14 Best Things To Do In Jerusalem

An Introduction To The Ancient City Of Jerusalem (45)

Depending on who you speak to, you’ll get lots of different explanations as to why Jerusalem is so important, who the city belongs to and even what the most important place in the city is. One thing everyone can agree on though is that Jerusalem is one of the oldest and most important religious cities in the world.

Jerusalem has a history that spans across millennia, a lot of which is there to explore and experience in the city, making it not just an important spot if you’re religious but also if you have even the slightest interest in history.

One of the biggest surprises of visiting though was definitely seeing how the city’s varied history brought together three distinctly different religions and how the city is important to each one. Typically religious sites in most other places across the world tend to be more important to just one religion, not several all at once and especially so not with how important and highly revered the city is to each religion.

 

Then there’s how beautiful it is too! In some ways, it feels like walking back in time with buildings here that are thousands of years old – except, of course, updated and preserved for modern times.

Suffice to say, a visit to the city is one that you absolutely have to add to your travel plans. Oh, and while you’re here, I’d recommend getting a guide.  You can easily explore without one but there’s so much detail to the city (for instance, the Via Dolorosa below) that you might perhaps otherwise miss if you just wanted around for the first time without know where you’re going to.

Rather than carrying on about how amazing the Jerusalem is, let me show you exactly what I mean, as well as the very best things to do in Jerusalem when you visit.

1.) Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest site in the world for Christians and is reported to be built on the place that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest site in the world for Christians and is reported to be built on the place that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The building as it stands was built and destroyed several times over thousands of years with what exists now being a rather huge and impressive church.

Given its huge significance, be prepared to queue here if you want to see most of the main sights in the church with some queues lasting hours – especially so the queue to see Jesus’s tomb where he resurrected from.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also the most important and final spot on from the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage (which I’ll explain further below).

2.) The Western Wall or The Wailing Wall

The Western Wall is actually what’s left of an ancient temple of Jerusalem and is a hugely hallowed site for people of the Jewish faith, Christians and Muslims. The wall was first constructed around 19BCE and is easily one of the oldest places to visit in Jerusalem.

When you visit, there are separate sections for men and women – with men having to cover their heads; women don’t have the same requirement though they need to cover their shoulders and legs.

There’s a whole etiquette to visiting which, while not enforced (e.g. taking a few steps away from the wall, walking backwards so you don’t turn your back to it) is greatly appreciated as this is an important and much-revered site in Jerusalem (having a guide here was invaluable because the knowledge and details provided here really helps you understand why the Western Wall is so important to so many people).

3.) The Temple Mount or Haram esh-Sharif

Haram esh-Sharif is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem – revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for multiple reasons. I’d attempt to go into each one but I feel like Wikipedia might best serve this purpose as it’s far too long and too detailed to get into here.

It is worth noting that this is one of the harder places to visit in Jerusalem due to its huge importance, making it reserved more for prayer than anything else.

In modern times (i.e. these days), the stunning Dome of the Rock stands proudly on this site and is the most iconic landmark in the city. The central dome of this church glitters with gold and the colorful tiled exterior walls are absolutely beautiful. 

4.) Dome of the Rock

As mentioned before, the Dome of the Rock is actually on the Temple Mount and is an intricately designed Islamic shrine, which – in addition to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

If you want to visit, be prepared to queue as admission is only allowed in at certain times (it’s used otherwise for religious purposes) and as such, be prepared to set aside a fair bit of time to explore it properly.

5.) Armenian Quarter

Jerusalem has played host to a large Armenian community for many years and this quarter is packed full of charming ancient architecture and historical buildings.

Armenians also know quite a thing or two about pottery and ceramic works so this is a great spot to visit to grab yourself a souvenir. (By the way, there are 4 quarters in total in Jerusalem – the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter, The Jewish quarter and the Muslim quarter).

The center of the Armenian Quarter is located on the Armenian Patriarchate Road and spreads outwards to include the churches of St. James and St. Mark. This is a fantastic part of the city that is often explored less than the more well-known sites.

6.) Via Dolorosa

 

Another hugely important site for those of the Christians the world over, the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Sorrow is reported to follow the route that Jesus Christ took when carrying the cross to Golgotha. It follows all the 14 stations of the Cross and when you’re here, you can follow this same route, ergo why this is a hugely important site for Christian pilgrims.

On Fridays, you can actually follow a procession that is led by Franciscan monks through the Via Dolorosa. If you’re there on any other day (or to make the most of this route), it is worth having a guide who can point out each station as you go along.

7.) Christian Quarter

Situated north of the Jaffa Gate and centered around the impressive Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Christian Quarter is an absolute must.

Within the confines of this quarter is a swath of beautiful architecture from various ages, and a myriad of bustling Souks, markets, and pleasant cafes. Notable sites include the Ethiopian Monastery, the Church of St. John the Baptist and the Protestant Christ Church.

