We left Stepanakert in brilliant sunshine (YAY) for our hour and a half drive to the Dadivank Monastery. The drive took us through a very mountainous regions with trees covered in autumn leaves in brilliant reds and yellows. One of the interesting sites we saw were cloud seeing machines. Apparently the area is so arid that machines are used to try and generate rains.
Now the Dadivank Monastery was named after St. Dadi who was killed while preaching Christianity in Armenia. The monastery dates to between the 9th and 13th centuries and the main church was built by a queen to honour her sons who were killed in battle.
The approach to the monastery took us up a very steep hill above the Tartar River, and as we rounded a bend, the monastery, perched on the rocky hillside, came into view. The monastery suffered severe damage during the Azberbaijan-Armenia war in the ‘90s and has been undergoing renovations. As a result, the bell tower, the small domed church and some smaller buildings were surrounded by scaffolding.
We walked into a small courtyard where the Tomb of St. Dadi was recently discovered. We then crossed into a small courtyard or anti-chamber where the lesser statused people prayed and where in standard Armenian fashion, crypts of royals and bishops were buried. We then walked into the tiny Basilic Church or prayer church which had barren stone walls as is also typical of Armenian churches.
The highlight of the monastery was the main church that had been restored. Now this church was atypical of Armenian churches because this church actually contained some frescos that were absolutely gorgeous. The frescos had been recently restored and a sign posted outside the church described how the restoration process had been undertaken.
We then walked out of the church and through the peristyle (a garden like area with columns) and then outside to take a look at the lovely bas relief carvings on the main church building. Apparently, this church and the church we visited at Gandzasar Monastery yesterday are the only two churches in Armenia with such carvings. And these carvings were really special with one of the carvings showing the queen donating the church in memory of her sons.
After the church visit, we wandered down the hill to look at the souvenir shop. And wouldn’t you know it, some enterprising ladies had set up a little stand and were making Zhingyalov Khats, the bread that Diane and I had at the market in Stepanakert. We stood and watched them make the bread and when I offered to purchase some for the car, I found out that Nour had already made the purchase. So with bread stuffed with greens in hand, we began the drive to Noraduz and our next stop.
About an hour into the drive, we reached the border of Artsakh and Armenia. Nour stopped the car, dropped off some paperwork and we were back on the road in minutes. As we drove, we passed a large gold mine and we could see the mountains had been stripped of all vegetation and were now big white hills.
The drive continued through mountainous hillsides and little villages before we finally reached Noraduz just before 2:00. Now Noraduz is famous for its stone garden and cemetery which holds the largest field of Khachkars or stone crosses in Armenia. There are over 800 Khachkars dating from between the 4th and 17th centuries. The oldest crosses are simple in their artform, but over the centuries the crosses developed into the wing form.
We wandered through the field of Khachkars and graves where we saw the oldest form of Khachhkars with the simple stone cross and then later version with more elaborate crosses. We even saw some Khachkars with carvings of horses and an alien looking human form. And if all this wasn’t enough, we saw a grave of a bishop who died in 1870 and whose gravestone was covered in glass. Tradition has it that the locals fill a bottle with water and let it sit overnight and then they visit the bishop’s grave and smash the bottle on the gravestone. This is supposed to release all the bad juju in your life. Now while I thought this seemed a bit insulting to the bishop, I suppose since the bishop is dead the release of bad juju on the bishop’s grave really does not affect him.
Anyway, right near the bishop’s grave we ran into two elderly “knitters”. These women were trying to earn a few extra dollars by selling knitted goods. Now I really had no need for any knitted socks or hats, but both ladies were so persistent that I finally gave in and bought a pair of sock slippers. Unfortunately, when I only bought from one lady, the other decided to see if she could change my mind. I finally walked away, but I could see her watching me as we walked around the site and just as we were leaving, the lady made one last pitch. I still had to say no. I can only buy so much stuff that I will likely never use.
So our last stop of the day was at Lake Sevan and the 9th century Sevanavank Monastery. Now Lake Sevan sits at 1900 meters (6,200 feet) and is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world boasting a healthy fish population. And as we reached the lake area, we began to see fishermen selling fish by the side of the road. The interesting part of the sales pitch was that as cars passed, the fishermen would hold out their arms in an outstretched manner to show you the size of their fish for sale. Now, what I found pretty funny was that each man was holding their arms in a grossly extended manner. Either that or these fishermen were catching some amazing sized fish. I actually wanted to ask Nour to stop the car so we could go check out the actual size of the fish for sale.
After driving around most of the lake, we reached the little resort town of Sevan. And as we passed through Sevan, Diane told me that at one time the water from the lake covered much of the area we were driving through. However, in the 1950s, the Soviets built a hydroelectric plant and damned part of the lake resulting in a 20 meter drop in the level of the lake. The cool part about this is that reduction in water revealed artefacts and buildings dating back some 2000 years which resulted in Sevan Island becoming a peninsula.
So after passing through Sevan, we turned down the road and onto the peninsula (the former island)
where the Sevanavank Monastery was located high up on a hillside. And 300 plus steps later, we reached the top (with a little huffing and puffing from me in the much thinner air).
I learned that at one time a pagan temple occupied the site and in the 4th century a church replaced the temple. The 4th century church is no longer standing, but two other churches the Holy Apostles Church and the Holy Mother of God Church were built in the 9th century and were restored in the 17th and 19th centuries. The significance of the the Holy Apostles Church is that it is only one of two churches in Armenia that contain a Khachkar with a carving of Jesus. (The other I saw at Haghpat Monastery on my first day in Armenia.)
After visiting the Holy Apostles Church, Diane and I walked up the hillside to a lookout point for some fabulous views of the area and the lake. When we walked back down, we took a look inside the Holy Mother of God Church before hiking back down the stairs to meet Nour for a very late lunch. And lunch turned out to be spectacular (maybe the best of the trip so far). The main course included fish and crayfish kabob. Spectacular. And the piece de resistance was the ooey gooey baklava. Simply fantastic.
After the lunch, Diane and I wandered around the little street market, tested the Lake Sevan waters (COLD!) before we got back in the car and drove a half hour to the little town of Dilijan.
And a mere half hour and one 2.5 km tunnel later and we could have been in Switzerland. (In fact Dilijan is called Armenia’s Switzerland). While Sevan is beautiful, the area surrounding the lake is mountainous, but very, very arid with lots of scrubby brush. Dilijan is a 180. High mountains and massive alpine trees. And with the beautiful sunshine, the colors on the trees as the sun set looked amazing. We are going to explore old Dilijan tomorrow and in the mean time, I was tired and looking forward to simply doing nothing for the night.