Photo feature: Immersing yourself in the Christian heritage of Armenia
Floris Akkerman, CNE.news
Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion. That is visible all over the South Caucasian country.
Slightly annoyed, a tourist climbs up the stairs. A few moments earlier, she was approached by the angry Armenian Sofia Dilanyan (40). Dilanyan asked the tourist if she knew where she was now. The tourist shook her head, to which Dilanyan agitated began to explain how unique the pit was in which they stood together.
Here, said Dilanyan, Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for thirteen years. When King Tiridates IV released him, Gregory converted him to Christianity. Thus Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion in 301. To experience Gregorius's captivity, you can descend into his pit in the Khor Virap monastery, an hour's drive from the Armenian capital Yerevan.
Outside the monastery, the visitor stands face to face with Mount Ararat, sacred to the Armenians but located on Turkish territory. For the Turks, it is an ordinary mountain, but not for the Armenians. Noah's ark landed on Mount Ararat, according to the Bible and the Torah. The mountain has been powdered with fresh snow this morning in September.
Gregorius, the monastery Khor Virap and the Ararat set the tone for a journey through Christian Armenia, passing green, yellow and red mountains. The mountains are located in the most breath-taking locations in the South Caucasian country, where monasteries and churches were built. Their domes characterise them as broad pointed pencils. Without too much effort, you can shoot beautiful pictures with your camera.
At the end of a dead-end road, sandwiched between two mountain walls, the monastery of Geghard is waiting for us. Gregory the Illuminator is said to have had Geghard built in the fourth century. The sanctuary is partly carved out of the mountain rocks. Behind the building are khachkars in rocks. Khachkars are traditional decorated Armenian memorials with a cross. You can admire them in peace: the other tourists are mainly fixated on the church and their selfies.
Oldest cathedral in the world
Equally, tourist-less is the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, considered the oldest in the world. The cathedral is being renovated and, therefore, closed. Also, this building was made by order of Gregorius the Illuminator. The cathedral gives the city of Echmiadzin a skyline of a central church dome surrounded by four smaller domes.
The Armenian capital Yerevan is a perfect base to admire all these churches and monasteries. The more northernly located blue Lake Sevan (at an altitude of 1,900 meters and surrounded by mountains) forms a setting for even more monasteries. The simple Hayravank is in the shelter: tourists are scarce around this time of the year.
Sevanavank cannot escape from tourists. This monastery is located on a peninsula, formerly an island. The water level of Lake Sevan dropped during Soviet times due to irrigation and hydroelectric power stations. Therefore, the monastery is easy to reach. It does not detract from its beauty: the blue Sevan Lake, the monastery, the mountains in the background – they form a living postcard.
And then the Tatev Monastery, on a mountain plateau, the Temple of Garni, overlooking a narrow valley, and Goshavank Monastery, in the misty mountains, are not even described above. Who wants to immerse himself into Christian heritage should travel to Armenia.