8.) The Tower of David

This complex actually has no connection to King David and is also known as the Citadel. Built in 24 BC, this ancient structure has stood proudly for thousands of years and was erected by the notorious King Herod.

Within this structure is the interesting Tower of David Museum that displays the history of the city and its evolution.

It is also possible to climb to the rooftop of the citadel for fantastic views of Jerusalem across to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Highly recommend it, it’s one of the best views of the city and really helps you get a sense of where everything is.)

9.) Muslim Quarter

If you are looking for a place to shop and experience local life, the Muslim quarter is one of the best places to visit. It’s perhaps the busiest of all the quarters with its bustling markets, busy restaurants and refreshing juice spots to cool off in the heat (it was sooooooo hot when we visited).

Starting at Damascus gate, the Muslim quarter is bursting with activity and is a fantastic place to find a bargain, haggle with the locals or visit the historic Pool of Bethesda.

10.) The Cardo

I was so fascinated and excited about this one as I’d just a few months before, seen the oldest mosaic map in the world (in Jordan) which referred to this spot.

The Cardo essentially was like this long as grand walkway with Roman columns adorning the path and a market bustling all around. The map in Jordan (the Madaba map) even showed the Cardo with the columns it would have had back then.

While you’re there, to get a sense of what this once bustling part of the city looked like, keep an eye out for the mural depicting the old city of Jerusalem.

11.) Jewish Quarter

The Jewish quarter is where you’ll find some of the most important spots to visit in the city e.g. Western Wall and the Cardo, amongst others.

Now while you might not necessarily notice when you switch from one quarter to another here, you do notice a big difference in how the quarters are organized. The Jewish quarter being, perhaps with the exception of the Armenian quarter (and the main sight in it – the Western Wall) being fairly quiet compared to say the busier Muslim and Christian quarters.

If you’re looking for a break from the crowds, this is easily one of the best parts of the city to explore.

12.) Mount Zion

Another hugely significant religious site, Mount Zion is the place where Christ held the Last Supper and where the Virgin Mary lived during the later years of her life. For the Jewish community, this is also the place of King David’s Tomb.

Located on this hill today is a variety of stunning shrines and churches; furthermore, you can also see the expanse of the city on a clear day.

13.) Kidron Valley

Located between Mount Zion and Mount of Olives; this is one of the most ancient parts of Jerusalem. This is the area that both Muslims and Jews believe that the Last Judgment will take place.

Archaeological excavations have found structures dating back as far as 4000 years old and various tunnels and temples are open to exploring such as Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the Pool of Siloam.

14.) Jaffa Gate

This ancient gate used to be one of the 7 gates into Jerusalem and is quite the architectural masterpiece to behold. It was built in the 1500s and was done in an L-shape as a defensive measure to help slow down attackers.

It’s easily one of the best things to do in Jerusalem you want to get a sense of what it looked like centuries ago and can be done either as you enter Jerusalem or indeed, as you leave.

10 Most Beautiful Churches in Armenia That You Must Visit

Armenia being one of the oldest countries in the world was also the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion back in 301 AD (that’s more than 1,700 years ago!). Its millennium old monasteries can usually be found situated on highlands amongst picturesque landscapes where they are less vulnerable to attacks. Armenia, also known as the “land of churches”, has around 4,000 monasteries and churches. Here’s our curated list in random order for the 10 most beautiful churches in Armenia that you must visit at least once in your life!

1. Khor Virap Monastery

It’s no wonder why Khor Virap is one of the favourite attractions of most travellers in Armenia. The majestic Mt Ararat positioned right behind the church makes a fantastic backdrop for a panorama view of the church. The locals also believed that Mt Ararat protected the monastery against a strong earthquake in the past.

The absolutely stunning Khor Virap against the majestic Mt. Ararat.

It is believed that St Gregory the illuminator was imprisoned here in this dungeon was dug 7-8 metres underground for his preaching of Christianity to the people in Armenia. It was such a miracle that despite being imprisoned for 13 years, he was still alive when they found him. It turned out that throughout the years, there was this Christian lady who continued to give him some bread surreptitiously.

Tip: For those who are claustrophobic, it’s advisable to not enter the pit. It was quite challenging climbing down the vertical ladder into the pit.

The pit where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years

2. Noravank Monastery

This monastery is most famous for its two-storey church whereby you will have to climb up to the main entrance via a narrow staircase made from stones jutting out from the face of building.

3. Echimiazin Armenian Apostolic Church

This was the first cathedral that was ever built in Armenia and also the oldest cathedral in the world. Sadly the main church building has been under construction for the past few years, hence we were not able to get a nice shot of it. The photo below shows the main entrance to this Church. This place was also the headquarter for all the churches in Armenia.

And yes, this is the majestic view of the Echmiadzin church in summer when it was not under any renovation. Very beautiful right?

