Why Armenia

Cultural Treasure Map

Travel through Armenia has been linked to exploration from times of old, when the mystique of the new world held allure for Europeans determined to discover that riches and wonders were waiting on the other side of the ocean. Fast forwarding to the present, it is good news for us all that Armenia is eager to showcase its veritable treasurer trove of art, culture, architecture, spirituality and heritage to all who have the itch to explore. Following this treasure map here are 10 highlights that will satisfy even the most enterprising of all explore.

Perched 3 kilometers above sea-level on a mountainous plateau in the mesmerizing region of Syunik are the remnants of an ancient fortress. Only the determined should plan for the climb to this rooftop of the world, and only during the warmest summer months. More than 2000 ancient rock engravings (petroglyphs) at Ughtasar depict various sacred rituals, hunting scenes, folk and religious dances and other traces of Paleolithic influence dating back seven millennia. The petroglyphs, strewn among the scattered rocks around a pristine lake in the mountains, are deservedly regarded among the most mysterious and interesting attractions in Armenia. The reward is undeniable for those who can overcome the logistics of getting to the mountain peak in a sturdy 4x4.

Garni Temple
Our first stop along our journey is at the exhilarating Garni Temple, the pre-eminent example of Hellenistic culture in Armenia today. The temple was built within a fortress in the 3rd century BC on a triangular plateau over a deep canyon, enjoying natural protection on three sides by the deep valley and rocky cliffs. Throughout its history, the temple mirrored Armenia itself, rebuilding itself after foreign invasion and destruction only to stand tall once again. Today the temple stands as it did two millennia earlier adorned by two dozen ionic columns.

The Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin
Located in close proximity to each other on the banks of the Debed River in the forested Lori region are the Cathedrals of Haghpat and Sanahin, two of Armenia's Unesco World Heritage sites. Constructed and expanded over several hundred years starting in the 10th century, these resplendent ecclesiastical and academic centers are reminders of Armenia's years of past glory, intellectual activity, and cultural heritage. It is believed that the great Armenian troubadour and poet Sayat-Nova was born in Sanahin, the birthplace of his mother. After his life in Tiflis and his fame as a court minstrel, he became a monk, relocating to Haghpat to serve the monastery, where he continued to express himself with his favorite stringed instrument the saz.

Geghard Cathedral
Just a few minutes drive from the temple at Garni is the sheer wonder of Geghard. Feelings of solemn spirituality are interwoven with incredulous awe upon entering a church literally hollowed out from a mountain of solid rock. This stop on our cultural map is not to be bypassed. As if the architectural magnificence is not enough, the history of Geghard is noteworthy in its own right. The name Geghard, meaning 'spear' or 'lance' in Armenian, harkens back to the times of Jesus, when a spear was used by a Roman soldier to pierce the body of Christ during the Crucifixion. The spear was long housed at Geghard, but is presently in the museum of the Cathedral at Echmiadzin. By the way, if your explorations happen to occur during the performance of Armenian spiritual hymns in the vestibule of the church, you will concur that the resonant rock chamber's acoustics are indeed heavenly.

The Matenadaran Institute
The state depository of manuscripts houses an extraordinary collection of over 13,000 handwritten books. Presiding over the Yerevan city center, the building itself is a dignified edifice, with statues of Armenian luminaries and intellectuals such as Movses Khorenatsi, Toros Roslin, Grigor Tatevatsi, Anania Shirakatsi, Mkhitar Gosh and Frik as well as of the founder of the Armenian alphabet, Mesrop Mashtots watching over the premises. The newly renovated repository has excellent guides who will shed light on the most noteworthy of the ensemble of tomes of treasure on display.

The Fortress at Erebuni
Our whirlwind tour of Armenia ends with a visit back to the establishment of Yerevan, at the archaeological site on the outskirts of the modern day capital nearly 3 millennia after its founding. The fortress at Erebuni, the Urartian precursor to Yerevan has been excavated and transformed into an outdoor museum, housing over 12,000 artifacts unearthed from this thriving center of ancient civilization. Although our map highlights these ten sites, the cultural richness of this country is such that you could probably find an alternative 10 destinations and not feel any drop-off in wonder, heritage, and adventure. In any case, happy trails to all modern day explorers discovering firsthand the past, present, and future that Armenia holds for us all.

