Armenia’s rich cultural heritage – a journey through different times and civilisations 
May 27, 2024

Armenia’s rich cultural heritage – a journey through different times and civilisations 

Armenia is a small country in the Southern Caucasus that is a traveller’s paradise. Discovering Armenia, the visitor will connect to different times and cultures. Strolling around the capital city Yerevan, which is considered one of the oldest cities in the world, the rich cultural heritage of the country can be seen in a variety of traditional restaurants, markets, the opera house, and theatre, or in some of the traditional shops selling unique carpets.

Driving out of the capital and passing through villages of small and traditional houses, it seems as if time has stood still. The presence of ancient temples and monasteries reflects Armenia’s rich history and connection with ancient civilisations. Spending two weeks in Armenia as an exchange student felt like being at the crossroads between East and West, as well as modernity and tradition.

Taking a look at Armenia today, it is considered as a country of the East, culturally and politically. Many factors contribute to this perception: besides its geographical position are its recent history and Soviet heritage. But looking back in history, Armenia played a far more central role in the European world.

Looking back, we see how Armenia has been influenced by many cultures and civilisations. A trip to the Temple of Garni is one of the best ways to experience more of Armenia’s rich cultural heritage and past. After a bus ride of about 50 minutes from Yerevan offering beautiful views of mountain landscapes, and, on a day with a clear and open sky, breathtaking views of Mount Ararat on the Turkish side of the border, the temple is located in the village of Garni. This unique place, which was inhabited from the third millennium BC until the late Middle Ages, offers travellers an immersion into Armenian tradition and culture, as much through physical heritage as by tasting local wine, sweets, and pastries. From the first to the third centuries AD, the region was marked by Hellenistic and Roman influence, overseeing the emergence of many new constructions like temples, baths and aqueducts in Greco-Roman style, among them the Temple of Garni. Today, it is considered the only free-standing construction in Greco-Roman style that has resisted different challenges such as invasions, earthquakes and, remarkably, Armenia’s conversion to Christianity. 

Armenia was the first nation in history to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD, an event that has had a huge impact on Armenia’s identity and its people. While fostering national unity by uniting fragmented groups, the adoption of Christianity shaped the norms of Armenia’s spiritual life, culture, art, and worldview. As a further step, the Armenian alphabet was created in 405 AD, pursuing the goal of allowing people to communicate divine messages in their mother tongue. 

Continuing the journey further northeast from the Temple of Garni, the beginning of Armenia’s Azat Valley is home to the Monastery of Geghard, which is registered among UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage Sites. Even though it is traditionally said that the beginnings of the foundation of this Monastery date back to earlier times, the complex was built from the fourth century onwards, after the adoption of Christianity as a state religion, with additions until the 13th century. The main church is an example of the classic architecture of the Armenian Apostolic Church, an equal-armed cross in a square, covered by a dome. Besides the main church, the complex includes a school, a scriptorium, a library, as well as several rock-cut cells for the monks. The present name of Geghard is derived from the Armenian name of Gehardavank meaning the Monastery of the Spear, after the spear which pierced Christ on the Cross, which was brought to this place by the Apostle Thaddeus and kept in the Monastery for 500 years.

Moving a huge step forward in time, the capital Yerevan is home to the colourful Vernissage market located next to Republic Square, the heart of the city. This flea market founded in the 1980s during Soviet times offers plenty of different things, from antiques to spoons or glasses, from old cooking tools to souvenirs for tourists. And you should spend some time admiring the dazzling displays of carpets, a constituent element of Armenian tradition and national identity. Carpets are considered a symbol of the talent and industriousness of the nation. Armenian people have been involved in the craft of carpet weaving since ancient times.

However, strolling through the streets of Yerevan shows that traditional carpets are not only present in Armenian homes but also in shops, cafés, restaurants, or even on street walls. At the Vernissage, the variety of things on offer reflects the Soviet heritage of the country, with everything from decorative vases and porcelain figurines to gramophone records and photographic equipment. These have not only been brought to Yerevan from different parts of the country but also from other post-Soviet republics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. If I had to choose just a few words to describe this place, I would say colourful, traditional, and typically Armenian. Walking around the flea market made me encounter the mixture of cultures and traditions  in Armenia, showcasing Armenia’s rich cultural heritage as well as its own distinct culture. 

Spending two weeks in Armenia offered me a journey not only around the country’s beautiful natural landscapes but also between times and cultures. Learning about Armenia’s history shows how connected our nations and civilisations are.

This is why Armenia, a traveller’s paradise, offers a journey through time and cultures, bridging tradition with modernity.

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