05 May 2013

Why we're still in Armenia... (Part 2)


This post is the second in a series that attempts to answer the question, "What is it we love about Armenia?"  To read the first post, click here. 


The influence of history and geography

St. Stepanos Church sits precariously atop a cliff in Aragatsotn region.

This one is true everywhere, but coming from Florida, we notice geographic features much more here (let’s face it – a mountain range is simply more visible, even from a distance, than a wetland).  We find the regions outside Yerevan so incredibly romantic: emerald hills, golden valleys, rocky canyons that follow the twisting paths of rushing rivers far below…I guess I just never imagined that I might one day live in the pages of a storybook.

Overlooking the Kasagh River gorge from Saghmosavank.

As if that’s not enough, just beyond every little village and atop many a precarious precipice is a historic fortress, church, monastery, or monument, untouched for centuries, waiting to be discovered by adventurous travelers and holy pilgrims alike.  A big plus is that such places are rarely crowded, and most charge no admission fee.  Regular readers have probably noticed that photos of tourist sites on this blog lack the elsewhere-compulsory throngs of visitors.  (And that usually makes for some great photo opportunities!)

Even at Garni, a major tourist attraction, you practically have the place to yourself.

Another American once remarked to me that all the Armenian monasteries were the same – “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all,” were his exact words.  I beg to differ!  Each place is unique in terms of architecture, history, situation relative to geographic features, and especially in important details such as inscriptions, natural variations in stones, and use of frescoes, reliefs, and other art.  All these features work together to give every historic site its own character – an individual presence that is impossible to deny.  Some are so charming, I can visit again and again (and I have), and each time, I discover something new and surprising: the way the sunlight illuminates – or casts into shadow – a ruined church at different times of day, the cooling reprieve from the hot summer sun or the bone-chilling cold of winter inside the same ancient stone temple, whether a long-forgotten graveyard is adorned with blooming wildflowers or fallen leaves.


Tanahati Vank, windswept in early April...

...and reborn just a few weeks later at the end of May.

Speaking of seasons, that’s another benefit to the Armenian climate – there are four very distinct seasons here (unlike in central Florida).  And as much as people complain about winter, how could we appreciate spring and summer without it?  It’s difficult to pick a favorite time of year – what’s the most appealing: the colors of the summer harvest, the freshness of spring, the wonder of a white Christmas?

When our time comes to leave this country, I hope our next location will have a similar climate because I'm not ready to go back to year-round flip-flops.  But I have a feeling we will be hard-pressed to find another place that can so completely immerse us in a fantastic carved-stone history.