Armenia is a beautiful landlocked country nestled between Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran and Georgia, boasting close ties with both Russia and the West. It has grown magnificently in the past 23 years since the fall of the USSR, while much of its touristic potential still remains relatively untapped. Despite what you may think, the country isn’t just comprised of churches dating back to the 4th century. You can also find ancient relics with massive power that speak of legends depicting times long past. There’s something rather mesmerizing about Armenia and those who care to venture into its beckoning grid of mountains and deep valleys find themselves transported into a treasure island. The loveliest of attractions are not underfoot, nor do they receive visitors in the millions. Instead, they are nestled in the wilderness, far from prying eyes, no less magnificent than the rest, but like the shy bride on her wedding night, shrouded in mystery.
From weird cemeteries to stones that whisper the legends of ancient gods and goddesses, it’s certainly worth your while to leave the capital and begin to explore the scenic provinces of the country. Check out these eight interesting ancient sites you would be surprised to know that they are located in Armenia.
Dating back to nearly 7500 years, Zorats Karer (which is translated from Armenian as Army Stones) or the Armenian Stonehenge predates the British version by a few thousand years and is made up of 204 basalt stones.
2. Stone Age Petroglyphs (Rock Carvings)
In the same region, one can also find the Ughtasar petroglyph field from the Paleolithic Era, located at 3,300 m of Mt. Ughtasar and only reachable during the peak summer months with a 4-wheeler and experienced guide. There’s quite a bit of walking to be done as well before you are faced with the magnificence of enchanting rock carvings, including images of people and animals, dating back to between 12,000 and 4000 BC.
3. Tatev Monastery
The Tatev Monastery complex was built in the 9th century. It used to be a cultural, spiritual and political center of medieval Armenia. Standing on the edge of a deep gorge of the Vorotan River, it gives a breathtaking view of the surroundings. A 5,752 m long cableway, Wings of Tatev, which takes visitors to the monastery, is recorded in the Guinness World Records Book as the world’s longest non-stop reversible aerial tramway. The Tatev Monastery is an important historical landmark and located just a couple of hours drive from the capital of Yerevan.
4. Sevsar Ancient Astronomical Observatory
Armenians have loved astronomy since as far back as recorded history can tell us and astrology has had deep roots in their lives. It is believed that the birth of the zodiac was on the Armenian Plateau where all the animals of the constellation coul have been found at one point or another. On the western slopes of Mt. Sevsar, east of the Martuni-Selim pass, is an observatory which may attest to the truth of this theory with its 15 pictures rock pieces within an area of 50 by 20 meters, one of which is carved in the image of a bolide. They date as far back as the 3rd millennia BC, and are believed to make up the constellations in a rocky stellar map of the sky.
5. Animal-Shaped Tombstones in Yezidi Village
Rya Taza, Aragatsotn Province
There are two very interesting monuments to discover in this region that mostly fully inhabited by the Kurdish semi-nomadic pre-Islamic secretive sect famous for their string cheese. A 13th century cemetery full of animal-shaped tombstones mark the site of of the remains of Mongol warriors that is sure to tantalise your love of mysterious ancient history.
…while remains of a pagan temple with a ruined chapel built atop alongside a Bronze Age cyclopean fortress will have you falling in love with the treasures of history found in the region of the Yezidis.
6. Garni Gorge Basalt Columns
Knicknamed locally as the “Symphony of the Stones”, hexagonal basalt columns along the sides of the Garni Gorge are incredibly unique looking rock formations carved out by the Goght River.
This sight used to be one of Armenia’s premier rock climbing places attracting climbers from all over the world, but in 2013 climbing on the mesmerizing basalt columns was banned.
Above the gorge near the village of Garni there’s another fascinating landmark – the Temple of Garni. Founded in the 1st century, it’s the only pagan temple in Armenia and it’s also the only Greco-Roman colonnaded building in the country and the entire former Soviet Union.
7. Cave Dwellings in Old Khndzoresk
Old Khndzoresk, an ancient part of Khndzoresk village, is located 30 km from the Tatev Monastery. This place features spectacular cave ‘apartments’ which were inhabited till the 1950s. Because there are no flat areas in this region, people had to use natural and man-made caves (by digging into the rock) on the slope as dwellings where the ceiling for one house was the floor for the other. These cave dwellings are many centuries old and the length of the cave city is 3 km. The caves are connected with secret passages, which were known to every dweller.
8. Yeghegis Jewish Cemetery
Vayots Dzor Province
This region is probably the most mysterious in all of Armenia, as it is home to about 70 graves inscribed in Hebrew and Aramaic languages. What makes it such an anomaly in the country is that there have not been any known Jewish communities in Armenia. It has been open for viewing since 2009, discovered in 1996, and visited by some foreign tourists who have come across this information. There are good wishes, prayers from the Bible and blessings on the stones that also have traditionally Armenian symbols and designs.