Shirak Marz of Armenia, until recently, has been little known among foreign visitors, compared to other tourist destinations in Armenia. But, actually, Shirak Marz, has very much to offer and impress its visitors!
Shirak Marz is a province, covering the northwestern part of the Republic of Armenia and bordering the country’s two neighbors, Turkey (from the west) and Georgia (from the north).
Historically, the territory of the current Shirak Marz was occupied by the canton (“gavar” in Armenian) of Shirak and was part of the Ancient Armenian Airarat Province.
Shirak Marz is famous for having ancient history, as well as numerous natural and human-made monuments: mountains, rivers, green Alpine meadows and pure air.
Basic Information about the Shirak Marz of Armenia
Archeological findings and ancient settlements’ remains, found in the territory of Shirak, prove that this province was settled even in the early period of Stone Age (9000 BC).
According to the works and records by the most famous Armenian historian of the 5th century, Movses Khorenatsi, the name of this region of Armenia derives from that of Shara. The latter was one of the great grandsons of the Armenian nation’s legendary founder and patriarch, Hayk.
Nowadays, the capital, as well as the largest city in the Shirak Marz is Gyumri. You can get to the province and particularly to Gyumri city on airplane, since the province of Shirak is also served by the International Airport of Gyumri, Shirak. Besides, ticket prices here are much lower than other Armenian airports.
Shirak Marz Location and Area
The Shirak Marz is mainly situated on the territories of the plateau of Ashotsk, around 2000 m above sea level, and the plain of Shirak, around 1500 meters above sea level.
Shirak has borders with Georgia (the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti) and Turkey (the region of Kars). Domestically, Shirak is bordered by the Armenian provinces of Lori and Aragatsotn.
The Shirak Marz of Armenia is surrounded with Pambak, Bazum, Aragats, Yeghnakhagh and Javakheti Mountains, as well as the river of Akhuryan, separating this Armenian province from another one, Kars, currently in the territory of Turkey.
The main water resources of the Shirak Marz are Akhuryan River and Lake Arpi.
Total area of the Shirak Marz is 2681 sq. km (around 1035 sq. mi).
Shirak Marz Population
According to the official census conducted in 2011, the population of Shirak Marz is around 252 000 people. As mentioned above, Gyumri is considered to be the largest urban community of the province (with population of about 122 000). Gyumri is also the second biggest city in Armenia.
Ethnic Armenians belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church, make up the majority of the Shirak Marz population. Nevertheless, there are also followers of the Armenian Catholic Church.
There is a small Russian Orthodox community, living in the Shirak Marz as well. It’s important to note about the existence of the Russian military base and its mostly Russian personnel, located in Gyumri.
A small Yazidi community is living in the area of Shirakavan Village.
Shirak Marz Climate
Compared to other Armenian provinces, the Shirak Marz territory is slightly higher, around 2200 m above sea level, at some points. In fact, that is why Shirak climate can be characterized as cold.
Winters in Shirak Marz are cold and snowy: during winter the temperature can drop as low as -46o C, especially in the Ashotsk Plateau region. However, Shirak Marz is also a very sunny province, even in winter.
Summertime climate in Shirak is comparatively mild. The average annual precipitation is around 700 mm.
3 Most Famous Cities of Shirak Marz, Armenia
Besides Gyumri, there are many other cities and large rural communities in the Shirak Marz that would probably interest you as a tourist attraction! Below, several of them are presented.
Shirak Marz City #1: Artik
Artik is one of the large towns in the Shirak Marz of Armenia. According to the 2011 official census, its population is about 19500 people.
The city can definitely be considered an important tourist destination, since it has several churches and other historical monuments. The central square of Artik town houses a monument, dedicated to the World War II martyrs.
You can also visit the two churches, located near the mentioned square: St. Marine (5th century) and St. Gevorg (7th century). Although presently, both churches are partially in ruins, they are still a favorite place to visit for locals and foreigners.
In 2006, a fund-raising campaign was announced, aimed at reconstructing the St. Gevorg church.
Shirak Marz City #2: Anipemza
Anipemza is a large rural community in the Shirak Marz, with population of around 500 people, according to the report by the National Statistical Service of Armenia.
It was established in the 4th century. The village is situated on the bank of Akhuryan River, on the opposite side of which, beyond the Armenian-Turkish border, the ruins of the ancient Armenian Ani city can be seen.
One special fact about this village is that it housed numerous orphans, survivors of the Armenian genocide (1915). Also, Anipemza is known for being one of the first industrial cities of the Soviet period Armenia.
