Sunday, 20 November 2011

Armenia Part I: Sevan

Opera House, Yerevan

I have just realised, with no small amount of astonishment, that it has almost been an entire year since the Schiphol Snow Saga.

With that in mind, I thought I'd bore you all to death with some pictures of Armenia, since I didn't have my blog back then.

Between September and December last year, I made three consultancy trips out there. I spent most of my time working in Tsaghkadzor, a resort in central Armenia, the name of which translates as: Valley of Flowers.

However, due to a slight quirk with Armavia Air, although I finished work on a Saturday morning, I couldn't get a flight home until Monday. This meant that I returned to the capital, Yerevan, on Saturday afternoons and had the whole of Sunday to play tourist. A role which I truly relished.

Fortunately, I received a great tip-off from my driver about Hyur tourist company. They were just around the corner from my hotel. I highly recommend them.

Enough waffle, more pictures.

Click on any of these for a better view...

Chapels at Sevan
Few people know that Armenia was in fact the first ever country to declare Christianity as its national religion, in 301 AD. As such, there are lots of extremely old chapels.

It's a landlocked country with an 'inland sea' - Lake Sevan. During my first visit, my friend and interpreter, Makrita, decided that we needed to get out of Tsaghkadzor for the evening. She took me to Sevan.

Views of Lake Sevan
At the base of the mountain, local children were selling thin pencil-length candles. I discovered what these were for at the top. 

There were two little chapels perched on the cliff. The view of the lake was stunning. Behind one of the chapels was a tiny stone room. It was perfectly dark inside. The heat from the candles that people had left was overwhelming. It was like being enveloped in a granite womb. Quite an incredible experience.

Ornately Carved Chapel Door
Cross Stones at Sevan
Here, I encountered my first 'cross stones'. Early Armenians had a real thing for carving crosses on stones. No two are ever alike. Each one is supposed to be slightly different, to show 'the beauty in imperfection.' This reflects life - just as no two people, plants, or snowflakes are alike.

They started quite simply, then became more and more ornate through history as masons discovered new techniques. The highly decorative stones date from around the thirteenth century.

I'm a bit of a sucker for lumps of rock, as I'll get to in part three.

Something else that really fascinated me was a 'wishing tree' a little further up from the chapels. Armenia may be the oldest Christian country on earth, but it still has a healthy respect for heathenry. You find these in Ireland, next to sacred wells. People tie items to special trees to take away illness or grant wishes.

Wishing Tree at Sevan
Makrita explained that, originally, there would have been different knots used for different wishes, but that these traditions have been lost in time. It was amazing to think - as I will come to when I post about Carahunge (Armenia's Stonehenge) - that people from as far apart as Mongolia and Ireland, shared a common desire to build huge stone structures, yet four-thousand years later we can't remember why.

Anyway, that was my first outing. On the Saturday I headed back to Yerevan. At the top of this post is Armenia's National Opera House. Throughout summer it transforms into café culture central. Lots of small ice-cream and pizza parlours, everyone sitting outside late into the night, drinking and chatting.

Views from Around Yerevan
Found a gorgeous little craft shop selling mixed-media artwork. Photos don't do it justice. The kind of stuff you resent the excess baggage charge for.

Armenian Mixed-media Art
They had the cutest puppy there. He'd latched on to one of the artists and had an unquenchable trouser-leg fetish. I almost walked out with him attached to my jeans. No bad thing.

More to come shortly. Rather enjoying this jaunt down memory lane.

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