Monday, 6 April 2015

The Garni temple and Geghard monastery

A quick visit to the Vernissage market again this morning before meeting Artur, his daughter Aida, her son Daniel and her fiance Roman.

Artur takes US consulate visitors on tours through Armenia and has been key in Praemium setting up an office in Armenia.

We headed up the mountain, past the rich peoples' summer houses (that are meant to be only 20sq, but are more like 100), to a viewing area with a view of Mt Ararat (currently on the Turkish side of the border). The scale of this mountain has to be seen to be believed. It towers over the country and, once you are out of the valleys, is an almost constant presence. We were talking about it on the way back and felt that it looked like a painting rather than real life.

On up through the mountain we came to Garni. At a time when pagan temples were being levelled and Christian churches built over the top, the Armenian king preserved one at his summer residence and built the church next door. Restored numerous times, this is what we visited. A group of 4 women in traditional dress were singing in the temple while we were there and the acoustics were beautiful. Artur bought us local sweets and pastries from a vendor out the front - delicious.

Next stop was the Geghard monastery, built into the rock of the mountain. Three chapels in particular were carved out of the rock. One, a spring runs through year round. The second, a double room with both pagan animals and Christian crosses. The third, on a second level to the second, has acoustics that make one monk sound like many. It's a gorgeous sound. The rock is beautifully carved in each of these rooms, as well as the adjoining, added chapels. Little prayer rooms were also carved from the rock in other areas. Artur mentioned that a lot of the original religious practises still persist to this day, including animal sacrifice.

The superstition that landing a rock in a niche on the outside rock face grants you a wish had us all busy for a while having a go. Tom managed to land one on his own hat, while Lee got one in but forgot to wish - maybe it was to land one in.

A late lunch of Armenian BBQ and fresh lavash bread was delicious. We saw the bread being made in the traditional way by two old women. They rolled and stretched the dough very thin then slapped it into the site of a deep fire well to cook for about 5 seconds, very cool. 

While eating we overlooked the river valley and on the opposing cliff face Artur pointed out a cave and series of man made rooms that he had camped in as a young man. He described the rooms as perfectly square, with stone furniture. The first room you could light a fire and all the smoke would stream out. I'd like to climb up for a look one day. These were a long way up the cliff and I was impressed they were even accessible.

Some of the houses we viewed on the way it was hard to tell if they were partway through construction, as far as they were going to get, lived in or abandoned. Even houses right next to each other - one had glass across the balcony, fully rendered and painted, while the next had gaping holes at either end of the roof.

The journey through the rolling green mountains was beautiful. Many people just stop in a field for a picnic. Unfortunately though, for maybe this reason, the whole hillside is covered in rubbish - bottles, wrappers, everything. The hillside sparkles with plastic.

Tom's cold is still knocking him around. He didn't get consistent sleep while we were touring around as he'd be wide awake as soon as we stopped. This meant he zonked out early tonight, saying he had enough book and it was milk and bed time.

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