Republic of Armenia Regions / Marzes
Area: 2737 km 2
Administrative Center: Ashtarak
Distance from Yerevan to Ashtarak: 20 km
The region of Aragatsotn encompasses the alluring Mount Aragats, and its picturesque foothills. The spiritual subject of many Armenian writers and painters, Mount Aragats
Area: 1995 km 2
Administrative Center: Artashat
Distance from Yerevan to Artashat: 29 km
The impressive panorama of Mt. Ararat, its inaccessible height, and deep abysses has had a great influence on Armenians and become an object of cult and mythology. The region is rich in fascinating architectural monuments and archeological ruins. Khosrov Preserve is located in the eastern part of the region, in the basins of the Azat and Vedi rivers.
Area: 1251 km 2
Administrative Center: Armavir
Distance from Yerevan to Armavir: 48 km
Between the four-peaked mountain of Aragats and the biblical Mount Ararat, Armenia’s national symbol of remembrance and hope, lies the fertile lowlands of the Armavir region. Armavir is a symphony of beautiful landscapes, wondrous architecture, hospitable traditions, and momentous history, existing in unity and harmony. The Ararat valley is the largest and the most fertile land of the forty valleys of the historical Armenian highland. At once we are presented with contrasts in the Armavir region: four of the thirteen capitals of Historic Armenia can be found in the same region as the Zvartnots International Airport, currently undergoing a much-needed makeover.
A mere twenty minutes from Yerevan by car is the spiritual center of Armenia, the Holy See of Echmiadzin, the Mother Cathedral of the world’s oldest Christian nation. Located in the city of the same name which was once the capital of Armenia, Echmiadzin is the residence of the Catholicos, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. A beautiful cathedral, museum, and seminary are among the most significant edifices of this holy site.
The Armavir region can be thought of as a giant Armenian orchard. Apples, apricots, cherries, plums, watermelons, strawberries, raspberries, melons, peaches and many other gifts of nature grow on this fertile land. Of note, both the apricot and the peach are said to have their origins in the Ararat valley. Alexander the Great reportedly introduced apricots to Greece after leading his legendary armies through the Armenian highlands.
Located a short distance from the Mother Cathedral, the majestic masterpieces of Armenian architecture St. Hripsime and St. Gayane churches are at once inspiring and solemn. Each church is dedicated to the Christian nuns who were martyred prior to Armenia’s conversion to Christianity. Locals are said to prefer St. Hripsime for marriage ceremonies and St. Gayane for the baptism of their children. On the outskirts of Echmiadzin, another stunning site are the ruins of Zvartnots, a 7th century cathedral and architectural masterpiece that was destroyed during a subsequent earthquake
The Metsamor Archeological Museum you will have an opportunity to see the impressive collection over 26,000 items of which nearly ten thousand are on permanent display. Archaeological excavations of an ancient fortress-settlement located in the vicinity of Taronik village at the source of Metzamor River have provided many of the findings.
A symbol of pride and survival, the Sardarapat Memorial marks the place of Armenia’s successful last-ditch effort to save the nation from obliteration at the hands of the Turks. Against tremendous odds, and during the haunting backdrop of genocide during the previous few years, Armenia’s makeshift army rebuffed the Turkish troops and safeguarded the small portion of historic Armenia, what became the current republic as it stands today. On the grounds of the historic battle one can today visit the Sardarapat Ethnography and Liberation Movement History Museum adjacent to the outdoor monument.
Area: 4058 km 2
Administrative Center: Gavar
Distance from Yerevan to Gavar: 98 km
Studded with mountains and the sun-kissed shores of Lake Sevan, Gegharkunik is enticing with a rich palette of history, culture and natural beauty. It is situated in the eastern part of Armenia, rising from the Marsik valley Mount Azhdahak at 3598 meters.
