Think of a country beginning with A that has beautiful scenery? Australia. Austria. Armenia is probably not what first springs to mind, however the mystery of Europe’s oldest Christian country alongside stunning landscapes and ruinous monasteries make it high up on my travel bucketlist.
The main sites are the monasteries dotted throughout the country with many dating back to the 4th century when it became the first region to proclaim Christianity as the official religion. Monasteries such as Geghard are hewn out of the mountainous regions (in this case the equally beautiful Azat river gorge) with some being as elaborately carved as in the picture above and others merely caves. Another site close to the Geghard World Heritage Site is the only Greco-Roman colonnaded building in the old Soviet Union; the Parthenon-like Temple of Garni. Erected in the first century as a temple to Mithras by a local king, before being converted into a royal summer house after the adoption of Christianity. Although destroyed in 1679 in an earthquake, it was later rebuilt and is now a central place of worship of Armenian neopagan groups that increased along with nationalism after the fall of the Soviet Union – effectively making it the Armenian equivalent to Stonehenge.
Whilst many of Armenia’s cultural highlights lie outside the capital of Yerevan, it is one of the world’s longest inhabited citites, despite only being declared capital after the Great War and the tragic events of the Armenian genocide. Highlights among the city include the Cascades, a modern day Hanging Gardens of Babylon with stairways decorated with greenery and waterfalls and the continually excavated Erebuni fortress which dates back to the 8th century BC. The city also lies in the shadow of the constantly snow-capped Mount Ararat, stated in the bible to be where Noah’s ark rested after the flood.
Hopefully these little snapshots into what there is in Armenia have vaguely de-mystified such a relatively unknown and scenic country and if trekking out there is a bit far, there’s a little bit of Armenia in London in the form of St Sarkis Orthodox church in Kensington (open Wednesday and Friday 9:30-5:30).