Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Cathedral and a Temple. Etchmiadzin and Garni.

Looking up at the domed ceiling in the portico at Etchmiadzin Cathedral.

Today was our first full day in Armenia and it was long but very enjoyable and interesting.

I woke up this morning at 7:30a. Pat was still asleep so I headed quietly into the living room and kept busy with my iPad. In due time, she woke up and we got down to making breakfast which was a simple affair.

Getting breakfast ready in our kitchen. It was tea with leftover pastries from yesterday.

We had agreed to meet back up with Gurgen at 10a. It was barely 8:30a when we finished eating. I suggested that to kill time, while we waited for Gurgen, that we take a short walk around the neighborhood. It would be a good opportunity for us to get oriented.

Just off the elevator and walking out the inside door to our apartment building.

Standing on the other side of the secured door leading to the building's elevator.

Our apartment is located near the intersection of Mashtots and Tumayan Streets, facing Saryan Park. We are in easy walking distance of several main sights which I hope we'll get to check on in the days to come.

We couldn't figure out the unusual facade of this building until we got closer.

The whole facade is decorated with flower pots.  As far as I could tell, they're real plants and flowers!

Can't read the signs but don't care/  We have Google Maps!  Hah!

We just picked a direction to walk in. The 'hood was surprisingly quiet. Restaurants and shops were closed at the moment. I don't know why I expected it to be, not noisy, but filled with people walking about. Like Pat's 'hood in NYC would be. Perhaps, it's just too early in the day. I kept my eyes out for an ATM - we both needed to get drams. I spotted nothing yet I had read that ATM's were everywhere in this city. I also kept eye out for supermarkets or small convenience store where we could pick up a few groceries as we plan to eat at least breakfast and perhaps one or two dinners *at home*. Getting tired of always eating out!

We circled the block and we were almost back to the apartment when Pat took a tumble and fell. I saw her going down and luckily, it was a soft landing. My heart lost a few beats. I helped her get to her feet and asked if she was okay. She replied that she was fine. I had her stand still for just a few seconds to make sure that she was indeed fine. We continued on but I kept close watch on her. For days, I had been minding the step downs and step ups that we have to do when we walk on the sidewalks and streets but the one time I wasn't paying attention, she fell. I will have to pay better attention. A few steps past where she fell and I noticed she had some blood on her fingers. Turns out she had scraped her right elbow in the fall. Since we were literally just a few feet from the apartment, we decided to head back in so we could take care of the wound. We both had come prepared with Band-Aids and Neosporin. Pat also changed her shirt and we washed the blood off of it.

We had a few minutes to walk before the 10a hour. Pat is never late so on the dot 10a, we were out front of the building. We saw the van there but no sight of Gurgen. A few minutes later, Arshak, his father appeared. He would be our guide today as Gurgen had the day off. After all, it is Saturday!

On the streets of Yerevan.


We got into the van and Arshak took us to our first destination - a local shopping mall where we could use the ATM to withdraw dram.  The shopping mall either once house or is still currently home to Yerevan's central market....a place called Pak Shuka.

The historic Pak Shuka Market was a central bazaar constructed in 1952 by engineer Hamazasp Arakelyan and designed by famed architect Grigor Aghababyan (whose 100th anniversary was celebrated in 2011). It was listed on the State List of Immovable Historical and Cultural Monuments of Yerevan as an officially recognized architectural monument. During the Soviet era, when the avenue was named Lenin Prospekt, it was Yerevan’s only market with a fixed roof.

In 2011, the building was bought by a local businessman,  Samvel Aleksanyan who is one of the country's wealthiest entrepreneurs, owning among other properties a chain of local supermarkets.  He also happens to be a parliamentarian representing the Republican Party of Armenia.  Following his purchase of the building, local citizens were concerned that Aleksanyan was going to demolish the beloved bazaar to build a large four story supermarket.  Aleksanyan tried his best to allay concerns but the protests were so loud and strong that eventually the mayor had to step in.  Unfortunately, some parts of the building, including the roof, had to be taken down as they were in danger of collapsing.

When we approached the building, the exterior looked like what I have seen in photos of the original building.  Stepping inside, I saw nothing of what I would expect to see in a central bazaar.  It looked more like a small shopping mall - the same characterless ones you see all around the world.  A shame really. Had we had time and this was indeed an operating central bazaar, I most certainly would have wanted to spend more time here.


Instead, we simply headed inside, made our way to the ATM machine, withdrew money and left.

Back in the car, we continued to our first destination on our sightseeing itinerary for today - Etchmiadzin Cathedral.


Yerevan's not very big city and so it was barely any time before we were in the outskirts of town.  Famed Mount Ararat came into clear view.


Arshak parked the van in a lot across the street and we walked passed a large gate into a complex formally known as the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.  On one side, the entry path was flanked with a display of khachkars.  Some were dated and looked very old and others looked to be replicas of ancient crosses.




