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Ripsimeh, Ejmiatsin, Zvartnots, Garni, Geghard

Churched out already?

sunny 33 °C
View In Search of the Golden Fleece - Armenia and Georgia 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.


Armenia is not only the first ever Christian state (around 300AD) but also one of the earliest countries on the ea]rth - already in the 9 th – 6 th centuries BC the powerful state of Urartu existed on the territory of Armenia. We always knew this trip would be full of religious architecture, but I hate to admit I am getting a little 'church weary' already after the first day. Today we visited four church complexes (each with a handful of churches) and a pagan temple.

RIPSIMEH_2.jpg</p><p>[bRipsimeh Cathedral[/b]
As we were early for the liturgy at Ejmiatsin, we stopped at another important church – the Ripsimeh Cathedral. Before it became a state religion in Armenia, preaching Christianity was a criminal offence and anyone caught doing so would be tortured and killed. That's exactly what happened to Ripsimeh, who was buried here and after her death was canonised and a cathedral built in her honour in 618AD. Inside the church you can see her grave and the stones which killed her are on display in a niche in the wall.

Today is a religious holiday (don't ask me which one, as I never did catch what Jenna (our guide) was saying) which meant two things: Ejmiatsin Cathedral was full of worshippers as well as tourists; and the Caotholicos was likely to make an appearance. Ejmiatsin is the holiest of holy for Armenian Christians, and this is where their head of church (Caotholicos - their equivalent of our Archbishop of Canterbury) resides. Although the church is pretty old (the oldest place of worship in Armenia, built in 303), the most interesting part of our visit was meant to be the liturgy (the traditional service performed by a choir) but turned out to be two old men. The church was pretty atmospheric, with devotees of every age and status lighting candles and the monks in black robes with pointed hoods processing through the church.

There was a rumour that the big man himself was going to make an appearance (that is the Caotholicos, not JC) and so everyone hung around outside the church, including one old chap who was getting more excited than a child at Christmas. He was driving all the officials crazy with his badgering and touching of the monks and robed priests (or whatever they were, I didn't learn to differentiate the different outfits). Eventually the cavalcade of monks, priests and the head honcho appeared and the buzz was electric. The elderly devotee was bouncing off the walls at this stage and when his time came for the Caotholicos to bless him, he grabbed his arm and was kissing his hand. The look of sheer bliss on his face afterwards brought a tear to my eye and totally made my day!
The look says it all....

Zvartnots Cathedral
Leaving the hustle and bustle (and thousands of tourists) of Ejmiatsin behind we headed to Zvartnots Cathedral, which we had completely to ourselves until two large bus loads of French arrived just as were leaving.


A UNESCO Heritage Site, Zvartnots was built at a time when much of Armenia was under Byzantine control by the Muslim Arabs between 641 and 653. Zvartnots remained standing until the end of the 10th century but historical sources are silent as to the cause of its collapse. The ruins of Zvartnots remained buried until its remains were uncovered at the start of the 20th century. The setting is stunning with the awesome Mount Ararat in the background (on the slopes of which The Ark (of Noah fame) is said to have come to rest).

Mount Ararat and Charents, the poet.
Mount Ararat has always held a special place in the heart of Armenians, and although historically being in Armenia, the snow-topped peak is now on Turkish soil, much to the sadness of the Armenians (a very sore point in these parts). Charents, a famous poet, had a favourite viewpoint overlooking the mountain from which he would compose many works. An arch stands on the spot now with a few words from one of his poems: “You can walk around the world but you can't find any mountain whiter than Ararat”

Lunch and Sour Grapes
We took lunch in a leafy courtyard shaded by apple and walnut trees and surrounded by grape vines. There is nothing fresher than picking your own grapes – nice, sweet moscato grapes straight from the vine. Artijom (our driver) prefers white to red grapes, so went searching for some grapes more to his liking. Unfortunately they were not quite ripe - more a case of sour grapes. Quite a spread was laid on for us: lavash (the local thin flat bread), cheese, olives, tabuleh, roasted vegetables, salad, grilled chicken and potatoes and a plate of what we would describe as herby garnish – dill, basil, flat leaf parsley and chives. All followed by a delicious cake called gata and some thyme tea.

Garni Temple
High above the spectacular Azat River Canyon stands the 1st century Greco-Roman temple made out of basalt and adorned with Ionic columns.
Once part of the summer residence for the Armenia Kings, Garni was the only pagan temple allowed to stand when Christianity was introduced to Armenia. Lovingly restored in 1976, it includes a bath complex with a well-preserved hypocaust and Hellenistic mosaic floors in a locked building which our guide had the key for (good on ya Jenna!).


Geghard Cave Monastery
This was our fourth UNESCO World Heritage Site today - is that some sort of record. Partially carved from solid rock, the monastery is famed for its incredible acoustics. The complex was founded in the 4th century at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave and the springs are still a site of pilgrimage for a lot of local people.
Built in 1205 , the spear which wounded Jesus at the Crucifixion was kept here (brought to Armenia by Apostle Jude) This made it a popular place of pilgrimage for Armenian Christians over many centuries. Out the back is an area where animal sacrifices are performed to give thanks for various life events. Fortunately not today....


Singing Fountains
Having read about the sound and light show at the fountains in the main square, I was keen to make sure I was there at the right time. The website said 22:00 for the display whereas Jenna suggested it started at 21:00. We made our way down towards the square as soon as we arrived back from the tour, first having a beer in a pavement café right on the square, then walking around trying to find somewhere to eat, when David spotted a rooftop restaurant with superb views of the fountains. The restaurant sported a 27 page menu, but in the end we went with the recommendations of the waiter – who incidentally spoke next to no English. The food was good (a steak with cheese sauce and a traditional Armenia lamb stew) and at 20:30 (they both got it wrong!), the show started! Like fireworks with water, it was really quite impressive and we had grand circle balcony seats.


Posted by Grete Howard 11:32 Archived in Armenia

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The food looks really good!

by Helen

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