An Armenian odyssey where tradition meets modernity

Armenia, the first Christian nation in the world, could be a good holiday destination this winter for those who want to savor the old world charm along with modernity, the Times of India writes.

“Tucked away in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, this mountainous country is eagerly waiting to welcome you with its rich platter of heritage, culture, hospitality, breathtaking landscapes and feel-at-home ambience. From Mt Ararat (the traditional site of landing of Noah’s Arc which is now in Turkey) to the world’s largest mountain lake (Sevan), Armenia promises a thrilling and wholesome vacation,” the author writes.

Armenia’s culture trek will be a journey from the Khor Virap monastery in the Ararat plain where St Gregory, the Illuminator, was imprisoned for 14 years by Armenian King Tiridates III, a pagan. A 40-minute drive from Yerevan will lead to this historical place overlooking Mt Ararat. Later, St Gregory became the king’s mentor and they led proselytizing activity in the country. The place could be the first port of call in Yerevan for visitors.

The next day, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, founded by Gregory the Illuminator, could be on the top of the tour list. Considered the oldest cathedral in the world, this structure replaced a pre-existing temple, symbolizing the conversion of paganism to Christianity. The cathedral in Vagharsapat city was listed as a World Heritage Site by the Unesco in 2000.

Etchmiadzin is the seat of the Catholicos, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The altar is built over an ancient pagan fire worshipping pit. The surrounding grounds have gardens and khachkars (cross stones). There is a bookstore inside the compound selling gifts, crosses and jewelry.

Capital Yerevan or Erebuni, has a lot to offer to tourists. From the dancing fountains at the Republic Square, The State Opera House to the Cascade Complex, visitors are spoilt for choice. A walk around the capital at night is an absolute delight. After a hard day’s work, people from all walks of life hang out at the Republic Square to see the colorful fountains.

For shoppers, a visit to the open-air ‘Vernissage’ market is a must. From vintage meat, old guns, knives, semi-precious stones, jewelry, traditional carpets, medallions to pets, it is an amazing place, which was set up by Armenian artists in the Eighties to display their works. Buyers should have adequate bargaining skills and prices can come down dramatically.

A must visit is Garni, the only pagan temple in the country believed to be built by King Tiridates 1 in the first century AD for sun god Mihr. It was converted into a royal summer house for the sister of Tiridates 3 after Armenia converted to Christianity. It was destroyed in an earthquake in 1679 and was reconstructed later. The temple boasts 24 columns resting on an elevated podium, and unlike other Greco-Roman temples, it is made of basalt.

A trip to this country is incomplete without a visit to the genocide memorial. Genocide is not just any term for Armenians, it is what defines the country and stirs emotions. It is estimated that 1.5 million people lost their lives in the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of Armenians inside their historic homeland, which lies within the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey. However, Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies it.

The photographs and accounts of survivors at the memorial hark back to the country’s dark past. A melancholic tune is played at the place all the time in memory of those who lost their lives.

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