The Ararat Valley is considered to be one of the largest plains in the Armenian Highlands. It borders Mount Ararat to the south, Mount Aragats to the north, and is west of the Sevan basin, which is located at the foothills of the Geghama mountains.
There are many captivatingly beautiful components of the Armenian Highland. From its rocky mountains to its delicious fruits, to its gorgeous nature, Armenia is often considered to be one of the most beautiful nations in the world.
Though Armenia is mostly mountainous, it also does consist of valleys. One of the most commonly visited parts of the Armenian Highland is the Ararat Plain, sometimes referred to as the Ararat Valley.
What is the Ararat Valley?
The plain is also divided into two by the Aras River, with the southern part of it being located in present-day Turkey (historical Western Armenia) and the northern part of it being located in present-day Armenia.
Most Armenians boast their ancestry from this part of the Armenian Highland, and it continues to be the most inhabited part of the Armenian Highland by Armenians.
According to the medieval Armenian historian, Movses Khorenatsi, the name of the Ararat plain comes from King Ara the Handsome. King Ara is considered to be an Armenian hero. He was the great-grandson of Amasya, who was a descendant of the legendary founder of the Armenian nation, Hayk Nahapet.
King Ara was considered to be an extremely handsome man, so handsome that the queen of neighboring Assyria, Semiramis, wanted him to become her husband so that they could rule both Armenia and Assyria together. When King Ara refused, Queen Semiramis demanded that her commanders capture King Ara in the Ararat plain, but one of her sons ended up killing him.
A great portion of Armenia’s agriculture- approximately 40 percent- is produced in the Ararat Valley.
According to excavations, the Ararat Valley is supposed to have been inhabited since the Neolithic or Early Chalcolithic eras, and the oldest pieces of pottery excavated in the area are dated back to before 4000 BC.
The Climate of the Ararat Valley
Armenia is considered to be one of the sunniest countries in the world. This is especially the case regarding the Ararat Plain, which is one of the sunniest parts of Armenia. It is estimated that the valley receives approximately 2,700 hours of sunshine every year. It is rarely not sunny during the summer and early fall, between the months of June and October.
What is there to do in the Ararat Valley?
The Ararat Valley is one of the most popular parts of Armenia. It is where the cities of Yerevan, Ejmiatsin, Artashat, and more are located. Some of the most popular tourist attractions in the Ararat Valley are its churches.
With a name that means ‘deep dungeon,’ this monastery is one of the most popular tourist attractions and one of the most photographed parts of Armenia. It is located in a village near the city of Artashat, and very close to the Armenian border with the Republic of Turkey.
This monastery is famous not only for its spectacular views of Mount Ararat, but also because it was where the patron saint of Armenia, St. Gregory the Illuminator, was thrown into a pit and imprisoned for 13 years by then-king Trdat III.
Gregory the Illuminator is known for helping Armenia to become a Christian nation- the first Christian nation at that. He became the religious mentor of King Trdat, and thus the king declared Armenia to be a Christian nation in 301 AD.
The original chapel of the Khor Virap monastery was built in 642 AD to commemorate St. Gregory the Illuminator, but after being rebuilt several times, the larger chapel was built in 1662. Visitors, upon visiting the monastery, can climb down a ladder into the pit where St. Gregory was imprisoned. This monastery became one of the most popular sites of pilgrimage in Armenia.
Ejmiatsin is considered to be the holy city of Armenia. It has five main churches, but the most famous one is the Ejmiatsin Cathedral, also known as Mayr Tachar or Mayr Ator in Armenian.
According to many scholars, it was not only the first cathedral to be built in Armenia, but also the first to be built in the whole world. It was originally built between the years of 301 and 303 AD, but has obviously been rebuilt and repaired many times.
There is an interesting legend about how the church was built and why, which also is why the town and church are given the name Ejmiatsin. St. Gregory the Illuminator had a dream where Jesus Christ descended to the earth and struck a golden hammer upon the place where this mother cathedral was to be built.
The church and the town were thus named Ejmiatsin, meaning “the descent of the only-begotten,’ to signify that Christ himself appeared here.
Temple of Zvartnots
This is a ruined temple located right within the borders of Ejmiatsin. Its name means ‘the cathedral of celestial angels.’ The cathedral was finished in the year 652, but it was built during the time when Muslim Arabs were attempting to invade Persia.
It collapsed in the tenth century, but no one is completely sure why. There are two common theories: one being an earthquake, as Armenia is a country prone to earthquakes, and two being because of Arab invasions.
St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral
This is the largest Armenian cathedral in the world. It is a new church in comparison to the other churches in Armenia, having been completed in 2001. It is located right in the heart of Yerevan, in the Kentron district.
It was consecrated in 2001 to mark the 1700th anniversary of Armenia officially becoming a Christian nation.
This is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Armenia. Despite being located in a rather remote place, it is still visited by thousands of people every year.
The medieval monastery was carved out of the cliffs in the mountain behind it. It is located in the Kotayk province. There is a sacred spring within the monastery, which visitors drink from or wash their hands and faces with.
The spear that was supposed to have been the one to have wounded Christ upon Crucifixion was brought to Geghard by the Apostle Jude, and is now located in the Ejmiatsin treasury.
There are obviously plenty more churches and monasteries to visit in the Ararat Valley. Also, since Yerevan is situated here, you can get lost in the city for days because there is so much to do. There are plenty of museums, historical monuments, shops, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs- you name it, Yerevan has it.
The Aragats mountain is also a wonderful place to visit. Since it is a mountain, it will obviously be rather cold, so be prepared. On the Aragats mountain is the Amberd fortress, which when you climb to the top of, you can see all the way to Yerevan and Mount Ararat.
It has a magnificent history of its own and is considered to be one of the most amazing sites in Armenia. In Armenian, Amberd means ‘fortress in the clouds.’ Amberd was both a fortress and the summer residence of Armenian kings.
It first began as a Stone Age settlement, as still exists today. Beside the Amberd fortress is the Vahramashen church, which may be a little scary to walk to, but is completely worth seeing.
The Western Armenian portion of the Ararat Valley
Another part of the Ararat Valley is historical Western Armenia, which today is considered to be part of the Republic of Turkey. Many Armenians think of Western Armenia with longing, and dream of the day when Western Armenia will be returned to the Republic of Armenia once again.
Of course, the famous Mount Ararat is a part of the Ararat plain. There is also the famous city of Ani, which was once called the city of 1001 churches. At its height, Ani was the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia and had thousands of inhabitants.
There is also the Lake Van, along with the Akhtamar Cathedral. There is a lot of Armenian folklore associated with Van, and it is even said that the Armenian people have originated here. Surprisingly, it is possible to take a tour of Western Armenia.
There are plenty of Armenian travel agencies with offer trips. It is recommended to see Western Armenia at least once in your lifetime- as per the song, “Let me see Ani, and then I will die.” While cultural genocide is prominent in the area, it is possible to see remnants of the Armenian culture that once reigned in the region until the Armenian Genocide.
If you are planning to visit the Republic of Armenia, it is highly likely that you will be staying in the Ararat Valley. There are plenty of lovely hotels here, and the airport Zvartnots is located in the Ararat Valley, too
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