 

4. Zvartnots Ruins

Zvartnots is also known as the “temple of ruins” and it is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. This place was the first circular 3 storey church built back in the 6th century which only lasted for 3 centuries before it was destroyed by an earthquake. Some of the pillars and the altar of the church were relatively well preserved and you could also still see its exterior circular architecture.  The Armenians later learnt to built more stable rectangular based churches instead of circular shaped.

5. Geghard Monastery

This was one of the most interesting and unique monasteries that we’ve seen during our time in Armenia and also my personal favourite. This entire cave monastery was carved inside a rock mountain, how is that even possible back then with limited tools and technology?! Its name “Geghard” means spear and this spear was actually referring to the same spear that was used to pierce Christ after he was being crucified on the cross to check if he was still alive. Many pilgrims head here to see the relic of the “spear” and hence they eventually renamed the monastery to Geghard Monastery (Spear Monastery).

Can you imagine, this entire church was carved inside a rock mountain! Look at the details on the pillars and sides of the walls. Also, the exact spot where we were standing in the photo below was said to have the best natural acoustics ever. We did try humming a tune and it immediately sent tingles up our spine! The echo was unbelievable and even the slightest whisper could be heard clearly and beautifully!

Remember to try singing a tune at this exact spot if you ever get a chance to be here!

6. Sevanakvank monastery

Most people travel to this monastery situated on a hill adjacent to the beautiful Lake Sevan to get a glimpse of the unique green cross stone that was made from limestone. This place was originally built for the priests that have sinned as this monastery was isolated and far away from the city and women. Also, this was one of the only 3 churches in Armenia that has Christ illustrated on the cross stone.

Can you spot the outstanding green cross stone?

The maze on the right of the photo used to be the dormitory for the monks

7. Tatev Monastery

Another stunning fairytale like monastery that literally took our breath away. This was in fact Daniel’s favourite out of the lot that we’ve seen! But this monastery is definitely more beautiful during summer.

During winter, the road that leads up to the spot where you could capture a nice panorama shot of the monastery was too slippery and dangerous. Hence we were unable to capture the monastery from the other angle. Daniel was very disappointed actually 🙁

Useful tip: During winter, the cable car that leads up to the monastery only operates on Sat & Sun.

This is the breathtaking panorama view that you can get when you travel here during summer. Super amazing right?! Photo not taken by us obviously since we were there during winter 🙁

8. St Grigor Lusavorich

The St Grigor Lusavorich cathedral is also the symbol of the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia as well as a tribute to St Gregory, the illuminator, who was responsible for introducing Christianity to Armenia. This church is one of the newest church in Armenia and was built only around 6-7 years ago.

Useful tip: Visit this church twice! Once in the day and again at night. This church is particularly beautiful at night after being illuminated by the floodlights.

9. Odzun church

This church was different because of its pink felsite stoned walls. Most of the other churches that we’ve seen were grey/dark coloured, so this was indeed quite refreshing for us! Especially with its picturesque setting of the magnificent ridge as the backdrop, this church quickly became one of our favourites.

10. Sanahin monastery complex

The Sanahin Monastery was very impressive because of its remarkable archways. The Sanahin was especially rich in Khachkars (cross stones) where more than 80 of them survived till date. If you’re visiting this complex, do remember to pay more attention to the intricate details on the khachkars. Most of these khachkars depict the traditional cross growing out of a grain with branches at its sides. According to our guide, this symbolises “life”.

 

Memories from Old City of Jerusalem – Israel

The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most intense places on Earth! At the heart of the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian religions, this one-kilometer, walled-in area in the center of Jerusalem is beyond words and cannot be missed. The Old City is home to the Western Wall (aka Wailing Wall and in Hebrew Kotel). This is the last remaining wall of what was once the Jewish Temple and is today the holiest site in the world for Jews.

Above the Western Wall lies the Dome of the Rock, which is important for Muslims as the site where the prophet Muhammad is said to have risen to heaven.

 

Just a few minutes’ walk away lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where some believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters; The Jewish Quarter, The Armenian Quarter, The Christian Quarter, and The Muslim Quarter. The walled city is entered by one of seven entry gates, although the busiest for tourists is the Jaffa Gate next to which is the Tower of David Museum, providing the history of Jerusalem within the Old City Walls. Each quarter has its own unique atmosphere and observations, sites and smells, and experiences.

 

 

In the Jewish Quarter, for instance, the narrow alleyways are lined by the homes of Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jewish families and Yeshivas (schools for Torah study). Walking around, you can observe the residents of the Jewish quarter go about their daily lives. There are teenage students in the Yeshivas who are often here from around the world, children playing outside schools between lessons, men rushing around between places of worship – and of course, many people praying at the Western Wall. The houses of the Old City – and the Jewish quarter, in particular – are hotly contested real estate, and for good reason. They command spectacular prices on the rare occasion that they trade hands.

