Middle Ages have always captured the imagination of the most curious human minds. That’s true that “the God was having a vacation” in this era (a widely known joke about the horrendous events associated with this epoch). However, it was also time for renaissance and new architectural solutions and designs. Let’s admit: mysterious and somewhat dark, medieval buildings have an enticing allure.
As a country with around 3000 years of history, Armenia boasts a myriad of early and late medieval castles and fortresses which have long protected the country against foreign invaders. A few of them are well-preserved, while the majority are in ruins, unfortunately. Anyways, let’s discover top 8 fortresses worthwhile seeing during your trip to Armenia and Artsakh, the second Armenian state.
Fortresses in Armenia: Smbataberd Fortress
Smbataberd (literally – fortress of Smbat, the prince of Syunik province) is one of the oldest preserved fortresses in Armenia. Armenian historians trace its origins back to as early as the 5th century. However, it was fortified and reinforced later – in the 9-10th centuries.
The location of the fortress was of strategic importance: perched on the highest summit of the site, it’s “protected’’ by cliffs from three sides. Maybe, that’s the reason why it stood tall against the rival’s attacks for centuries.
Fortresses in Armenia: Amberd Fortress
Amberd, translated as “a fortress in clouds, seems to really touch the sky. This gem of early medieval Armenian architecture (supposedly- 7th century) majestically stands 2,300 meters high above sea level, on the slopes of Mount Aragats. For centuries, it served as one of the foremost defensive sites of the Kingdom of Armenia.
However, the fortress is not the only remarkable building in this area. It’s a whole complex comprising the castle, bath and church.
Just an hour of drive from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and you’ll relish the whole splendor of the fortress and its vicinity.
Fortresses in Armenia: Bjni Fortress
The foundation of this fortress dates back to the 9-10th centuries and is attributed to Pahlavuni Princes. For centuries, it defended the province of Nig and Bjni village in particular. Besides strong fortification and pyramid-like walls, it’s protected by nature itself- it’s surrounded by rocks to the south and east and partially in the west. It used to house other buildings which ruins are still preserved inside the fortress.
Fortresses in Armenia: Akhtala Fortress
Located in the village of the same name abounding in various historical sights, the fortress was built during the reign of Kyurik Bagratuni’s in the 10th century.
Surrounded by rocky canyons from three sides and a plateau from the fourth, the fortress comprises ramparts linked to each other through pyramid-shaped three-floor towers.
By the way, Akhtala is not merely a castle-fortress: it “encapsulates” a monastery comprising 3 churches, a belfry, hall, and dwellings of stone which are really worth exploring!
Fortresses in Armenia: Kakavaberd (Geghi) Fortress
Kakavaberd (also dubbed “Geghi Fortress” by locals) is one of the rare well-pressed fortresses in modern Armenia. The first mentions of the fortress date back to the 9-10th centuries. Situated in the Ararat province, in the area called Khosrov Forest State Reserve, the fortress beautifully overlooks Azat Gorge and houses a medieval church and ruins of several other structures.
Fortresses in Armenia: Lori Berd Fortress
The fortress was built by one of the Armenian princes in the 11th century. Proudly standing almost 1500 high above the sea level in the green and hospitable province of Lori, the Fortress is surrounded by deep gorges of Dzoraget River. A really inaccessible location, isn’t it? The area also incorporates a bathhouse with 2 baths, medieval tombstones and 2 khachkars (cross-stones).
Fortresses in Armenia: Tigranakert fortress (Artsakh)
One of the “youngest” fortresses, enthralling Tigranakert Fortress, is located in Artsakh, to be more precise- in the ancient city of the same name built by Armenian king Tigran the Great (in the territory of Artsakh or Nagorno-Karabakh Republic nowadays). By the way, Tigranakert was re-discovered only a few years ago! Of course, it’s all in ruins but historians claim it was a burgeoning city in ancient times. Nowadays, it’s home to historically significant pieces of Bronze and Iron Age, Hellenistic, early Christian and medieval architecture and culture. As for the fortress itself, it was built under Persian rule, in the 19th century. Nowadays the area also houses a museum featuring unique archaeological pieces.
Fortresses in Armenia: Shushi Fortress
Another must-see fortress in Artsakh is situated in the half-ruined and mystical town of Shushi. The 18-th century fortress has almost 2,5km long ramparts which stretch from the high rock in the south-west then descend by a slope, turn to west and ”stick” in a cliff. Besides, the fortress has secret paths leading to the Karkar River. The fortress also houses a bunch of caves in the south which served as hidden dwellings is playing a key role in the defense system of the town.
Of course, it’s not the full list of Armenian fortresses and castles. If you already itch to discover more about these and other forts, contact us and we’ll organize an unforgettable tour in Armenia and Artsakh!
Images: Pavel Minaev, ayastour.com, Vae Isakhanian, Vahan Abrahamyan,
Text: Sirvard Amatuni