On Sunday I took a couple -- Rich and his wife Liliya from the Mid-West who just left after a one-year stay -- down south to Vayats Dzor on a mission: to by wine from Haigaz in Areni.
I just happened to discover Haigaz's prowess for making fantastic homemade wine randomly when returning from a magical trip to Meghri five years ago. That evening I along with my cohorts decided to stop at one of the vendors on the side of the road to see what they had to offer. Usually at such locations you can not only find wine made from grapes but also from raspberries (absolutely extraordinary), apricots and other fruits. Then there's the variety of fruity, high-octane vodkas to choose from -- cornelian cherry, mulberry, apricot to name but a few. Last year for my wedding I purchased 30 liters of dry wine from him, all of which was drunk before 9 pm (if memory serves). I must have drunk at least two liters myself. Problem is, you can't drink too much of this stuff because you can get a nasty headache (remedied by Coca-Cola, as I found out that night).
Anyway, since it's located right around the corner about a six-minute drive away we stopped at Noravank first. Noravank is the first monastery that I saw in Armenia during my initial tourist visit ten years ago. I remember arriving with a busload of middle-aged Armenian tourists from around the world who were a rowdy, rather obnoxious bunch, and I was punch drunk by the fact that I had finally arrived in Armenia only the evening beforehand, so it was hard for me to appreciate just how serene the area actually is. I've been back there at least three different times and each time I go I notice things the grandness of which I was totally oblivious to before.
Relief sculptures by Momik found carved on the exterior walls of St. Astvatsatsin church, shown immediately above.
For instance, there are the exquisite relief carvings above the church doorways done by Momik, who was also believed to have been the designer of St. Astvatsatsin church on site (see the photos above). He may be closest to being the Armenian Michelangelo. This time I was able to take some detailed photographs of them, and I am amazed not only by the depicted symbolism but also the uniqueness of them, as no other sculpture located at any other site remotely comes close in terms of artistic skill and detail. Considering their age they have remarkably been very well preserved during the last 700 years, which is really amazing.
The above two relief sculptures by Momik are above the doorway of St. Garabed, shown in the second photo from the top.
Remember that these sculptures were crafted long before artists understood how to accurately depict perspective and the human form, and Momik's hand was clearly touched by God when he was carving these reliefs and designing this architectural treasure. I was also glad to see the multilingual information plaques situated throughout the site, which provide some valuable insight as to what was going on back then.
On any trip down south, a stopover at Noravank is an absolute must. It's an extraordinary place, built on the cusp of a cliff like so many Armenian monasteries, located at the far end of a narrow gorge. If you are a lover of fine, historic architecture you will certainly be impressed. Then, drive another few hours to Tatev, which is undergoing a renovation. In October a new, revolutionary 3.5 mile-long rope way will be operational that will cut the travel time there to about 11 minutes, down from a good hour by car (now probably less since the road is being repaired) from the main highway. Autumn is the best time to take in the splendor of Vayats Dzor and especially lower Syunik. Meghri especially, which I hope to visit again next month, God willing.
Photos by Christian Garbis
Labels: Architecture, Armenian Churches, Personal Experiences, Photography