The administrative center of the region, Gavar, is an important industrial center of Sevan basin, situated in the eastern slopes of Geghama mountain range. Many of the ancestors of the inhabitants of Gavar arrived in 1830 from the town of Bayazet of Western Armenia and in the place of historic Gavaravan established a settlement, aptly called New Bayazet. Despite its relatively modern rebirth, the center has an ancient past. Fabled monuments dating back to the Bronze Age adorn the region, a testimony to the presence of Armenians in the region for thousands of years.
For bird-watchers, Gegharkunik is a veritable treasure trove given the plethora of different kinds of birds in the region, including several loons, grebes, and the great cormorant, pelicans, herons and the famous Armenian Artsatapajl Voror. One could easily claim that although Armenia boasts literally hundreds of charming vista points and landscapes, nowhere will one find the spectacular scenery of Lake Sevan.
Martuni is the second largest urban center of the region and is famous for its highly developed fishing industry. The town is situated on the commercial crossroad between Syunik and Gegharkunik, not far from the historic town of Koti, dating back over a thousand years. The fields of Masrik are famous for its gold mines that have attracted enthusiasts since ancient times.
The Gegharkunik landscape is dotted with impressive churches. Off the main road leading to the town of Kamo is the church of Hairavank (9-10 century). This edifice is a perfect example of the harmony of architecture and nature. Northeast of Gavar, on the shores of Lake Sevan is Noradouz, famous for the largest collection of stone-crosses (khachkars) in Armenia, some of which date as far back as the 7th century.
At the crossroads of civilizations, Armenia has historically been at the center of many international commerce and military routes, including the renowned Silk Road connecting China to Europe. Caravansaries, the rest-stops of antiquity, were a welcome sight to traders, travelers, and explorers of old. These architectural monuments of Medieval Armenia are a testimony to those legendary times of adventure. One of the better preserved is the Selim Caravansery, built in 1332 and situated high in the Selim (Sulema) mountain pass at 2410 m above the sea level, on the road connecting the historical regions of Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor.
Area: 2038 km 2
Administrative Center: Hrazdan
Distance from Yerevan to Hrazdan: 50 km
The Kotayk Region boasts some of the most astounding nature in Armenia, replete with scenic beauty and fabled monuments. Situated north of Yerevan, with its administrative center Hrazdan, the Kotayk region is one of the popular destinations for local as well as foreign tourists in Armenia. The name of the region goes back to ancient times, to the period of Kot Patriarch. One third the region is forested, and the Hrazdan River is the dominant waterway in the area.
During the early Middle Ages, the locale of Kecharuik was the royal hunting ground for the House of Arshak. In the 10th century, ownership changed hands and Kecharuik was renamed Tsakhnots. Today this area, the jewel of the region, is called Tsakhkadzor, or canyon of flowers. This small winter resort town is a popular tourist destination, located on the eastern slope of Teghenis Mountain 2000 meters above sea level. A relaxing wooded hilly getaway in the summer, Tsakhkadzor is even more popular in the wintertime as a winter resort and its excellent ski slopes.
The village of Arzni, famous for its therapeutic mineral waters, is situated in the picturesque Hrazdan canyon. In recent times, the health spas and treatment centers of Arzni have earned attention as destinations for cardio-vascular treatment.
Hrazdan is the region’s most developed industrial center, yet is nevertheless rich with archeological and medieval monuments. Northwest of Hrazdan, perched on a mountainside of the Pambak range, the Kecharis monastery (11-13 cc.) can be admired. This pearl of Armenian architecture was a renowned religious and educational center and underwent development in the 11th century under the supervision of Grigor Magistros Pahlavouni, the famous Armenian politician, military commander, diplomat and scientist. He founded the Monastery of Kecharis, built the churches of St. Grigor the Illuminator and of Surb Nishan.
The village of Garni is situated on the edge of the Azat canyon 35 km south of Yerevan. Although the village is most well known for the 3rd century BC temple of the same name, the area is rich in Christian monuments as well, including numerous cross-stones, tombstones, and the frescoed churches of Sourp Astvatsatsin or Mashtots Hairapet, Saint Sargis (17c.). Of architectural significance is the 10th-12th century bridge spanning the Azat river, connecting the Armenian highland with the Ararat valley.
