Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Armenia Part III: Carahunge

By my second trip to Armenia, I was prepared. I'd had a chance to peruse the electronic information guide at the reception of my hotel, and learned that Armenia has its very own Stonehenge!

Now that I had to see.

My Yerevan abode - Hotel Avitrans

On the Saturday, after returning from Tsakhkadzor, I went out for drinks with colleagues (by this time friends) and we headed to a jazz bar to see a world-famous musician. So famous that I've forgotten his name *blush* But he did play the clarinet exceedingly well.

We went for drinks beforehand at a lovely place with live music.

Pre-Jazz Drinks

Another totally excellent feature of Yerevan is that every Sunday between 9-11pm, the fountains in Republic Square (just around the corner from my hotel) start to dance! There's a huge music and light spectacular. People stand around talking, kids skating, popcorn sellers. It's got a lovely communal feel to it.

Fountains in Republic Square
(click to enlarge)

That's the townie bit over. If rocks bore you, look away now.

The journey to Carahunge is pretty epic. It was about a seven hour round trip. Few people attempt it in one go. Most join a tour, but I had to catch a flight the next day. I hired a trusty driver and vehicle from Hyur, and off we went.

I did feel every minute of those seven hours, but it was a great opportunity to get out of the city and see rural Armenia. My driver had a real penchant for Louis Armstrong, which helped pass the time. Think we got through every song he'd ever done.

We parked up on the road and I began my soletary journey along a dusty track in the direction he told me the stones were in. It was a trust exercise.

Approaching the Stones

Carahunge, Karahunj, Zorats Karer (Zorat's Stones) - this is Armenia’s Stonehenge. The site may be as old as 7,500 years, and the central grave dates to around 2,000 BC.
The site is located on a rocky promontory near Sisian. About 223 large stone tombs can be found in the area. It was explored by a team of archaeologists from the Institut für Vorderasiatische Archäologie, University of Munich who published their findings in 2000. They concluded that "in contrast to the opinion that Zorakarer may be called an Armenian Stonehenge", Zorats Karer "was mainly a necropolis from the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age." The Munich archaeologists add that it may have served "as a place of refuge in times of war", possibly in the Hellenistic - Roman period (c. 300 BC - 300 AD). A wall of rocks and compacted soil (loam) was built around the site with vertical rocks plugged into it for reinforcement: today only these upright rocks remain. - Wiki
From the above description, it sounds - and looks - a little more like Avebury, which was constructed around 2,600 BC and contains a deep trench around the outer rocks.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
You might notice the holes in the stones at the top of this post, and the top right, above. In the UK these are sometimes called 'spirit holes,' especially with dolmens, which would originally have been buried underneath an earth mound. The idea being, in folklore, that the holes were left so that the spirits of the dead could come and go.

A more practical explanation is that they were used for astronomy:

About 84 of the stones feature a circular hole, although only about 50 of the stones survive. They have been of interest to Russian and Armenian archaeoastronomists who have suggested that the standing stones could have been used for astronomical observation. This suggestion was made by observers who noted four stone holes which could be claimed to be sighted at the point on the horizon where the sun rises on midsummer's day. Four others standing stones display holes which observers claimed point where the sun sets on the same day. However, this must remain conjectural as the holes are relatively unweathered and may not even be prehistoric in origin. - Wiki
I have to admit to never having seen so many spirit holes at one site. Usually you only see one or two. Although I'm the first to jump at a spiritual solution, because I love the mystery of these places, one might practically conclude that perhaps they had something to do with how the stones got there. 

It's long baffled anthropologists and archaeologists just how such huge rocks ended up in these remote, hilltop locations. As unromantic as it sounds, you could probably fit a sturdy pole through one of those holes.

Spirit holes can be quite good fun, though. Below is a picture (left) of a dog at Caragunge. On the right is 'Cow in a Dolmen,' taken at St. Lythans in South Wales. Click for a better view.

Genius Loci

On arrival, I immediately made a friend. She had no ears, and a severe tick infestation, but also that friendly, gentle spirit about her which indicated that she was a manifestation of the Genius Loci of Carahunge. This is one of my all-time favourite photos, taken by two fellow enthusiasts passing by:

Me and the Genius Loci of Carahunge
I had such a wonderful time at the stones. The views were incredible and there was such a peaceful feel to the place. It was a vast site. Once again, I couldn't help marvelling that you find these places as far apart as Mongolia and the Outer Hebrides. Once upon a time, half the population of the globe considered building these things to be a fantastic idea. Yet none of us can remember why. Rather funny when you think about it.


I won't lie, it's quite a trek. But if you like this sort of thing, I hugely  recommend going. It's an incredible sight.

See Also:

Armenia Part II: Geghard & Garni
Armenia Part I: Sevan

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