The Drive from Yerevan to Tbilisi is through the Debed Canyon that runs north from Vanadzor to the border. The canyon has decaying industrial towns at its base and soaring monasteries, surrounded by traditional villages, on its peaks. Armenia has beautiful countryside, rugged mountains and ancient historic monasteries interspersed with industrial wastelands of pervasive ugliness. You can take it all in by just turning your head a few degrees. Alaverdi, which in Turkish means “God Provides” has one factory that still employees only 100 people but belches smoke right into the mountain town of Sanahin and its 1000 people. We stopped in Sanahin and people there explained, in Russian, about their health concerns. The Sanahin Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is, unlike many other Armenian monasteries, in shaded grove rather than on a bare mountain knob. Outside a woman sits with her knitted goods. She stops Suzi and asks her name. Then she pulls out a notebook with English words phonetically written in the Armenian alphabet. “Suzi, All by hand me knit.” “Chicken knit to cover Easter egg.” “Slippers for baby, Armenian flag (pause — check notes — smile) Armenian flag MOTIEF.” In the meantime I am buying beeswax candles to light in the church. A village lady, when she saw us come, ran home to get the key. I offered her some money for the favor and she smiled and shook her head, lighting a candle seemed enough. As we left a huge tour bus came lumbering up the hill. I hope the knitting lady sells a lot of egg cozies.
The Haghpat Monastery, also a World Heritage Site, faces Sanahin across the valley. Like the Sanahin Monastery it is surrounded by a village but this monastery is not in the shade but sits right on the knob top of the hill, open to the blue sky, passing clouds sun and rain, all of which came and went during our visit. The main church has ancient frescos. These two monasteries, within 8 miles of each other, offer a good survey of 10th through 12th century Armenian church architecture and their villages are a stark contrast to the industrial towns on the valley floor.
These entries are from a 2008 Family Letter. The post just before this shows pictures from Haghpat. There is an Alaverdi post from Georgia, different town, same name.
Tomorrow it’s back to Alaska for a look at an ice hotel at Chena Hot Springs.