Why do people travel? Some of them are attracted by mountain trails, others by comfortable valleys, but all of them are united by the desire to change places and the thirst for new experiences. If the routine and pace of modern life have not taken away your desire to see new places and get acquainted with ancient cultures, head to the Artsakh Republic, and you will not regret it!
The rich history and culture of this, so far unexplored by tourists region, comprises many centuries. In this small republic, a vast number of monuments of material and spiritual culture are concentrated. Here you can see stone idols, ancient settlements of the times of “Urartu” and the Hellenistic era, and of course, variety of monuments of religious and civil architecture. Besides, Artsakh is famous for fascinating samples of material culture - these are carpets, silk production, and winemaking.
Art and architecture of Artsakh began to develop in pre-Christian times, and the flourishing of the culture fell on the Middle Ages, which was served by the missionary activity of the religious leaders of Armenia - St.Gregory the Illuminator. Due to him, Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as the state religion (in 301 AD) and St. Mesrop Mashtots, who created the Armenian alphabet in 405 A.D.
Monuments of civil architecture
Tigranakert is an ancient Armenian city founded in the 1st century BC, one of the four cities called after Tigran II (Great) – the ruler of Great Armenia. Throughout an extended period, it has been one of the centers of the Armenian culture. Its ruins were discovered in 2005 in the Askeran region of Artsakh. In the place of the ancient city, burial mounds, stone sculptures, religious buildings, and churches hollowed out in the rocks have been preserved. Today Tigranakert is a state reserve where groups of archaeologists and historians work.
The palace complex of Melik Yegan is a bright illustration of the Armenian civil architecture dating back to the 18th century, located in Togh village. The partially preserved complex consists of several buildings of various purposes - a reception hall, a public housing, and urban-type housing. Another interesting story is the life of Melik Egan himself, who received a small name (princely title) from Nadir Shah and fought vigorously to preserve the independence of his people. Since 2009, excavations and restoration work have been carried out here. On the territory, there is a small museum with exhibits of various eras. Strictly speaking, this is not a palace in the usual sense of the word, but the main house of the manor.
Karkar is an ancient, medieval city of Artsakh province of Greater Armenia, which is mentioned in Armenian, Arabic and Georgian chronicles. The ancient settlement was founded in the 8th to 7th centuries BCE on a waterless plateau, where a man-made canal of 1400 m in length was carried out. As a result of excavations conducted in 2011-12 structures with cyclopean masonry of the Late Iron Age 8th–7th century B.C. were discovered, that is, the times of Urartu.
Monuments of religious architecture
The Gandzasar Monastery is a prominent monument of Armenian culture and architecture and a functioning monastery of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Translated from Armenian, Gandzasar means "mountain of treasure." The monastery was founded in the XII century and was the Armenian spiritual center. At the monastery, there was a school where religious figures were trained, and manuscripts were created and stored here.
Amaras Monastery is the oldest Armenian monastery founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator at the beginning of the 4th century. It is here that the creator of the Armenian alphabet, St. Mesrop Mashtots, founded the first Armenian monastery school. At different periods of history, the monastery was repeatedly invaded and destroyed in the XIV century. Despite this, it always remained one of the religious and cultural centers with a continuously functioning school, and in the XVII century was reconstructed.
Dadivank Monastery, or Hutavank, is a majestic and ancient monastery complex, an excellent example of Armenian architecture of the 9th-13th centuries. Dadivank is located in the Karvachar district at an altitude of 1100 m above sea level. The first name of the monastery is associated with the name of St. Dadi, who preached Christianity in the west of Armenia and was a student of the Apostle Thaddeus. According to legend, the monastery was built over his grave. The second name comes from the Armenian “Hut” (hill) and “Vank” (monastery): “monastery on a hill.” The complex is renowned for the fact that inside the Memorial Cathedral is the greatest collection of Artsakh frescoes. The few preserved frescoes are essential for the history of Armenian fresco art due to their unique compositional features and color schemes.
Tsitsernavank monastery -IV-VI centuries - is an Armenian model of an oriental architectural type. The monastery is located in the Kashatagh Province of Artsakh, and according to legend, it was built on the site of a pagan temple, as the name says: “tsitsernak” - translated from Armenian as “swallow,” and the cult of swallow in pre-Christian Armenia was one of the most common ones. According to legend, the little finger of saint Apostle Peter was kept in Tsitsernavank.