The Jewish Quarter’s narrow alleyways open up as you reach the Western Wall Plaza and the wall itself. At times of Jewish festivals, the wall can be crowded, and observing the tourists brushing alongside daily prayers here is an interesting site. Anybody can go up to the wall, although men and women have separate areas. Men should cover their heads (there are paper kippahs available), and women should wear modest clothing. It is customary to place a small prayer on a piece of paper within a crack on the wall. Amazingly, the vast Western Wall represents just a tiny percentage of this elevation of the Temple, and the Western Wall Tunnels, accessed via the plaza, allow visitors to see even more of the wall underground. Also interestingly, within the Muslim Quarter is whats known as the Little Western Wall where the wall is once again exposed and visible. This is argued to be holier than the iconic section of the wall because it is closer to the ‘Holy of Holies’ – the holiest part of the Temple.

The Muslim Quarter is a huge contrast to the Jewish Quarter. Its streets are busier and more crowded, with vendors – especially within the famous Shuk – selling all varieties of products. In contrast to the other quarters where shops are generally selling religious or tourist-appealing products, here the Shuk is literally an ancient shopping mall in the 21st century where one can practice their bartering skills and buy almost anything imaginable. As in the Jewish Quarter, and the rest of the Old City, tourists wandering the streets of the Muslim Quarter find it hard to imagine how the locals go about their everyday business so normally in what is such an intense place. Kids play in the street, and men sit out in cafes smoking nargila (hookah or shisha).

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

 

The Dome of the Rock sits above the Western Wall Plaza, and while non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the building itself, tourists are able to tour the compound and nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Moving into the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, there is yet another change. Home to about 40 holy sites to Christians, in the streets here you will see priests and pilgrims from around the world. This quarter was constructed around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried. Within this hot patch of real estate, even the Church is divided, with different parts controlled by different Christian sects, meaning that there are often disputes over maintenance and some parts are in poor condition.

The Armenian Quarter is one of the four sections within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The other Quarters are the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Quarters. The Armenians have the smallest section in the Old City and take up 14% of the total area of the Old City. The Quarter is home to approximately 2,000 people many of whom are connected to the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Armenians have their own distinct language and culture and are ethnically neither Arab nor Jewish.

The Armenians originated from Turkey, the Caucasus Mountains and Iran. Soon after Jesus’ death the Armenians were converted to Christianity and ever since then have been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land.  Armenian monks arrived in Jerusalem in the 4th century AD. Jerusalem’s Armenian community is considered the oldest living Armenian Diaspora community in the world.

Armenians have had a strong presence in the city since at least the fourth century, when Armenia became Christian. Their quarter is said to be the oldest living Armenia diaspora community. Thousands of displaced survivors of the Armenian Genocide relocated to this part of Jerusalem in the 20th century.

Narrow Alley in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

Armenians displaced from the former Ottoman Empire because of the genocide brought with them a special type of Turkish-style ceramic, which has since become synonymous with Jerusalem and Armenians. It’s now used for all the street signs in the Old City and is also sold in many stores. Explore the walled Old City of Jerusalem, and you’ll soon spot beautifully crafted ceramic street signs spread through the area.

The Armenian compound is enclosed by an inner wall within the Armenian Quarter and includes St. James, a convent, school, churches and residences. Along the walk from the Jaffa Gate past the Zion Gate and to the Jewish Quarter are many small shops displaying the beautiful hand-painted Armenian pottery which is made locally. Armenian ceramics can be seen adorning many parts of the Old City including the Dome of the Rock and neighborhood street signs.

 

Rest in peace Armenian martyrs. You will be beatified.

Today, we are not the descendants of the Genocide survivors. We are the direct victims of the Genocide. We are living in agony and pain.

Today, we are bleeding anew watching the mass graves through different media means. It’s a reminder of our graves, our over one million and a half graves.

We are no longer asking anyone to recognize our pain, our torture. We are suffering in silence. We are dispersed. We eat, we drink, we dance and we sing. But we are tortured souls in bodies perpetually suffering as our grief is continuously denied amid tormenting silence.

Yes, we are alive and deceased. We seek reclamation for our agony to cease but to no avail.

We learn of others’ pains being attended and cured. We hear about the half million deceased by an invisible enemy who have been acknowledged and their families solaced.

In 1915 a million people were brought through what is now Turkey and walked to their deaths near Deir-al-Zour in modern Syria. One hundred years on, only a handful of survivors remain to tell the stories of the Armenian genocide, which they witnessed.

A hundred years after the Armenian genocide, filmmaker Diana Markosian found two survivors who witnessed deportation, death, and denial of the events of 1915. Together they journeyed back to the past.

I was never interested in pursuing work on the Armenian genocide. When I started this project, it was still just a vague historical narrative. I knew that, in 1915, the Ottomans initiated a policy of deportation and mass murder to destroy their Armenian population. And that, by the First World War’s end, more than a million people were eliminated from what is now modern-day Turkey. But I had no idea of the personal toll the genocide exacted on my own family, or the sense of connection I would slowly come to feel through making this piece.

