Crossing borders – Yerevan to Tbilisi

Saturday 22 November

We had a new driver from Armenia to Georgia, Gore. He looked older than his 24 years but as the day wore on his immaturity was more apparent.

We had been promised a guided tour, but other than finding the monasteries and churches of interest he offered little dialogue.

But then we have complained that some guides are too verbose, pounding so much information into your head you feel like you will explode.

Our first stops were to two monasteries on the edge of the Qasakh River Canyon. They had been built to provide ultimate protection, on the edge of the canyon.

First was Hovhannavank, dedicated to St John the Batist.  The church is built of local red bricks and has a distinctive pinky tinge about it. The main temple,  Church of Karapet, was erected by Prince Vache Vachutyan (1216-1221). It was not opened, although the local people had their stalls of home made produce opened in case of visitors. We managed a cursory glance at the exterior and the massive canyon behind it.

We were luckier at our next stop, just a few kilometres on and still on the Qasakh River Canyon is the Saghmosavank, a 13th-century Armenian monastic complex.  The main temple, the Church of Zion, was also erected by Prince Vache Vachutyan (1215).  As is typial, numerous other temples have been added as discrete buildings or tucked away into corners of the existing temple. We were able to wander around and admire the recent and ancient murals.

The roads in Armenia are not good and we had to travel over a mountain pass through Aparan. The rain turned to sleet and then to snow.  The roads were busy.  Gore’s lack of patience made for an interesting journey, including being stopped by the police for overtaking on a solid line. He argued his way out of a fine and into having it dealt with in court.

We stopped at two more monasteries built by father and son. We had descended from the snow and were now experiencing light rain and muddy ground.

Sanahin Monastery was founded in the 10th century in the Lori Province of Armenia. The name means “this one is older than that one”.  Legend has it that a father and son were building monasteries, father’s was the first. The site was interesting as far as monasteries are concerned, but a group of men who were working on a restoration project offered us some vodka. We thought better of the offer, especially as it discouraged young Gore from taking the offer. Our shoes were clogged with mud when we returned to the car.

The next monastery, Haghpat Monastery was supposedly built by the son and named to be better than the last.  Regardless, it is in a beautiful setting with an aspect over the rolling, misty hills.

The monastery has been described as a “masterpiece of religious architecture and a major centre of learning in the Middle Ages“. It is a popular pilgrimage place for Armenians.

We arrived cold and late but safe at our next destination of Tbilisi in Georgia.

Links in this page are from Wikipedia.