the Soviet times with photos of deceased, but khachkars are considerably more interesting. One interesting point about the stones is that some of them are rounded forward at the top. This is done so that the stone shape protects the carving from the rain.
Noratus cemetery is located in a village also called Noratus. The tour included a dinner at a local person’s house in Noratus, so all of us sat at a long table and were served (of course) lavash bread with cheese and herbs, rice with raisins, which is eaten during Christmas, cucumber-tomato salad with herbs and chicken and potatoe stew. Our guidebook said that Armenians eat out only when they want to give the mother of the family a day off from cooking and that is why they never expect the restaurant food to be as good as the one served at home. I had to disagree here because while the food we ate was good, we had better at the restaurant, so I guess the times are changing. 🙂
After lunch we continued to the last monastery on our trip – Geghardavank. This monastery was carved for the largest part inside the rock, which made it different from other monasteries we’ve seen in Armenia.
There are earthquakes in Armenia every now and then and big ones approximately every 30 years. In the last big earthquake this monastery was damaged a bit, so that there are cracks in the walls, but the monastery still stands.
This monastery is on the UNESCO world heritage list and was founded in 300s by Gregory the Illuminator, because there was a spring in this mountain, which was considered sacred. You can see the spring even now. The current name of the monastery is due to the legend that the head of the spear, which wounded Jesus on the cross, was kept here. The spear is now kept in a city called Etchmiadzin in Armenia.
The last place on our tour was the pagan temple named Garni. The temple was founded in 100s near the village Garni and it is the only pagan temple in Armenia and the entire former Soviet Union, which survived after Armenia turned to Christianity in 301.
The temple suffered great damage in the earth quake and it has been almost fully rebuilt by using partially the stones, which survived the earthquake and partially new ones. When looking at the temple it’s easy to see which stones are old and which are new. There is also music playing in the area and we had to pay an entrance fee while all the monasteries were free of charge.
The location of the temple is easy to understand as it has really nice views to the surrounding mountains.
When we got back to Yerevan, we headed to have dinner at the restaurant nearby called At Gayane’s. I have no photos of the food because we were so hungry, but the place was excellent. The address of the place is 35B Tumanyan street, and we found 35 Tumanyan street without any issues, but the letter B was nowhere to be seen. The next building was number 37, so we just went to the courtyard between buildings 35 and 37. There was a parking spot and some guy working in a garage, so we had somebody to ask for further directions. He said that we should walk forward and go through the gate in the fence, which brought us to the next parking lot, then we had to turn right and then left, then there was one more fence and only after that we found the restaurant. 🙂 The place was full, but they arranged us an extra table. There wasn’t any menu either, but they told about the food they had and we chose what we wanted. We also chose apricot and berry kompot to drink. For starters we had really good nettle soup and for the main course meat-filled cabbage rolls and grape leaf dolmas. Then we also ordered lamb chops and fried potatoes. Everything was really good. We asked for dessert, but they didn’t really have any, so we ended up having some tea. The meal for two people with the tip cost 12 000 AMD (21,40€), which was again very cheap.