I am Armenian, but I was born in Moscow and raised in America. For most of my life, I struggled with my Armenian identity, partly because of the history one inherits. It is something I understood but never fully embraced. Then a year ago, I happened to be in Armenia when a foundation approached me, requesting help in finding the remaining genocide survivors. I pursued voter registrations online to see who was born before 1915, and then traveled cross-country to find them. That’s how I met Movses and Yepraksia — who lived past their hundredth year.

When I met them, they shared with me memories of their early homes. Movses was born in the village of Kebusie in Musa Dagh Mountain not far from the Syrian border. Yepraksia lived in a small village near Kars on the Armenian border. They hadn’t seen their home since escaping a century ago. I wanted in some way reunite each of the survivors with their homeland. I decided to travel back Turkey to re-trace their last memories.

When I told the survivors I would be visiting their native land, each one asked me to fulfill a wish. Movses, from Musa Dagh, drew a map of his village, and asked me to find his church and leave his portrait on the footsteps of what are now ruins. He hadn’t seen his home in 98 years. In his village, I found everything he had described to me: the sheep, the fruit he remembered eating, and the sea. I even found the ruins of what was once his church. Yepraksia, from a small village in Kars, asked me to help her find her older brother who she separated from after 1915.

Once I returned to Armenia, I created billboard-sized images of the survivors’ homelands as a way of bridging the past and present. All these years later, upon delivering the image, the survivors grabbed on, as if by holding the image close they would be taken back to a place they called home many years ago. This is a story of home — everything they had, everything they lost. And what they have found again.

 

CREDITS:
Assistant Producer: Vahe Hakobyan
Sound Recordist: Harutyun Mangasaryan
Field Producer: Arevik Avanesyan
Colourist: Boyd Nagle
Video Editor: Andy Kemp
Filmed, Produced and Directed by Diana

50 Travel Tips About Armenia

Armenia isn’t on many people’s list of countries to visit. However, if you are considering visiting Armenia soon, you will probably have a few problems finding correct and reliable information. Why? There aren’t many people traveling to Armenia and even less writing about it. That’s why after visiting Armenia we built this list!

50 Travel Tips About Armenia | Armenia And The Locals

#1 Armenia isn’t a “tourist ready” country, but that’s probably just another thing that makes it even more interesting! This doesn’t mean that tourists aren’t welcome since we were always pleasantly received in Armenia. However, the country still lacks many infrastructures to receive big amounts of tourists.

#2 Barely anyone speaks English, only Russian and Armenian. We believe it’s the least English-speaking country we have been to… Communication can be very difficult, though it’s manageable.

#3 Armenia is a very dry country, at least in the Summer. Yellow is the prevailing color and makes it quite scenic 🙂 There’s something about it that’s soothing…

Karahunj Observatory

#4 It’s very mountainous or else wouldn’t be a Caucasus country… The mountains aren’t as high as its neighboring Georgia but the whole country is marked by mountains, gorges, and valleys.

#5 There are more Armenians outside Armenia than in the country! In fact, there are almost 3 times more Armenians outside Armenia (8M) than living in Armenia (3M)! This happened due to the Armenian Diaspora.

#6 During WWI the Ottoman Government (nowadays Turkey) killed 1-1.5 M Armenians in what it’s called the Armenian Genocide or Armenian Holocaust. Until today Turkey does not recognize what happened as a Genocide.

#7 Armenia is considered the first Christian country! Christianity was implemented as the state religion in 301 A.D. Though it was introduced in Armenia even earlier, during the 1st century by Christ’s disciples Bartholomew and Thaddeus. They are known as the “Illuminators of the Armenian world”. Even today Armenia is still a very conservative and religious country, 95 % of the population is Armenian Apostolic.

#8 Armenia (and Georgia) connects Europe and Asia. For centuries was a center of trade between continents and the epicenter of many wars! It has been attacked and invaded by the Greeks, Mongols, Persians, Turks, Russians, etc…

#9 However, today Armenia is a geopolitical hotspot! It has no access to the ocean and has a conflict with many of their neighboring countries. It has no relation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Iran to the south mostly supports their fellow Islamic countries. This leaves only Georgia,  who wasn’t too happy with their support to Russia during the recent war…

In Armenia, you get some astonishing views

#10 All this made Armenia’s economic struggle and made Armenia’s transition to a market economy more difficult. Though, Armenia is still a very poor country!

#11 However, don’t feel discouraged Armenia is a stable and safe country. Moreover, it feels safe… As a tourist, I always felt relaxed and comfortable, almost as in Georgia or Western Europe.

The famous cascade in Yerevan

 

Travel In Armenia And The Tourists

#12 Armenia is one of the least touristy countries in Europe. Out of the few tourists they host, even fewer are western backpackers… We only saw a handful of them.

