Crossroads – the word is overused but how more appropriately would you name the place where roads have crossed and still do so, both actually and metaphorically. This has been the case with Armenian history, culture and people. This country has been inhabited since the early Stone Age. It was between Assyria and Hittia, Persia and Rome, the Byzantine Empire and the Baghdad Caliphate, the Russian and the Ottoman Empires. Armenia is on the crossroads between Asia and Europe. Its geographically advantageous and strategically valued location between the great powers of the world made Armenia a prized country – a bridge between the Eastern and Western civilizations.
Armenia has been the stage for some of the principal political and religious events for the past 4 thousand years. From the time of Assyria and Babylon, this ancient land has experienced numerous invasions from the legions of Alexander of Macedonia to those of the Roman Empire and the hordes of Genghis-Kahn and Tamberlane. Although a mere dot on the map of the world, Armenia was a powerful kingdom at one time and at the zenith of its territorial expansion, stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea and from the Mediterranean to Lake Urmia in what is now Iran. It held control of some of the main branches in the Middle East of the Great Silk Road. One of its three principal branches ran along the Ararat Valley through the territory of modern Armenia. The close economic ties with neighboring countries and East – West trade routes across the Armenian plateau favoured the development of the country’s economy, trade, commerce and culture. The high level of Armenia put it on a par with the civilizations of the ancient world. The political boundaries of the country have been extremely elastic – altered by war, occupation and dismemberment. Numerous migrations into the land, invasions and conquests have left their genetic, linguistic and cultural imprint on the people. Still, the Armenian nation has tenaciously preserved its national and cultural identity, although repeatedly invaded and conquered.
The conversion of King Trdat by St. Gregory the Illuminator resulted in Armenia becoming the first country in the world to accept Christianity as the state religion, more than a decade before Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire. The evangelization of the country resulted in the development of the first Armenian written language and of national literature. The Armenian language is a member of the Indo-European group of languages. The Armenian alphabet, invented at the beginning of the fifth century, is remarkably well suited to the phonetic values of the language and has undergone virtually no alteration in form or structure since its creation.
Through the centuries, Armenia has managed to preserve a wealth of evidence of the evolution of humankind. the country is rightly called an open-air geological and archaeological museum, dating back to the dawn of recorded history. Monuments of the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages, as well as ancient settlements have been found in various parts of the country. As one of the oldest Christian countries, it boasts the densest concentration of monuments of early Christianity. In the arts, Armenians have exhibited their greatest originality in architecture, most notably in the fields of military and religious architecture. Preserved here are architectural monuments, valuable in studying the origins of the development of world architecture. The high artistic merits distinguishing these monuments, their rare beauty and distinctiveness have attracted the attention of researchers from all over the world.
A visit to Armenia often develops into a search for the essence of the country and soon becomes a search for a better knowledge of oneself. When you visit Armenia, take the occasion to stop and listen attentively to your inner rhythm. Attune it to the rhythm of the life pulsing through “the country of a found and a lost Eden”. Set your pace to its pace – stroll through the bustling avenues of major cities, walk along the quaint streets of provincial towns. Relax on the sun-warmed steps of a hilltop chapel. Feast on the authentic ceremony of a meal. Enjoy a leisurely conversation in a mountain hamlet – let the flow of the life of the country embrace you. Sharpen your senses and feel Armenia. It can be sipped with coffee at a cozy sidewalk cafe or gulped with cold water on a hot day.
You have to be really enterprising and sturdy to see and enjoy all of these: volcanic peaks, crystal clear lakes, forests teeming with wildlife, innumerable hot and cold mineral springs, guarded by prehistoric rock-carved dragons, inimitable geological structures and hurtling waterfalls, and the pristine waters of Lake Sevan. A dusty road stops suddenly at a Silk Road caravan inn; grim caves hide ancient settlements; time stands still in river canyons while listening to stone “organs”. Churches, castles and temples rise in their full and ancient glory, intricately carved stone crosses stand at every bend of the road, silent reminders of a stormy and eventful past.
Explore the galaxies with the largest telescope in Europe and compare it with our astral observatory from 2400 BCE. Listen carefully in the enveloping silence and hear the lonely singing of a boy tending cattle by a stream, women separating wheat from the chaff in the summer breeze or fishermen gathering their catch just as they did millennia ago.
And everywhere – stone.
Stone is the Meaning and Explanation: Armenia stands on stone, is built of stone and the character of Armenians is shaped by thousands of years of sheer hard work and need to shape rock into a useful and graceful substance. It is a rigorous and beautiful land, inhabited by a determined and courageous, warm and gracious people, rewarding the adventurous soul with unforgettable personal experiences. Therein lies her wealth and therein lies the most enthralling discovery for travelers. Armenia is a place where nature lives and history comes to life. And it is a country that rivals all others for the hospitality and friendship it offers visitors. Therein lies her beauty, cherished by natives and foreigners alike.
Planning a visit to Armenia involves many decisions: whether to travel in a group or alone, by car, van or on foot; whether to stay in hotels or camp in tents. It is easy to get around by amazingly inexpensive public transportation or a hired car – ideal for a self-drive touring holiday. You’ll also find quite a few who speak English, French, German, Italian and, of course, Russian and you’ll find them very anxious to be helpful. To save time making arrangements for visas, flights and accommodation in Armenia and to enjoy the trip from beginning to end, we suggest you choose professionally organized tours and group excursions.
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