Ghazanchetsots or St. Amenaprkich Ghazanchetsots (Cathedral of St. Christ the Savior) - was built in the XIX century and is the current temple of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The cathedral is located in the center of Shushi on the top of a plateau. The architectural complex consists of a church (1868–1887) and a bell tower (1858). The facade is lined with slabs of lime cream light shade. An exceptional example of stone carving is the bell tower’s ornamented belt. The cathedral functioned until 1920. In Soviet times, it was used as a barn. During the Karabakh war, sculptures were destroyed in the church, and an arms cache was located here. On May 9, 1992, after the liberation of Shushi, the restoration of the cathedral began, and in 1998 it was reopened and consecrated.
Shushi Fortress - was built in the XVIII century by Panah-Ali Khan, who proclaimed himself Khan of Karabakh, where he ruled in 1748-1759. Armenian historians believe that the name of the city of Shushi comes from the name of the fortress. For many centuries, the ancient fortified city was the administrative, religious, cultural and educational center of Artsakh.
Mayraberd Fortress (Armenian: Mother Fortress) - one of the most massive and best-preserved fortresses in Artsakh was built in the 18th century to protect the city of Shushi. The fortress is located on the southern outskirts of Askeran on both banks of the river Karkar in a wooded area and 17 km northeast of Stepanakert. In the Middle Ages, this place was a fortress and an Armenian village called Mayraberd. The towers of the fortress, built from small pebbles and crushed limestone, served as observation posts. Now the fortress is in excellent condition due to the restoration carried out in 2002.
Handaberd Fortress is the largest, most powerful, and well-preserved fortress of the region, located on the top of a wooded and steep mountain, at an altitude of 1665 m. The only approach to the fortress is a trail stretching under the southwestern fortress wall. Handaberd Fortress occupies a special place among the fortresses of Eastern Armenia. It had a powerful fortification system and was a critical defense point both for Artsakh and for the whole of Armenia. 800 m east of the fortress are the ruins of the Handaberd monastery. Several stone inscriptions have been preserved on the territory of the fortress, revealing the history of the monastery, the fortress, and the whole of Artsakh.
Kachaghakaberd Fortress - was built in the VIII century and is located at an altitude of 1700 m. The fortress is surrounded by cliffs about 50-60 m high and has one remote entrance from the south side. The name of the fort comes from the words “kachaghak” (magpie) and “bird” (fortress) since the top of the fortress is available only for magpies. Throughout history, no one has been able to take the fort by storm, only a siege. Two reservoirs in the central part of the fortress, in which rain and meltwater collected, provided the fortress with water for a long time, in case of siege.
Carpet and textile production
Carpet weaving and silk embroidery are traditional types of applied arts in all regions of Armenia; however, Artsakh carpets deserve particular attention due to their unique characteristics and popularity. Many ancient sources testify to the art of Artsakh carpet weaving and the manufacture of other fabrics, more specifically, silk embroidery and altar coverings. It is known that in the 10th century, textiles and carpets from Artsakh were deeply valued in the Arab world. In the 11th century, local carpets and natural silk designs were illustrated at international exhibitions. Before the spread of synthetic dyes, the vibrant coloring of Artsakh carpets was achieved using natural colors (plants and minerals). To this day, natural dyes are used in some areas of Artsakh, remaining true to traditional methods. In 2011, the Shushi Carpet Museum was opened in Shushi, where antique Karabakh carpets are presented. It is worth visiting the museum and visually familiarizing yourself with the features of the Artsakh carpet weaving art.
Monument "We are our mountains"
The monument, which has become a symbol of Artsakh, also known as the Tatik and Papik (Grandfather and Grandmother), is located on a hilltop at the entrance to Stepanakert. Red tuff made monument was built in 1967 and represents two elderly people in traditional costumes (taraz) - a husband and a wife. According to the author, the sculptor Sargis Baghdasaryan, the statue does not have a pedestal, thereby creating the feeling that the figures have grown into the mountains and became one. The monument is present on the coat of arms of the city and country and on the coins of Armenia and Artsakh.
To get acquainted with the culture of Artsakh and get more visual information, you can visit the museums of the region: the National Archaeological Museum, the Historical Museum of Shushi, the Geological Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and others. More information about the museums of Artsakh can be found here. And this is not the whole list of them, precious crystals of history and culture are stored in every corner of this land.