Zvartnots Temple
An expedition to Armenia is incomplete without a pilgrimage to one of the holiest of sites in Christianity, the oldest national church in the world, Echmiadzin, which means "The Descent of the Only Begotten Son." Etchmiadzin, located in the town of the same name, dates back over 1700 years and is the residence of the Catholicos of all Armenians and the spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. A walk around the grounds will reveal a beautiful cathedral, museum, and seminary among the most significant edifices of this holy site. The nearby architectural masterpiece of Zvartnots was built in the middle of the 7th century. Damaged by an earthquake in the 10th century and unearthed nearly a thousand years later in the early 20th century, the cathedral sheds light on the highly evolved architectural and spiritual development of the Armenian nation from the days of early Christianity. Its three-tiered construction has been deduced from written history and from the ruins of the structure itself by the combined efforts of archaeologists, historians, and architectural specialists.

National Gallery
Founded in 1919, during the pre-Soviet independent republic, the National Gallery of Armenia has the most impressive collection of art in Armenia. From classical to modern, from Armenian to western, the History Museum is an inviting indoor stop along the meandering journey among outdoor artistic masterpieces to a collection of them indoors.

The Ararat Cognac Factory
As active as any explorer is, all need to find time to enjoy the finer things in life. In Armenia, this may very well mean a trip to the most famous producer of brandy in the country. The favorite drink of none other than Winston Churchill, who regularly enjoyed this Armenian specialty, brandy has a special place in the hearts of the eloquent toastmasters and orators among us. Sir Winston himself mused, "Always remember that I have taken more from brandy than brandy has taken from me." Partially owned and managed by Pernod Ricard, the brandy factory has expanded its production and market penetration in recent years while concurrently helping support the local grape industry.

Old Dilijan
Nestled in the heart of the forests of northern Armenia, Dilijan is the epitome of quaint. Home to many famous composers, artists and cinematographers, this reclusive town of 23,000 boasts a historic refurbished city center with rows of houses with typical early twentieth century interiors and others displaying handicrafts or musical instruments. This popular vacation destination is like a piece of Switerzerland sequestered within the Armenian highlands.


Nature’s Healing Power

The healing power of Armenia manifest themselves in various elemental forms.

Armenia’s climate has attracted visitors for thousand of years. Crisp mountains air accents the atmosphere of tranquility as you are inspired by the raw nature in your midst.

Armenian’s soil radiates a natural energy, an energy that has accumulated over the centuries fueling the small country’s plentiful harvests, fresh vegetables and luscious fruits.

Armean’s alphine spring water induces relaxation. The rivulets of melted runoff from snowcapped mountains have been a pleasing sight since Noah himself watched the floor water dissipate around his new home.

The trees of Armenia are symbolic of the country’s regrowth, rejuvenation, and restoration. The nation with ancient roots is blossoming once again.

Your Long, Last Family

Your long lost family welcomes you home. Whether you are an Armenian who has grown up on the shores of a different country, or a world traveler looking for the ideal mix of culture, adventure, and relaxation, Armenia welcomes you with open arms. At the crossroads of cultures east and west, at the intersection of trade routes near and far, Armenia has a veritable trademark on hospitality and receptivity. The recent growth of the tourism sector means more and more opportunities for Armenians to showcase their welcoming spirit, their gracious warm-heartedness and their generous nature.

Armenia is home to close-knit extended families always ready to accept a new member, be prepared to be adopted by an Armenian family, at least in spirit! Leave behind of world of indifference and monotony and try Armenia's antidote of one part congeniality and one part hospitality.

Armenia Year-Round

Serenity envelops Armenia in the winter as the last of the autumn colors fade away and the pristine snow falls to the ground. Winters in Armenia are an opportunity for friends and families to gather around the table and raise their glasses to their loved ones both near and far, appreciating the most important things in life. Winter is also the time when one can take on the elements in a ski ride through the mountains or a hike to a snow-covered church off the beaten track.

Over time, Armenians have developed the best antidote against the brisk winters of a mountainous country. The answer is in a hearty, warm soup, an experience that transcends the mundane act of eating. Prepared over many hours, khash is a soup made from cow hooves, with plenty of garlic and salt, accompanied by the traditional Armenian lavash bread, not to mention the requisite series of vodka shots. Khash is an acquired taste, but an immediate bonding experience, an all-morning institution among Armenians in the winter.

What better place to celebrate the birth of Christ than in the oldest Christian nation? Christmas in Yerevan is a majestic, solemn, and unique experience. Consider Armenia as the place to rediscover and regain your spirituality during the Christmas season, a time of year when stress, materialism, and commercialization can undermine the true meaning of the season. Interestingly, Armenians continue to celebrate Christmas on January 6, as was customary throughout the Christian world until the Roman church changed the day of celebration to December 25.

