15 February 2009

Another history lesson

Yesterday after breakfast we decided to go across town and check out Erebouni Fortress and museum. It was a beautiful day (we didn't even need jackets) and we were glad to have a chance to see the southeastern part of the city...we just never made it that far before.

Our taxi drove through Republic Square, and took us south past the statue of the legendary Satsuni Davit -- the Hercules of Armenian folklore -- in front of the central train station. We turned left onto Erebouni Poghota, and there, straight ahead, Karmir Blur ("Red Hill") stood towering over the street and surrounding buildings, crowned by the stone walls of an ancient citadel.

Our tour guide at the museum, Sophia, showed us a model of the fortress as archeologists believe it looked in the height of its glory, and I was particularly impressed at seeing the actual cuneiform tablets considered to be the 'birth certificates' of Yerevan, proclaiming the city's founding in 782 B.C. (nearly three decades before the date on which Romulus and Remus are traditionally said to have founded Rome). The name Erebouni changed over time and eventually became Yerevan. Some of the other ancient artifacts on display were an iron sword, beaded jewelry, enormous clay jugs used for making and storing beer and wine, silver coins, a potter's wheel, and some amazingly well-preserved grape seeds, wheat, barley, and peas.

The fortress itself had been in ruins for centuries, and archaeological excavation and reconstruction have been in progress since only the mid-20th century. From what we saw, it seems there is a severe lack of funding for the project, not only for the scientific and historical aspects, but for security measures to protect the site from vandals and littering.

In any case, our visit was very worthwhile. From the top of the hill, we had a most advantageous view of the country, which is clearly why King Argishti I chose this spot to construct his palace and military stronghold more than 2,700 years ago.

A reconstructed portico with remnants of the original frescoes near the citadel entrance

Walking toward the citadel entrance

We "discovered" this cuneiform tablet in one of the fortress walls

What's left of a Zoroastrian (I think) temple within the complex

Cautiously navigating the ruins

These and dozens of other stone-walled rooms emerge from the hill as if reborn

The museum entrance at the foot of the hill

See additional photos in our online album!

To read more about Erebouni Fortress, see the Armeniapedia page on the subject. There are no pictures, but there's a good deal of information on the layout and design of the fortress.

You can see an aerial photograph and satellite image of the fortress here.

ADDENDUM: I should probably mention for posterity that this was Nathan's very first museum visit. What did he think of it, you ask? Well, less than halfway through the tour, he pooped. (And in Armenia, there are almost no public restrooms, let alone diaper-changing stations, so we had to bring him to the museum staff lounge to change!)

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