Mount Ararat looms in the background.

In the far distance I could see the top of the church, slightly shrouded in scaffolding. According to Arshak, the church is undergoing renovation.

Etchmiadzin is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. According to scholars it was the first cathedral (but not the first church) built in ancient Armenia and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world.

According to Armenian tradition, the original church was built in the early 4th century by Armenia's patron saint, Gregory the Illuminator, following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion by King Tiridates III.  It replaced a preexisting temple, symbolizing the conversion from paganism to Christianity. The core of the current building was built starting in 483 and the cathedral has been renovated throughout its history.

Etchmiadzin was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.


We made our way towards the entrance of the cathedral, past a lovely tree shaded garden.  The grounds were nicely landscaped and very well manicured.


Facing the cathedral is a smaller, modern looking building and monument.

Also on the grounds is the Saint Vartan and Hovhannes Baptistery, a chapel designated for baptism ceremonies (left) and Genocide War Memorial (right)

The Genocide Memorial commemorates the victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.  It was created in 1965 by Rafayel Israelian.


I stopped briefly outside the entrance of the cathedral to take a few photos.




I had forgotten to bring along my scarf but thankfully, rules for women entering churches are much more relaxed here than in other orthodox countries like Georgia and Greek where not only are head scarves required but women should be dressed in long skirts. Many churches will provide wraps for visitors to use.


Detail of one of the front door panels.

Inside the church was a small space compared to many other cathedrals I've been to. The walls soared up to a painted ceiling with intricate designs. The church's interior, mainly the area around the altar, was also undergoing renovation.  There was scaffolding everywhere obscuring our view and in some spots, barriers had been set up to prevent us from getting too close to areas where restorers were hard at work.  So unfortunately, what we could go and see was limited to just the narthex and the aisle on one side.







Busy at work restoring the altar.






Tombstone near the front entrance.

I took my time inside the church and then walked back outside to meet up with Pat and Arshak. We took a slow stroll back to the car.

Entry portico.



Two men, sitting on a bench, in front of the Christian Education Center.

One of the bell towers.

This beautiful khachkar appears on the a series of six 1000 dram coins, all featuring cross stones, released in 2011.

On the way back to the van, I took a photo of the very modern looking gate we walked through to enter the cathedral complex.

Gate of Saint Gregory and the Altar


Back in the car, Arshak returned back to the city enroute to our next destination.



On the way, we passed through Republic Square where he pointed out that many of the buildings around the square are built of a rose and white hued stone called tufa,  giving a pinkish hue to the place.  Several government administration buildings are located here as well as the National Gallery, the History Museum and the Marriott Hotel.


Our next destination was the village of Garni where we would visit the Hellenistic Temple that sits high up on a bluff near the heart of the village.  Our drive took us to the green highlands where we enjoyed views of Mount Ararat at every turn. 

Mount Ararat is a snow-capped and dormant compound volcano that consists of two major volcanic cones: Greater Ararat, the highest peak in Turkey and the Armenian plateau with an elevation of 5,137 meters (16,854 feet); and Little Ararat, with an elevation of 3,896 meters (12,782 feet). Today's clear blue skies gave us a perfect view of the two peaks.

Little Ararat on the left and Greater Ararat on the right.


Lots of villages.

Mountains and valleys.

The countryside was dotted with trees in full bloom.  These are pear tree flowers.

It was almost 12:30p by the time we arrived into Garni. We decided we wanted to eat lunch first and then visit the temple afterwards. Arshak took us to nearby restaurant that is part of a small hotel called Garnitoun.


Inside the courtyard, to one side, were two women hard at work shaping balls of dough that would be made into large sheets of lavash. I was curious about the texture of the dough so I used my right index finger and poked the large mass of dough. It was incredibly soft dough. Seeing my curiosity, one of the women bakers pulled off a small knob of dough and handed it to me. Indeed the dough was as soft as a newborn's bottom but when I stretched it, it was incredibly elastic as well. I could stretch it til I could almost see through it. No wonder they lavash here is literally paper thin!

Very skilled and experienced hands at work.



Working next to the woman was man setting up the fire in the tandir oven. He started by throwing down tree limbs and small logs into the oven itself. That thing is obviously very deep as he was throwing down some pretty long pieces of wood. After he lit the pile and it started to burn hard, he lowered down a cap. I presume that's the help control the how fast or slow the wood burns.




The hotel *kitchen*.

Inside the restaurant, Arshak had secured a table for us out on the balcony. We had the most magnificent view of the temple. It was obvious he knew of this location!


Zooming in for a closer view.

We thoroughly enjoyed taking in views of our surroundings while we waited for our food to arrive to the table.

Looking towards the village of Garni.




Looking down at Garni Gorge and the *Symphony of the Stones*, basalt column formations along the cliff side.