Spring is about rebirth, and nowhere is this concept more appropriately embodied than in Armenia, the most ancient of lands, and among the newest reborn states. Your eyes will feast on endless meadows of wildflowers, while your ears take in the sounds of roaring streams of melted alpine snows

Culinary customs during the Easter week include rice pilaf with raisins and other dried fruit, and the welcome emergence of herbs, greens, and fresh vegetables as the thawing winter ushers in the spring. Armenian dinners are famous for their many courses, visually colorful and appealing presentation, and organic fresh ingredients. As Lent ends and families unleash a spread to celebrate the Easter season, enjoy the delectable food and festive mood of the season of rebirth.

The Christian holiday of renewal, Easter, or Zatik, is a time of celebration in Armenia. Among the best times for a visit to Holy Etchmiadzin, the Easter week represents a culminations of many traditions. Easter morning kicks off with a jovial contest where each family member attempts to become the champion, crushing the shells of their relatives' natural red-dyed eggs. As the period of fasting during Lent gives way to a traditional feast among friends and family, Easter is a memorable time in Armenia.

Seemingly on every corner of the city, vendors selling fruits and vegetables entice us all from our winter of hibernation. Springtime in Yerevan is when the city comes to life. Sunny days alternate with rain as the snows of the winter are forgotten. Spring also has its solemn moments. A celebration of life combines with a day of remembrance on April 24 each year as Armenians in Yerevan in solidarity with their brethren around the world commemorate the Genocide of 1915.

Summer in Armenia is a celebration of the sun. Sevan and its invigorating alpine waters, the weekend hustle and bustle of Armenia's outdoor arts and crafts markets, or simply a bite of a ripe luscious apricot, the fruit of Armenia. Treat yourself to a lazy evening walk through the cafe-laden streets of Yerevan, a hike under the bright Armenian summer rays, or embark on an inspirational climb to the heights of Mount Aragats.

Apricots, peaches, plums, grapes, watermelon, cherries the list of fresh fruit which grow under the Armenian sun can go on and on and on. Organic, picked daily, and available on every street corner, Armenia in the summertime is a fruit-lover's paradise. Treat yourself to a blended fruit smoothie as you stroll down Yerevan's newly paved streets. Or a visit to the verdant regions to pick a basketful of raspberries and blackberries from the vine. Yerevan's bountiful harvest awaits you!

Vardavar is the popularization of the holiday of the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrating Christ's Transfiguration. The manner in which this church feast is celebrated is one of merriment and joy, with a splash of mischief. Armenians throughout country participate in this answer to the summer heat by throwing water over friends or strangers. Enjoy the summer heat of Armenia, with the refreshing - and unexpected - waters of Vardavar cooling you off from all directions.
Yerevan truly comes alive in the summertime. With literally hundreds of cafes throughout the city, Yerevan's sunny days and cool breezy nights beckon all to enjoy a round of drinks among friends, an evening of ice cream indulgence, or the ubiquitous cup of coffee to sip and relax after a long day. Florists run around-the-clock businesses in Yerevan, a city which is drowning in flowers during the colorful summertime in Armenia

As the end of summer ushers in the autumn, Armenia transforms into a collage of earth-tones with a golden hue. The most plentiful time of year for the harvest, Armenia's veritable cornucopia of local produce is a food connoisseur's dream. Autumn in Armenia also means the beginning of another school year, and Armenia's children, the pride and hope of the reborn country's future will most definitely put a smile on your face.

Although no one knows for sure, wine-making may in fact have its origin in Armenia. In any case, references to the over-3000 year old wine making tradition can be found in Greek, Roman, Armenian and other early sources, and is substantiated by various archeological discoveries. Putting the history books aside for a moment, you can conduct your own taste test. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by the dry red wines of Areni, the smooth white wines of Ijevan, or the bottled bouquets from the extensive vineyards of the sun-drenched Ararat valley.

For the Armenian nation, decades of contradiction, repression, and control ended on September 21, 1991 with jubilant Armenian independence. Coinciding with Independence Day, the ATDA is thrilled to promote the annual KENATS Festival, a celebration during which Armenia is electric with excitement. Residents and visitors alike delight in an exciting and exhilarating extravaganza of music, dance, performing and visual arts and crafts. Join us this autumn and celebrate Armenia!

Golden is the dominant color of Yerevan's rustic palette of colors. The variety of fruits and vegetables reaches its zenith, and families throughout the land are busy drying or canning fruit in preparation for the looming winter. As summer gives way to fall, the radiant summer heat becomes milder, the leaves adopt vibrant hues, and a new school year commences. Fall is generally regarded as the best time of year to visit Armenia, so book early as Yerevan's fleet of new hotels enjoy their highest occupancy during these inviting months.