WELCOME TO ARMENIA-The Cradle of Civilization
Armenia is an ancient and beautiful country, emerging onto the world scene after decades of Soviet rule. It's a load of romance and religion, legend and landscape, warm hospitality and a cuisine redolent of the crossroads of history. Early civilizations flourished in the area from as early as 1500 B.C. and the kingdom of Armenia was established about 600 B.C., the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion. Throughout the centuries, periods of independent rule were interspersed with invasion by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Persians, and finally Russians, making Armenia a vibrant mix of cultures and a fascinating destination.
Yerevan, Armenia's capital city is also the largest city in the country with more than a million people. Although it has only been Armenia's capital since 1918, Yerevan is one of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities, dating to the creation of the Erebuni Fortress on the site in 782 B.C. Today it is the cultural, industrial, and political center of the country, rapidly modernizing and sporting new shops, restaurants, and attractions, giving it a European look and feel. One of the most striking features of Yerevan is the view. From anywhere in the city Mt. Ararat dominates the horizon the majestic peak has become an iconic symbol. Just over the border in Turkey, it is the storied resting place of Noah's Ark after the Biblical flood.
Yerevan is a compact city rich in attractions. It boasts dozens of museums for visitors with every interest: the History Museum of Armenia, the Matenadaran for example, is a depositary of 17000 pieces of ancient manuscripts, there are museums of fine arts, including folk art and Russian art, natural history as well as local, regional and military history. Other cultural offerings include an annual international film festival, the national opera and ballet, and theatres and performance halls. The Erebuni Fortress dates from the city's origins, the fortified city of King Argishti. Visitors can enjoy meandering through the dancing fountains in Republic Square and along the main avenues lined with large shade trees to stop at one of the many open-air cafes or parks. Sample Armenian barbeque in Proshian Street, visit the shuka (food market), and shop for handmade textiles. Romantics can savor the unique design of Lover's Park and a stroll around Swan Lake, which offers ice skating in winter. A visit to the top of the Cascade Complex, a sculptural fountain complex, boasts a wonderful view of the city and surrounding area from Victory Park. Yerevan also has four sports stadiums, soccer being the most popular sport here. There's plenty of nightlife and luxury hotels and the end of a busy day.
Outside the city and not far away is Mt. Aragats, an extinct volcano with a range of outdoor activities activities. Ascending the peak can be accomplished in a day, Shorter hikes and picnics allow for a more leisurely enjoyment of the spectacular scenery. In addition to the rugged peaks and glaciers is the medieval Amberd Fortress, or Fortress in the Clouds. There are also great hiking trails around Lake Sevan and the Tatev Monastery in Zangezour. According to local legend, the scenic walking trail from the monastery was once an escape route for the townsfolk of the area in case of invasion. The continental climate of Armenia provides year-round variety for visitors. Summers are sunny and hot, but dry with cool evening breezes from the mountains. Fall is long, and Armenian forests are known for their colorful autumn foliage, while winter brings snow to the mountain slopes.
Lake Sevan is one of the highlights of a visit to Armenia. One of the largest mountain lakes in the world, it features a scenic resort with seasonal swimming and skiing. The two churches of the monastery of Sevanavank, dating from the 8th century sit on what used to be an island in the lake, now a penninsula due to declining water levels. There are a variety of beaches, some teeming with activity and resorts offering watersports such as sailing, jetskiing, and windsurfing, and some quiet and secluded. On the southern shore of Lake Sevan is a cemetery with nearly a thousand khachkars, decoratively carved gravestones unique to Armenia.
Echmiadzin, in eastern Armenia, is possibly the most visited city by both pilgrims and tourists to the country. Echmiadzin became the original capital of Armenia around 200 A.D. and it is said to be the holiest city in the country since it is the seat of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The central focus of the city is the Echmiadzin Cathedral purported to be the oldest church in the world, built by Saint Gregory the Illuminator in 303 A.D. Near the cathedral is the Gate of Saint Tiridates into the Armenian patriarch's palace complex and the Alex and Marie Manoogian Museum. Besides the cathedral, three other major churches are found in Echmiadzin: Saint Gayane and Saint Hripsime from the 600s and Saint Shoghakat from the 1700s, with stories of their own and all in an incredible state of preservation. The cathedral and churches of Echmiadzin are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites, as is the nearby archaeological site of Zvartnots, the location of a cathedral destroyed by an earthquake in 930 A.D. and lost to history until its discovery in the early 20th century.
Other UNESCO World Heritage sites in Armenia include the monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin, as well as the monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley. Haghpat and Sanahdin Monasteries are in the northern part of Armenia, and were both founded in the 10th century. The monasteries are uniquely situated on a scenic plateau intersected by deep ravines. The Geghard Monastery in the Upper Azat Valley was founded in the 4th century on the site of a cave with a sacred spring. The monastery itself has been carved out of the rock and decorated with images and inscriptions. Geghard means "spear", named for the spear that wounded Jesus during crucifixion, supposedly stored in the monastery.
From mountain meadows and alpine vistas to a culture rich in tradition and history to the urban pulse of modern Yerevan, it's easy to fall in love with Armenia.