Lunch was variation of the same meal Pat and I have had on our journeys through both Central Asia and the Caucasus. The one difference is that we asked for pork instead of lamb. It was delicious meat!

Herb salad.  Armenians just wrap a small bunch in a piece of lavash to eat.

A classic tomato and cucumber salad.  I liked the addition of the lemon.  Gave it a bit tartness and freshness.

A basket of housemade lavash, cheese plate and the herb salad.

Olives.  I love olives!!

While the other two munched on bread, salad, cheese and olives, I snuck out to the kitchen to see how our pork was doing.

Gotta love the guy smoking and grilling at the same time.  I don't think he missed a puff!
An absolutely scrumptious plate of grilled pork and potatoes.  Best dish of the trip so far!

By the time we finished lunch, the bakers had already cooked up several sheets of lavash. We stood and watch the action for a few minutes before leaving the hotel

Stoking the fire.  That tandir oven was HOT!  I could feel the heat standing several feet away!

The woman has fingers of steel.  She used knife to pry the bread away from the side of the oven
and then just used her fingers to grab the bread and toss it aside.

Stretching out a piece of dough.  You can see just how large and thin the dough is.

The thin sheet of lavash dough is stretch onto the side of the pillow shaped form and
the form is then slapped against the side of the tandir.

Watch her in action!


From the restaurant, we walked the short distance to the entrance to Garni Temple.   There, I locked eyes with this woman who was selling fruit leathers. 


The rolled fruit leather with nuts inside called out to me so I bought one from her.


There, Pat paid for our tickets and we walked the short distance to the temple itself.


Having been to Greece and seen the state of the ruins there - veritable ruins, I knew simply from looking at this building, that it had been heavily restored. Most likely, there were only a few original slabs of stone left.

Front view of the temple.

Garni Temple is  a classical Hellenistic temple that is perhaps the best-known structure and symbol of pre-Christian Armenia. It's precise construction date is unknown;  it was probably built by king Tiridates I in the 1st century AD as a temple to the sun god Mihr.

After Armenia's conversion to Christianity in the early fourth century, it was converted into a royal summer house of Khosrovidukht, the sister of Tiridates III.  The temple collapsed in an earthquake in 1679.  Excavations, at the site, began in earnest in the mid-20th century and its eventual reconstruction took place between 1969 and 1975. It is the only known Greco-Roman colonnaded building in Armenia and in 2011 was awarded the UNESCO Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes. The prize is awarded every two years and recognizes and rewards (laureates receive $15,000)  outstanding examples of action to safeguard and enhance the world’s major cultural landscapes.


It's obvious what is original and what is not.

Looking up at the coffered ceiling



I took a few shots at ground level before climbing the steep steps to see what was at the top. Nothing but an empty room. Looking around, I could see the original slabs versus the reconstructed parts of the temple.



Another view of Garni Gorge.

Another view of Garni village.

I took a few minutes to walk about the grounds around the temple.  Not much to see really except for the view of the gorge.

Next to the temple are the ruins of a Roman-era bathhouse (closed to the public) and a 7th-century church.

The temple in the background, ruins of a church in the foreground.

Ruins of the church.



I then headed in search of the Roman bath house which is suppose to have a beautiful mosaic floor. I met Pat coming back in my direction as I was making my way to the pavilion that now covers the bath house, protecting it from the elements. Pat pointed the spot for the best view of the floor. I went the long way around the pavilion, peeking in any window that I could look inside. Nothing. Then, in the spot that Pat had pointed to, I looked inside to see a wee bit of a mosaic floor. Very disappointing as I've seen larger pieces at the Greco Roman ruins at Efes in Turkey and at Volubilis in Morocco. I tried to take a photo but it was difficult because of the grass.

The bath house sits under a protective pavilion.



Next, I went in search of the Dragon Stone (insert description here). Arshak led me there and at first, I was not all impressed by the small boulder I saw. Arshak had me walk around to see the ancient Armenian lettering.

Khachkar.

Next, I went back to the church ruins where Arshak led me to a vishap stone (carved dragon stone).  Vishaps were an important part of pre-Christian worship practices. The tall stones, which were used as markers to show the location of sources of water were carved with the likeness of fish-like creatures with long sinewy tails, hence the name dragon stone. The carvings also included snake, ox, sheep, stork and sometimes other animal imagery.

When early Christians began the conversion of the country, they destroyed most of the country's vishap stones, cutting some down into altar bases and erasing the dragon figure from others by obliterating their image, replacing it with an early form of khachkar.

At first, I was not all impressed by the small boulder I saw. Arshak had me walk around to see the ancient Armenian lettering.  Some of marks, on the vishap stone at Garni, are in fact writing from King Argishti dating back to the  8th century BC.

It's really hard to make out the carvings.

Arshak.  A very cheerful man.

Back in the car, we took a short drive to our next destination - Geghard Monastery.