Nearby Geghard may very well be the most astonishing architectural wonder in Armenia. Hewn from the solid rock of a mountainside one can freely walk into a large church dating back nearly 9 centuries. The name Geghard dates back to Biblical times, and is named after the legendary lance said to be the one used to pierce the body of Christ. The lance itself was long kept at the church prior to it being moved to the museum of the Cathedral at Echmiadzin.
South of the town of Abovian along the Hrazdan River lies the town of Yeghvard, famous for its unique assemblage of 4th century stone-crosses (khachkars), a two-story church-mausoleum dating back to 1301 and a great number of settlements that stretch up to the village of Aragiugh. The Tegheniats Monastery (initial construction in the 6th century) and the churches and fortress of Dovri the Zoravor Monastery (7th century) are further examples of architectural wonders shrouded away in the dense forests of Kotayk.
Area: 2643 km 2
Administrative Center: Gyumri
Distance from Yerevan to Gyumri: 155 km
The Shirak region, located in Armenia’s northwest corner, includes the nation’s second largest city, Gyumri. Shirak offers some of the country’s best and least known scenic and natural features, such as the great Arpa Lake and the alpine meadows and valleys of the Ashotsk region. Shirak is also the only place from within Armenia’s current borders where visitors can bear witness to a unique jewel of Armenia’s past, the ruins of the glorious city of Ani, the former flourishing Armenian capital and cultural center, tantalizingly located just across the Akhuryan River in today’s Turkey.
The Shirak region’s climate and landscapes are similarly rugged, with high altitudes and long winters, but the warm season ushers in unparalleled beauty unfurled across miles of wildflower meadows under snow capped peaks and icy mountain streams. The architectural splendor of Haritch, Marmashen and many other churches and monasteries dotting the region are likewise attractions to the area as are the denizens of Shirak, famous for their hospitality, sense of humor and love of culture.
Gyumri, the heart and soul of Shirak, endured tremendous damage and human loss in the 1988 earthquake, as many of the poor quality soviet-era buildings collapsed on top of their inhabitants. During the years that followed, harsh winters, blockade, and a shattered economy all combined to force the proud inhabitants into survival mode. However, many would agree that today, at least in part, the corner has been turned, and Gyumri is once again beginning to stand upright with dignity. Cooperative efforts between the leadership and government of Armenia, solidarity and monetary assistance from the Diaspora coupled with support from many International Organizations have acted to bolster the resilient spirit and boundless energy of the citizens of Gyumri to transform the city from a disaster to a recovery zone. New apartment buildings, schools, public buildings and community centers are under construction everywhere, reflecting the city’s rebirth.
Gyumri is a historic city, with a rich urban legacy and culture. Among its attractions are the old city (Kumayri historic district), the recently refurbished St. Nishan Church, various museums and theaters, and an expansive open air market, a pre-soviet center of commerce which has survived and is blossoming today.
The Shirak Region is full of intriguing places. Lake Arpa, situated in the northwest corner of Shirak, is one of the world’s most ecologically important lakes, supporting several unique and endangered species of wildlife. Arpa, with its 20 square kilometer surface area and maximum depth of only 8 meters, is fed by the Yeghnajur, Karmrajur and Elal Rivers. In turn, it is the source of the Akhuryan River.
The Mantash Reservoir is one of Shirak’s most beautiful places. Containing over 8 million cubic meters of water at an altitude of 2,600 meters, the reservoir is a favorite destination for fishermen determined to catch the famed “alabalagh” trout.
The famous pagan monument, Tsak Kar (literally hole stone) is situated in Toparli, an idyllic mountain village. The monument is a huge stone with a hole just big enough for a person to squeeze through. Legend has it that people who pass through the hole will acquire eternal happiness, and locals love to tell stories of overweight yet resolute individuals who have spent hours trapped in the hole! Beyond Toparli is Tarband, a remarkably well-preserved but sparsely populated village with interesting stone walls and streets and a lovely old church.
