Chambarak Travel Blog› entry 11 of 30 › view all entries
We saw churches across Armenia today, from the Turkish border to the shores of Lake Sevan. We started with Khor Virab, the 7th century monastery where Saint Gregory the Illuminator (the patron-saint of Armenia) is said to have been imprisoned for 13 years by the Armenian King Trdat III, as Gregory was the son of Anak, the man who assassinated the previous king. We visited the deep dungeon underneath the monastery where Gregory is alleged to have been kept, until God turned the king mad, such that he started crawling around like a beast. According to local legend, the King’s sister had a dream that only Gregory could restore the King, so he was released and the King duly restored to humanity. In return, the King converted the entire country to Christianity, in 301 CE, making Armenia the first country to institute Christianity as a state religion.
We followed up the monastic tour with a sampling of what is said to be the best wine in Armenia, at Areni village. The dry red was tolerable, the semi-dry was insufferably sweet and the rosé stripped the throat like turpentine. Perhaps a sign of the quality of the winery is that the bulk is purchased in reused coke bottles, especially as it is close to the Iranian border and the incongruous cover allows importation of a forbidden vice. Presumably the border guards are not overly strict, as a Sprite bottle filled with red wine and recapped with a Fanta lid hardly seems like James Bond-esqe subterfuge.
Noravank, an Armenian Apostolic monastery built in 1339, was notable for the unique entrance, with stepped ornamentation on the façade being used as a stairway to the main door, in order to prevent entry by animals, high up in the wild mountains. It was the final work of the famous sculptor Momik, who fell from the roof and died in the final stages of the construction. We drove over Selim Pass, with its perfectly preserved caravanasi from the medieval Silk Road, before finally reaching Lake Sevan. At Lake Sevan the partially completed shells of Intourist Hotels silently demonstrate the crippling effect that the dissolution of the USSR had on the Armenian economy.