Armenia has so many cool things to do and see, yet has so few visitors…

#13 Even in the peak season, in the biggest tourist attractions, we only saw a few tourists and no queues. It was great not being overwhelmed by people everywhere we went

#14 If you are planning an overland trip be aware that Armenia borders are closed with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. If you want to go to any of these countries your best option is to go through Georgia.

#15 While traveling through Armenia, one thing will catch your eyes… Half the country seems to have been abandoned to their own fate… There are way too many half-deserted towns with buildings falling apart.

#16 Yerevan is the exception, the center is much more developed than the rest of the country. It’s known as the pink city because of the color of the stones of the beautiful old and new buildings. Yerevan is a buzzing city and very pleasant to walk around both during the day and at night!

#17 If we had to choose the best travel attraction of Armenia, that would be the Tatev monastery and the Wings of Tatev aerial roadway! The Tatev monastery is amazing and situated in an incredibly scenic mountain range, which you can appreciate from the Wings of Tatev.

The gorgeous Tatev Monastery

 

#18 Mount Ararat is a very important part of Armenian National identity, however, it’s nowadays part of Turkish territory! Though you can see it from Armenia and it’s an incredible view that allows some amazing pictures particularly from Khor Virap! Unfortunately, when we were closer to it, there was a strong fog ruining the pictures

Khor Virap, with Mount Ararat behind – unfortunately it was a bit foggy

#19 Sevan Lake is the biggest lake in Armenia and occupies 5% of the territory! We read how beautiful it was and that it’s a beach destination within Armenia… Well, the lake is impressive and being 1900-meters high makes it rather unique, however, most of the surrounding felt abandoned! it definitely wasn’t a place where we wanted to beach…

Sevan Lake

#20 Moreover, the town of Sevan itself was probably the worst place we have been in Armenia! Felt completely abandoned and with nothing to do… I would suggest visiting the lake as a stopover on a road trip, but nothing more!

#21 Armenia is the place to go if you want to see unique monasteries in a beautiful setting, usually hidden away in the Mountains. The most interesting we visited were Noravank, Tatev, and Geghard. Khor Virap isn’t that impressive by itself, but the view of Ararat is incredible! We also went to Etchmiadzin, which is supposedly the first cathedral ever built (between 301-303)!

Just one example of the many Armenian Monasteries

 

Food And Drinks In Armenia

#22 Armenian food is pretty cheap, even in restaurants. With 5-10 Euros one couple can have a very good meal at a nice restaurant.

#23 However, it isn’t easy to find quick meals or fast food. Definitely, the country isn’t prepared for travelers… We ended up going to supermarkets and buying supplies to being able to eat “on the road”.

#24 Lavash is the staple bread in Armenia. When you ask for bread, usually you get Lavash. It’s a soft, thin flatbread. “Lavash, the preparation, meaning, and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia” was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

#25 The best things we tried in Armenia were Zhingyalov hats and Dolma. Zhingyalov hats are flatbread stuffed with finely diced herbs and green vegetables. Dolma is a dish of minced meat wrapped in grape leaves.

#26 Be careful when you ask for a Lemonade! It may not be what you expect… We learned that, in Armenia, a Lemonade is Soda, and it doesn’t have to be a Lemon Soda! You can easily have a pear or Tarragon (Yeap…) Lemonade! 🙂

#27 Fruit (fresh and dried) is very good in Armenia, particularly peaches and figs! You will also see lots of melons and watermelons…  Enjoy them, it’s a great way to eat some healthy food during the trips!

We love buying fruit and veggies from street vendors – Armenia was no exception

Money And Expenses In Armenia

#28 Overall Armenia is a very cheap country to travel in! Food, accommodation, fuel, and tickets to attractions are all very inexpensive. Overall, in 5 days we only spent 190 Euros, which means less than 20 Euros per person per day. This doesn’t include the car rental!

#29 You can withdraw money from almost any ATM with your foreign card, without extra fees! It’s similar to Georgia and very different (better!) from SE Asia! Note: We are talking about the local ATM fees, not the fees charged by your bank… those depend only on your bank!

#30 The problem is that in most places it can be difficult to find ATMs! I would advise you to take a few extra Eur/USD just in case you need an alternative… The exception is Yerevan, where there’s ATM everywhere like you would expect in a big capital city.

#31 Accommodation is also very cheap! It’s fairly easy to find a private double room in a nice guesthouse under 20 Euros. Most of the times we ended up paying about 15 Euros per night.

breakfast in Armenia

#32 Expect to pay an added service fee of 10% in every restaurant. That information is usually on the menu. Besides, even with this small added tax, meals are very cheap in Armenian restaurants.

#33 Cash is King in Armenia. Many places only accept cash, even some that have Visa’s and Mastercard’s signs (no internet, no service or any other problem).

Most supermarkets and big restaurants/hotels are exceptions. Almost every guest house will have to be paid in cash and you can’t even pay with a card when booking.

