Armenia now , after the Soviet Union Implosion
When Armenia and Georgia were mentioned as possible wine trips….my response was “I’m not Excited.” (I went and researched them on a World Map and was less enthusiastic to see they abutted the Caucasus Mountains with the Russians on the other side.) Then Mike mentioned the discovery of a viable “ 6000 year old Cradle of Wine cave “ …..and I was hooked.
This picture (yes, we went) of Yerevan, Armenia, backed by the beautiful Mount Ararat (initially Armenian owned but now belongs to Turkey), dominates the landscape. On your left notice the drooping cross arms….enfolded by angel wings which became the Christian symbol for both Armenia and Georgia since the 4rd century. Saint Nino, a 4th century female evangelist and miracle healer, formed her cross with grape branches and bound the arms with her hair.
Over time the arms dropped, but the symbol continued.
As we drove into Yerevan,
we were surprised to see the
downtown lit up by the lights on
the Noy Brandy Factory.
I looked at Mike and said, wine??? he said, “It will all become clear.” When the Soviet Union took over 90 years earlier, the Armenians had to adapt their fully developed vineyards and wineries to the Soviet tastes: sweet-heavy duty Brandy.
Their brandy was highly regarded by Winston Churchill (who preferred it to the French). That said, Armenia produces some wonderful wines, particularly from a grape variety that can hold its own with the world’s best: the ancient, indigenous variety Areni. (If you want to find it in the U.S., seek an Armenian grocery market).
We chose the B.W. Congress because it centered the city and was good for walking tours. Our suite was on the top floor, left front corner with a balcony that overlooked the city and park.
This picture I took looking down over the pedestrian area. Those squared Soviet-constructed buildings in the distance were under renovation for Armenian businesses.
Breakfast overlooking our lovely pool. (Except it was too early in the season and had no water.) We then joined up with our remarkable guide/translator for sites and wineries. Armenia is a country of ancient monasteries and churches. St. Hripsime was the first.
We were followed into the parking lot by a herd of sheep being ushered up the church’s roadway to a pasture beyond. Many curious and noisy ewes…..and messy. We had to watch our steps to the church door.
St. Hripsime was a refugee nun from Rome in the 3rd century. The Bishop tried to rape her and she was killed. It seems he had her buried under the front portico of the church. He left instructions to be buried beside her when he died. (Some of these sites were going to be interesting!)
Forth century Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity. The history says St. Gregory the “Illuminator” saw a vision of Christ descending to the ground and striking the earth 3 times. Clouds and fire arose from these sites. Holy Mother Ejmiatsin Cathedral, pictured here was the first. It was built over a 4th century pagan church, one wall which they incorporated into the Cathedral. Looking closely at the picture, it’s easy to see the newest addition of the entrance. The older sections were built in the 5, 15, 16, and 17th centuries. Stone wears well!
Our guide told us that this was a most important and revered site for the Armenia people. And it looked like it….many people were respectfully coming and going, lighting candles and praying.
Armenia is a country of many mountains but few forests so almost all structures are built with stone. (Hmmm, 2 thousand years and still standing…..got to be a message here.)
Historically, Geghard Monastery, 4th century, was initiated by Christian/Syrians who crossed the mountains and began excavations at this site. Many individual caves were dug into the mountain for independent living and worship. (Looking at the picture it’s clear more monks arrived and additions, churches and cooking especially, developed.)
In 923 the site was plundered by Nast from Azerobaijan who wanted to use it for the conversion of the Christians to Islam. After that it declined until the 12th century. Then there was a revival of Monastery building that reactivated reconstruction.
The main Cathedral was built in 1215, below ground level. In the following picture you will see the enormous pillars, an oculus at the top for light and air, and be able to hear (if visiting) the fantastic acoustics.
Standing by a pillar, I whispered to Mike “Do you know where the facilities are?” A good distance away, the guard by the entrance said “The first left turn past the pillar for the bathrooms.” Embarrassing.
There were individual caves you could climb into (carefully) and visualize how these monks chose to live their lives. Disappointing that I could find no information on WHY they chose to isolate themselves here.
Our marvelous guide arranged a lunch at a small hotel in the nearby mountain.
Excellent meal and fantastic view of the Garni Temple across the Azat River. This is Armenia ’s only Graeco-Roman 1st century pagan temple. The structure was mostly destroyed in the great earthquake of 1679 but restored in 1969. Looking closely, you can tell the original stones from the replacements. Hard not to stab yourself in the mouth when looking at a view like this!
Coffee and off to visit 2 prearranged wineries.
A wine tasting at the Areni Wine Factory. Our translator smoothly got us through the introductions, oversight and tasting with the winemaker, who, thankfully, had chosen 3 wines for us to sample.
Since I was the driver, tasting limited, looking at all the wine bottles….it was very tempting. The hospitality was wonderful.
The second winery used all organically grown and processed grapes paired with the organic cheeses made by the winemaker’s wife. He is breaking new ground and entering the new “artisan” markets. His success won’t be from luck!
The following picture happened just before we left Armenia and entered Georgia.
Nothing like having someone back into our car and rip off the front bumper (the white stuff on the ground).
To be continued in GEORGIA