Haritch Monastery (7th to 13th cc.) was built with giant multicolored stones-each 3.5 meters wide. It is adjacent to the 7th Century St. Grigor Church. For centuries, Haritch was the summer residence of Armenian Catholicos who preferred the region’s cool nights to the oppressive heat of Echmiadzin. Also of interest in Haritch are the ruins of the 5th Century Church of the Resurrection, a 13th Century chapel and the village history museum, the creation of a local history teacher. Visitors will want to record their impressions in a log delicately presented to them by the museum’s single employee! En route, visitors may also want to visit Artik, home of the famous pink Artik tuf stone.
Area: 4475 km 2
Administrative Center: Kapan
Distance from Yerevan to Kapan: 316 km
The Syunik region is stunning: a mosaic of lofty mountains, lush green valleys, raging rivers, deep rocks and jagged canyons. Also known as Zangezur, it is the biggest province in Armenia (4506 sq. km) and is comprised by the districts of Kapan, Goris, Sisian and Meghri.
The Syunik region is a sightseer’s dream come true. Beautiful nature, a diverse climate and unique mountains and landscapes are converge in Armenia’s south. Various rock formations, markings of region’s turbulent volcanic past, can be found in the form of caves, eroded canyons, and natural pyramidal rocks, such as those of Goris. The main north-south artery connecting Armenia with Iran winds through the mountain-pass of Tashtun (2400m), Vorotan (2344m), and Sisian (2345m). Syunik is likewise rich in cool natural springs and numerous sources of mineral water. The highest point of Syunik is the peak of Kaputjukh in the Zangezur mountain-chain at 3904m, while the lowest elevation is the Valley of the Araks River at 375m. The range of microclimates, from dry tropical, to temperate warm, to the cold and snowy mountains is particularly broad in Syunik, even by Armenian standards. The warmest area of Armenia is Meghri lowland along the Iranian border.
The hospitality of the people of Syunik and examples of the cuisine one is certain to be offered will undoubtedly exceed all expectations. Notable examples include the cheese from Sisian, the toe-curling mulberry vodka of Karahunj, lavash flat-bread of Kapan (the national bread), and the succulent pomegranates and figs from Meghri.
Among the assemblage of sights and destinations of Syunik, some of the more prominent are the petroglyph-rich fields of Ughtasar, the mysterious Zorats Karer or Karahunj (Armenian Stonehenge), the resplendent churches such as the Tatev Monastery, Bgheno -Noravank Monastery, Vorotnavank, and Vahanavank, and idyllic wonders of nature such as Sev Lich, Shaki Waterfall, and Shikahogh. It seems that every road of Syunik offers the visitor beautiful streams or sacred spring sites, often with accompanying picnic tables, ideal by which to pitch a tent.
The flora of the region is rich and full of surprises. The forests of Meghri are covered with varieties of oak, hornbeam, ash and juniper, in addition to wild fruit-trees, such as pear, cornel, walnut, hazel, and plum. Various bushes such as hawthorn, woodbine, dog-rose and blackberry bushes are also prevalent. The fauna in Syunik is typical to Caucasian forests and mountainous terrains. Chamois, wild boar, Caucasian bear, lynx, Persian squirrel, field-mouse, mole, and shrew are all among the denizens of the forests and hills of Armenia’s south. Bird watchers will be pleasantly surprised to learn that white-throat, pheasant, red-tail, wood pecker, black and singing little bustards, black and blue tits, serinos, larks, owls, eagle-owls are widely spread here. One can also come across snake-like legless lizards, frogs, wolves, and foxes, to name only a few.
Kapan at the foot of mountain Khustup (3214m) is the center of the region. It is a cultural, educational as well as mining center of Armenia, famous for its copper and molybdenum. Its central and relatively flat part is nestled in the Voghchi river valley, surrounded by fabulous mountains on either side. Terraces of housing rows climb up the mountain slopes forming a cascade looking down on the city center from above.
