The region of Aragatsotn encompasses the alluring Mount Aragats, and its picturesque foothills. The spiritual subject of many Armenian writers and painters, Mount Aragats (Ara + Gah, means the throne of Ara) has exuded a mystic and magical aura throughout the ages. Aragats, with its four peaks, is Armenia's highest mountain. Its splendor has awed and attracted travelers throughout the ages. In addition to its raw natural beauty, the region, with more than 1000 historical monuments has much more to offer. The lace around the slopes of Mt. Aragats is accented by ancient frescoed churches in Mastara, Talin and Aruch, as well as splendid castles and impregnable fortresses, not to mention some world-renowned scientific centers.
Mount Aragats, at 4090 m, is the tallest and one of the most beautiful mountains in Armenia, the crown jewel of the Aragatsotn Region. Its name comes from Ara + gah which means the crown of the god Ara. The majestic mountain has been adopted as the spiritual symbol for many Armenian writers and painters. Not far below the summit is the fascinating Stone Lake (Kara Lich), the location of a Cosmic Ray Investigation center founded here in 1943. This spot also doubles as the launching point for hikers who wish to scale the heights of the mountain. Petroglyphs attesting to the presence of ancient wells, and thus of sedentary civilization, have been revealed by archaeological efforts in the area of Aragats. The mountain has 4 peaks located in a 270° arc: North (4,090), West (4,080), East (3,916), and South (3,879). The summit is covered with snow year-round, feeding a stream which flows down to the village of Aragats from between the South and East summits. As it is expected, the views of the Armenian landscape from the heights of Aragats are breathtaking.
Armenia’s geographical position, at the crossroads of communication between East and West, often was the scene of fierce battles between the two worlds, so profoundly different in their culture and traditions. Because it suffered from this strife and periodically was laid waste by the invasions of powerful neighbors. Armenia and her princes built numerous means of defense in order to protect itself against threatening adversaries.
From this standpoint, the Amberd Fortress and church are typical examples of constructions. The fortress was built according to state of the art criteria used for military constructions at that time, taking advantage of Armenian military tradition, local geography, and building material availability. It is an outstanding example of Armenian secular architecture. The church complex was protected by thick walls and placed almost inaccessibly on a crag overlooking deep ravines and mountain rivers of Arkhashyan and Amberd.
Amberd means “a fortress in the clouds in Armenian - a fitting name given its elevation at 2,300m on the slopes of the Mount Aragats. The Amberd Fortress is located 4 miles from the village of Byurakan. The fortress was founded in the 7th century A.D. during the rule of the Kamsarakan princes. It was rebuilt 4 centuries later by Vahram Vachutian Pakhlavuni. He added thick stone walls and 3 bastions along the ridge of the Arkhashyan ravine, where there were no natural defenses. An inscription above the entry to the church within the fortress indicates that it too was built in 1026. The exterior architecture is simple and expressive, crowned by an umbrella shaped cupola. Amberd was overrun in the 11th century by the Seljuk Turks. Two centuries later, it was assailed by Mongol invaders.
Despite its turbulent history, significant details remains are accessible today. Apart from portions of walls, towers and the church, there are the ruins of a bathhouse and parts of a secret passage and a water-supply system that can be seen.
Karmravor Church was built in the mid-7th century, in the town of Ashtarak. The transition form of square sub-dome space to the basis of the octahedral drum of the church’s dome is supported by four principal squinches. Traces of wall ornamentation show through its whitewashed walls. An ancient tiled spherical roof remains intact.
Hovhannavank Monastery buildings rise off the edge of a picturesque canyon of the Kassagh river.
The earliest part of this complex is from the 5th century, and the main cross-domed church from 1216. It is made of large 7ft. high tufa blocks. A large four-column gavit (1250) on the western side of the main church has an open rotunda over its central section. The defensive wall on the complex’s periphery dates back to the 13th-14th centuries. Many khachkars adorn the area.
Aruch, a domed- hall design, was built in the late 660s by Grigor Mamikonyan, an Armenian nobleman, as part of his residence (the present-day village of Talish). The church is characterized by a spacious interior, with a pendent-like transition of the dome and copious stone-carving. Fragments of a 17th-century wall painting depicting Jesus Christ Enthroned and the Apostles adorn the main apse. A palace attributed to Grigor Mamikonyan, with a large rectangular central hall, side-chambers and galleries all along its perimeter, was unearthed in south of the Church.
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