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Phespirit goes to Armenia
Yerevan     May 2008


Map of Armenia

1 Echmiadzin

Echmiadzin positively aches with holiness. The enforced atheism of Armenia's Soviet decades has been blown away like dust from a gilded chalice. The people are once more free to drink long and deep of the old religion, just as their ancestors had for centuries.

Phespirit visited three locations: Surp Hripsime, Surp Gayane and Mayr Tacher. The latter is the country's foremost cathedral, heart of the living Armenian Apostolic Church, and now also noteworthy as the place where Phespirit attended his first Armenian mass.

The cathedral provided theatre; the churches provide warmth.

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2 Zvartnots

Not much more than a raised circle of resurrected stone columns remains of the magnificent 7th century cathedral at Zvartnots. It is difficult for the first-time visitor to stand inside and visualise how it must have looked all those years ago .....

Phespirit had an advantage however. He had been to the Museum of Armenian History in Yerevan, where a small, detailed replica of the original structure - or the academics' best guess - is provided. It helped him overcome his poverty of imagination and made plain what a unique glory it would have been in its heyday.

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3 Yerevan

For no particularly clear reason, Phespirit felt himself immediately at home in Yerevan. Strange, as he has never been to a city quite like it. The architecture reflects both Sovietisation and post-Soviet modernisation, without borrowing any other country's template.

This is urban Armenia, with traditional Armenian town houses and modern Armenian design sensibilities that co-exist side by side in brick and stone. A lattice of wide avenues is occupied by squares of dwellings that conceal open spaces at their centres. Some are mundane, some are magical.

There is something warming in the eyes and smiles of the people, and as is often the case with countries that have suffered invaders from south, east, west and north, the population has its full share of the beautiful and the handsome. Phespirit did not blend in, but he felt right at home.

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4 Garni

The 1st century Hellenic temple at Garni was originally dedicated to Helios, the Roman god of the sun. Phespirit's presence at the temple coincided with the presence of a local film maker who was attempting to recreate the original shrine's appearance by seating a dismal home-made figure of the god against the back wall .....

The mannequin was a poor spectacle but the temple itself, and its divine natural setting, were feasts for the eye.

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5 Geghard

Phespirit missed a trick at Echmiadzin. He attended the morning mass on Sunday but was unable to stay all day, so he sacrificed the chance to visit the Treasury, which opens mid-afternoon. This was a shame as the Treasury contains Surp Geghard - the spear believed to have pierced the side of Christ on the cross.

On its way to Echmiadzin, the spear resided at the monastery to which it would give its name. Geghard monastery, set in a valley 9km east of Garni, is part hewn from rock, part built of stone. It is a fabulously special place and Phespirit loved it. Whilst hoards of Armenian visitors attended their devotions above ground, Phespirit and his guide had the largest rock-cut church to themselves.


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6 Sevanavank

Around Lake Sevan, Phespirit visited the two monastery churches of Sevanavank. Only one church unlocks its doors. Its keeper is a coin collector who has a full set of dollars, and has now turned his attention to U.K. pound coins. He owned two, but wanted to know all the different designs. Via a translator, Phespirit tried to explain the variations, even going so far as to mime the lions passant and rampant of England and Scotland. It was a surreal encounter that pleased Phespirit sufficiently for him to dig out a pound coin at his hotel and arrange for it to be taken back to him. The other church stays closed but has a sign that, amongst other things, says:

Whether by day or by moonlight, the silhouette of two of the monastery's churches perched high on an island, now a peninsula, overlooking Lake Sevan has been a haunting sight for over a thousand years. In addition, Armenian architects of the province of Sunik sited the architectural en- semble of the monastery beautifully to provide its inhabitants with an un- forgettable vista of the distinctive blue waters of the lake for miles around.

Before leaving the lake, Phespirit enjoyed a fish and potato lunch, followed by skimming stones on the distinctive blue waters .....

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  1. Echmiadzin
  2. Zvartnots
  3. Yerevan
  4. Garni
  5. Geghard
  6. Sevanavank
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Echmiadzin Zvartnots Yerevan Garni Geghard Sevanavank