How To Travel In Armenia

 

#34 Roads in Armenia are terrible, much worse than in Georgia. They are full of potholes, even some of the main roads that connect the country. Also, be aware that just because a road is considered a highway or a main road doesn’t mean that is any good, or even paved… You may need to drive gravel in places you won’t expect it!

#35 Therefore, you cannot blindly trust Google Maps (or maps me) expected time or you’ll be in for a bad time! In our experience, add 30 – 50% to the ETA to be safe…

Roads in Armenia are a hassle…

#36 However, you don’t have to drive a 4 x 4 / SUV! It will make your journey more pleasant and allow you to go to more extreme places, but most of the usual destinations can be reached with a normal car. We did it with a small Toyota and it was OK.

#37 If the roads terrible, drivers are even worse… mostly because they are impatient and will overtake you in the craziest places. We think they are more reckless than actually aggressive. Anyway, it can be dangerous and if you are driving you should be aware of it. Our experience driving in Angola was very, very useful 🙂

Out of nowhere, the road becomes like this…

#38 Fuel is very cheap at half the price of western Europe countries, which is great for road trippers!

#39 In Armenia you can (or may really need to) fill up your car in these pumps… how cool is that? 🙂

#40 Armenia is part of the silk road and one of its most famous passes was the Selim pass (now called Orbelian’s pass). The scenery is amazing and the road is actually good and enjoyable to drive in. Selim pass goes as high as 2410 meters!

#41 If you are planning to drive in Armenia please note that there are way too many speed cameras on the main roads! In almost every small town you’ll see one, or several! We didn’t get any ticket, however, be careful because they usually enforce the speed limit.

Beautiful open Road in Armenia…

#42 If you are planning to bring a car from Georgia to Armenia you will need a cross-border authorization to cross the border to Armenia. It’s a document from the car rental authorizing you to take the car to Armenia in Georgian and translated to Armenian! It will cost at least 50 USD and you’ll probably need to request it 1 or 2 days in advance.

#43 Additionally you will also need to buy car insurance in Armenia, but you’ll need to buy it in Armenia. Right after crossing the border you’ll find many places selling insurance. Just stop and buy it. It’ll probably cost 10-15 USD.

Other Travel Information About Armenia

#44 In Armenia you’ll find free WIFI everywhere, restaurants, bars, hotels, guesthouses, and even some tourist attractions! However, if you want you can also easily buy a sim card close to the borders. We didn’t buy and didn’t miss it!

#45 Armenia uses the power sockets and plugs of type C and F, with a standard voltage of 230 V and a frequency of 50 Hz. Type C plug is usually called the Euro socket as it’s used in almost every country in Continental Europe. If you need to buy an adapter, we recommend this one.

#46 Do you need a visa to enter Armenia? Probably not. The citizens of many countries are exempted from visa: the US, most EU, the UK, Australia, etc.. Curiously, not Canada… Both Canadians and Indians need a visa on arrival. Nevertheless, have a look here for the lists of countries that exempted countries, visa on arrival, and visa requests.

#47 If you can buy products on the side of the road. This way you will get great products at very reasonable prices and it will directly help the local economy! Fruits, nuts, honey, and wine are some of the great things you can buy…

Another street vendor – this time it was honey

#48 Be aware that the working day starts very late… There’s nothing open before 9:00… However, at night many things come to live, particularly in Yerevan.

#49 Crossing borders between Georgia and Armenia is perfectly easy and fairly quick. One time took us 30 minutes, the other for almost 2 hours. But most importantly it was peaceful and without any “problems” from the Police. We were particularly worried about the Brava Border (because it’s very small) but it was very simple and without any trouble!

#50 If you want to travel to a country that it’s still off the radar of tourism, visiting Armenia is probably one of your best options! It’s safe, cheap, relaxed, fairly easy to travel. It has many interesting destinations and unique culture and history!

Garni Temple, close to Yerevan

 

The Armenian Genocide – 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

 

The Armenian Genocide – 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

 

             

In April 1915 the Ottoman government embarked upon the systematic decimation of its civilian Armenian population. The persecutions continued with varying intensity until 1923 when the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist and was replaced by the Republic of Turkey. The Armenian population of the Ottoman state was reported at about two million in 1915. An estimated one million had perished by 1918, while hundreds of thousands had become homeless and stateless refugees. By 1923 virtually the entire Armenian population of Anatolian Turkey had disappeared.

The Ottoman Empire was ruled by the Turks who had conquered lands extending across West Asia, North Africa and Southeast Europe. The Ottoman government was centered in Istanbul (Constantinople) and was headed by a sultan who was vested with absolute power. The Turks practiced Islam and were a martial people. The Armenians, a Christian minority, lived as second class citizens subject to legal restrictions which denied them normal safeguards. Neither their lives nor their properties were guaranteed security. As non-Muslims they were also obligated to pay discriminatory taxes and denied participation in government. Scattered across the empire, the status of the Armenians was further complicated by the fact that the territory of historic Armenia was divided between the Ottomans and the Russians.