Anipemza has a lot of facilities: library, hospital, kindergarten, its own House of culture and cinema/theatre. Currently, this settlement is considered to be a company town or a garden city.
Today, Anipemza is protected by the Government of the Republic of Armenia, as well as by UNESCO since it has huge historical, cultural, urban and architectural significance.
Shirak Marz City #3: Maralik
Maralik (literally from Armenian, “little deer”) is another relatively large town, located in the Shirak Marz, Armenia. Its population is around 5400 people, according to the 2011 official census
There is a special story behind the name of this town. According to the legend, very popular among locals, every year, during the feast of St. Stephen, a deer was approaching the settlement’s church, to be sacrificed willingly.
So, every year, the villagers were catching a deer and sacrificing it, until one day a hunter killed the deer with a rifle. After that, no deer was ever seen in this territory.
During the Soviet period, the village was named Kaputan. Only in 1935 it was renamed Maralik and given a status town in 1962.
The most interesting tourist attraction in Maralik is the Surp Amenaperkich Church, built in 1903. The church complex includes numerous khachkars (cross-stones) that date back to the 11th and the 12th centuries.
Things to See and Do in Shirak Marz
There are some natural and historical monuments and sights that are surely to be visited if one decides to travel to the Shirak Marz of Armenia. If you want more details on them, keep on reading!
Thing to see in Shirak Marz #1: Yererouyk Basilica
Yererouyk basilica located in the aforementioned Anipemza Village, was built during the early Christianity period in Armenia (approximately, in the 4th-5th centuries).
This church in Anipemza Village is dedicated to St. John the Baptist who was one of the most loved persons in the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Besides considerably being one of the oldest Armenian churches, there is one more special fact about this historical sight: the historians and archeologists don’t have certain textual references, concerning the exact establishment date of this church.
This is mainly because there are no safe conditions for conducting safe excavations or studies in the area: the basilica is situated in a quite sensitive military zone. So, we can only make conclusions, based on the architectural shape and style of Yererouyk Basilica’s building.
However, Yererouk Basilica is the only one in its kind and surely stands out among other basilica churches, elonging to the early period of Christianity.
Thing to see in Shirak Marz #2: Harichavank
The monastery of Harichavank, named after Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator, founder of Christianit in Armenia) is situated in the territory of Harich Village. This church is considerably built in the 7th century, furthermore, it comprises several buildings.
Fortunately, the monastic complex is preserved well, generally, due to the periodically conducted restorations. But, on the other hand, those restorations have changed the initial architectural model of the church.
Nevertheless, this place has historically been a cultural, scientific and spiritual center not only within the Shirak Marz but for Armenia, on the whole.
Nowadays, Harichavank Monastery will offer you the opportunity of hiking, since it is located on slopes of the highest peak of Armenia, the Mount of Aragats!
Thing to see in Shirak Marz #3: Lmbatavank
Lmbatavank (the official name sounds as the St. Stepan Church of Lmbat Monastery) is situated in the town of Artik in the Shirak Marz. It was built in the 7th century and dedicated to St. Stepan (or St. Stephen).
According to a local legend, during an invasion, Turkish military forces were trying to fire the cannon near the church. Anyway, they missed their target twice, and during their third try they fired the church.
Fortunately their commander is said to have stopped the attack, realizing their fault. Today, you can freely come and admire this splendid historical site.
Thing to see in Shirak Marz #4: Marmashen Monastery
The Monastery of Marmashen is located near the Marmashen Village, on the bank of Akhuryan River. The building process of this monastery complex lasted from 988-1029. It consists of four churches.
Judging by the well-preserved wall inscriptions, the Marmashen Monastery churches were built by the Armenian Prince Vahram Pahlavuni.
This monastic complex, once an important cultural and religious center in the medieval Armenia, is one of the best Shirak architecture samples and, finally, a valuable memory of the Armenian Bagratuni dynasty rule.
Thing to see in Shirak Marz #5: Lake Arpi National Park
The National Park of Lake Arpi is one of the four protected parks in the territory of Armenia, located in the Shirak Marz, near the plateaus of Shirak and Javakheti. It is situated 2000 m above sea level.
The National Park was established in 2009. The aim was to protect the natural biodiversity of this region and sustainably developing the local communities.
Lake Arpi is considered to be the second largest lake in the Republic of Armenia. In the territory of this lake and the National Park, on the whole, one can enjoy Alpine meadows, low and high mountains, rivers, artificial woods and rocky canyons!
Climate in this National Park is characterized as continental, having severely cold winters and cool summers.
Visiting this sight, one can watch birds and butterflies, take part in botanical tours, ride a horse, go fishing and many more attractive activities, possible in this area!