Kajaran is a small town, famous for its mineral water and its legacy of mining. Roman helmets and gun shields were unearthed during more recent construction in Kajaran, a testimony to the devastating defeat endured by Roman legions here two thousand years ago. Since then, no enemy marched on Kajaran again. The Kapuyt Lich (Blue Lake) commands a presence at 3250 m high above sea level, fed by mountain snow. On its serene surface, icebergs drift aimlessly, even during the summer months.
Meghri is rich in lush vegetation, grain steppes, and meadows. In the Meghri river valley at the border of Armenia with Iran, steep, rocky slopes act as the gateway to the south. Meghri has a remarkable history with a rich archeological heritage reflecting habitation since prehistoric times. Bronze Age swords, bracelets, necklaces, and other artifacts have been revealed during excavations.
Goris, meaning rocky place, is in fact an orchard in a town and a lovely resort on the bank of Vararik River. It is one of the few towns that exhibit a comprehensive planned architectural and urban design. Goris is first mentioned as one of the regions conquered by King Rusa in the 8th century BC during the Urartian period. The surrounding crags, caves and rock formation make it appear as though Goris is surrounded by an army of stone figures. The regional ethnographical museum in Goris is among the sites to visit in this scenic city.
The town of Sisian straddles the two banks of the Vorotan River. Against the backdrop of the harsh mountainous plain, it looks like an oasis. A constant breeze accents this pretty town, frequented for its fantastic cold natural springs, mineral waters and unique beauty. The ancient monument-tomb of Khoshun Dash is located here as well.
Area: 2695 km 2
Administrative Center: Ijevan
Distance from Yerevan to Ijevan: 137 km
Words alone cannot express the natural beauty of the Tavush Region. The rocky hillsides and flat peaks shrouded in the dense forests of the region give the north of Armenia a characteristic look.
More than 120 kinds of trees including beech, oak, yew, and pine give richness to the textured landscape and are home to brown bear, wild boar, fox, wolf, and other animals of the wild. Bird watchers will be surprised to learn that more than 240 kinds of birds can be observed against the local nature.
The region is teeming with rivers, lakes, and natural mineral springs. Several resorts, hotels, and treatment centers can be found in Tavush as well, where people can recharge their batteries, get some rest and relaxation, or rejuvenate themselves in a pastoral environment. The towns of Ijevan and Dilijan, the main industrial and resort centers of the region, are equally famous for their cultural heritage and activity.
As the serpentine road winds through the mountains towards Dilijan, the landscape undergoes a gradual but thorough metamorphosis as more and more plants and then trees appear. The town itself, with its preserved wooden house from pre-soviet days, is the most famous of Armenia’s regional cultural districts, boasting a rich legacy of craftsmanship, music, and the arts.
Turning back the clock, this region of Armenia bustled with activity as the Silk Road passed through this center of monastic life and learning, with signs of this activity evident at the impressive monasteries at Goshavank and Haghartsin.
The Dilijan national park is a showcase of a broad variety of animals and plants, many of which are identified as endangered species or nurtured for protection. The breadth of wildlife in this picturesque area includes over 1000 species of plants and 107 kinds of birds.
Ijevan, situated in the heart of Tavush, complements Dilijan and has earned a similar reputation for hospitality since ancient times. Its name is derived from the word “inn” or “caravansary” as it welcomed travelers, merchants, and adventurers for a stop during their travels along the Silk Road. Driving into the city, a visitor will first notice a wrought iron fence and handcrafted light fixtures beside the Agstev River denoting a park. Sprinkled up the mountains is an array of buildings, lining either side of the road leading to the center of town. Sculpture Park, with its large pine trees, provides a serene backdrop against dozens of contemporary stone pieces of art, each of which tells a story. These unusual pieces of sculptured art do not end at the gates of the park, but are randomly placed throughout the pedestrian walkways of the town, as if to pique the curiosity of the visitors, tempting them to explore every nook and cranny of this enchanting city.
Historically Ijevan was a center for handcrafted items including traditional Armenian rugs, for which its weavers have received acclaim. These intricately designed knotted carpets decorate homes around the world.
Dendro Park is dedicated to preserving special species of trees and abounds with a multitude of varieties of flowers. In the springtime, a walk down any of several mountain trails will offer you a spectacle of endless fields of wild flowers or a stop by a natural spring and have a picnic.
Vayots Dzor Marz
Area: 2308 km 2
Administrative Center: Yeghegnadzor
Distance from Yerevan to Yeghegnadzor: 119 km
Vayots Dzor is a wild assemblage of small lakes, narrow gorges, lush vineyards, rough and jagged slopes, bucolic pastures, and noisy rivers. Against this natural mosaic, a visitor to this southern region of Armenia will happily discover ancient monuments and modern hospitality, not to mention unbelievably tasty fruits and vegetables. With the Yeghegia and Arpa rivers flowing through the region, Vayots Dzor is a perfect place for trout fishing, nature tours, historic tours and hunting. For the more adventurous, a helicopter tour will provide a plethora of unforgettable impressions and fantastic memories.
The earliest historically recorded settlement in Vayots Dzor was at Moz, near the present-day village of Malishka. Various ruins, including of forts and graveyards from the Bronze and early Iron Age can be found in this region. From the days of Marco Polo, Silk Road (from China to Europe) Medieval Armenia was a major thoroughfare for merchants, traders, and explorers alike. Weary travelers would look forward to a stay at one of many inns, or caravansaries, along the way. The Selim Caravansary, constructed in 1332 and situated in the Selim (Sulema) mountain pass on the border of Gegharkunik, is one of the best preserved.
The center of Vayots Dzor is the attractive town of Yeghegnadzor, situated on the bank of Arpa River. Lush with fruit trees, Yeghegnadzor proudly displays monuments dating as far back as the 1st millennium BC. Among the worthwhile sites in the area are the Regional Museum of Yeghegnadzor, the city Art Gallery, and the History Museum of the University of Gladzor, which recently celebrated its 700th anniversary. The Paskevich Bridge is an architectural achievement worth seeing as well.
Jermuk, the third largest town in the region, is among Armenia’s most famous spa resorts. Boasting many days of sun, and situated on high ground with clean air and favorable climatic zone, Jermuk’s most deserved claim to fame are the 40 underground fresh water and mineral water springs. The word “Jermuk” derives from Armenian “jerm” which means warm. Local Spas provide Mineral Water treatment for various ailments and diseases, and is an ideal spot for rest and relaxation for all. The quiet resort town teems with parks, forested areas, and showcases many natural wonders such as a waterfall and a natural land bridge. A special pavilion is located downtown where amazed guests can taste firsthand the renowned mineral waters, which freely flow at natural temperatures ranging from 57 to 64 degrees Celsius!.
One of the up and coming industries in Armenia, winemaking, is actually a “return to roots” movement for the Armenian nation. Famous in ancient times, Armenians are once again beginning to make their mark as wine producers. The village of Areni, the flagship in this burgeoning industry, is worth a visit to sample the tasty grapes and the surprisingly fine wine.
Possibly the most strikingly picturesque edifices in Armenia, the Noravank Monetary is nestled deep in the eponymous canyon, against the fiery red rocks which surround this holy site. Recent renovations to the church buildings and the surrounding grounds make Noravank a must-see site in Vayots Dzor. Other sites in this rich area include the ancient settlements of Yeghegis and Mogh (dating back to the 5th century AD and the 2nd millennium BC, respectively) and the fortresses of Proshaberd, Smbataberd, Berdakar, and Kechout.
Among the many caves and underground passageways in Vayots Dzor, the Mozrov caves, located near Yeghegnadzor, may be the most spectacular. Extraordinary beauty can be witnessed in the form of delicate stalactites and stalagmites filling the intricate underground passageways that extend over 300 meters. A note of caution: explorations through these caves should be conducted with a specially trained guide for one’s safety.