In its heyday in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was a powerful state. Its minority populations prospered with the growth of its economy. By the nineteenth century, the empire was in serious decline. It had been reduced in size and by 1914 had lost virtually all its lands in Europe and Africa. This decline created enormous internal political and economic pressures which contributed to the intensification of ethnic tensions. Armenian aspirations for representation and participation in government aroused suspicions among the Muslim Turks who had never shared power in their country with any minority and who also saw nationalist movements in the Balkans result in the secession of former Ottoman territories. Demands by Armenian political organizations for administrative reforms in the Armenian-inhabited provinces and better police protection from predatory tribes among the Kurds only invited further repression. The government was determined to avoid resolving the so-called Armenian Question in any way that altered the traditional system of administration. During the reign of the Sultan Abdul Hamid (Abdulhamit) II (1876-1909), a series of massacres throughout the empire meant to frighten Armenians and so dampen their expectations, cost up to three hundred thousand lives by some estimates and inflicted enormous material losses on a majority of Armenians.

In response to the crisis in the Ottoman Empire, a new political group called the Young Turks seized power by revolution in 1908. From the Young Turks, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), Ittihad ve Terakki Jemiyeti, emerged at the head of the government in a coup staged in 1913. It was led by a triumvirate: Enver, Minister of War; Talaat, Minister of the Interior (Grand Vizier in 1917); and Jemal, Minister of the Marine. The CUP espoused an ultranationalistic ideology which advocated the formation of an exclusively Turkish state. It also subscribed to an ideology of aggrandizement through conquest directed eastward toward other regions inhabited by Turkic peoples, at that time subject to the Russian Empire. The CUP also steered Istanbul toward closer diplomatic and military relations with Imperial Germany. When World War I broke out in August 1914, the Ottoman Empire formed part of the Triple Alliance with the other Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, and it declared war on Russia and its Western allies, Great Britain and France.

 

                       

 

 

The Ottoman armies initially suffered a string of defeats which they made up with a series of easy military victories in the Caucasus in 1918 before the Central Powers capitulated later that same year. Whether retreating or advancing, the Ottoman army used the occasion of war to wage a collateral campaign of massacre against the civilian Armenian population in the regions in which warfare was being conducted. These measures were part of the genocidal program secretly adopted by the CUP and implemented under the cover of war. They coincided with the CUP’s larger program to eradicate the Armenians from Turkey and neighboring countries for the purpose of creating a new Pan-Turanian empire. Through the spring and summer of 1915, in all areas outside the war zones, the Armenian population was ordered deported from their homes. Convoys consisting of tens of thousands including men, women, and children were driven hundreds of miles toward the Syrian desert.

The deportations were disguised as a resettlement program. The brutal treatment of the deportees, most of whom were made to walk to their destinations, made it apparent that the deportations were mainly intended as death marches. Moreover, the policy of deportation surgically removed the Armenians from the rest of society and disposed of great masses of people with little or no destruction of property. The displacement process, therefore, also served as a major opportunity orchestrated by the CUP for the plundering of the material wealth of the Armenians and proved an effortless method of expropriating all of their immovable properties.

The genocidal intent of the CUP measures was also evidenced by the mass killings that accompanied the deportations. Earlier, Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman forces had been disarmed and either worked to death in labor battalions or outright executed in small batches. With the elimination of the able-bodied men from the Armenian population, the deportations proceeded with little resistance. The convoys were frequently attacked by bands of killers specifically organized for the purpose of slaughtering the Armenians. As its instrument of extermination, the government had authorized the formation of gangs of butchers—mostly convicts released from prison expressly enlisted in the units of the so-called Special Organization, Teshkilâti Mahsusa. This secret outfit was headed by the most ferocious partisans of the CUP who took it upon themselves to carry out the orders of the central government with the covert instructions of their party leaders. A sizable portion of the deportees, including women and children, were indisciminately killed in massacres along the deportation routes. The cruelty characterizing the killing process was heightened by the fact that it was frequently carried out by the sword in terrifying episodes of bloodshed. Furthermore, for the survivors, their witnessing of the murder of friends and relatives with the mass of innocent persons was the source of serious trauma. Many younger women and some orphaned children were also abducted and placed in bondage in Turkish and Muslim homes resulting in another type of trauma characterized by the shock of losing both family and one’s sense of identity. These women and children were frequently forbidden to grieve, were employed as unpaid laborers, and were required to assimilate the language and religion of their captors.

The government had made no provisions for the feeding of the deported population. Starvation took an enormous toll much as exhaustion felled the elderly, the weaker and the infirm. Deportees were denied food and water in a deliberate effort to hasten death. The survivors who reached northern Syria were collected at a number of concentration camps whence they were sent further south to die under the scorching sun of the desert. Through methodically organized deportation, systematic massacre, deliberate starvation and dehydration, and continuous brutalization, the Ottoman government reduced its Armenian population to a frightened mass of famished individuals whose families and communities had been destroyed in a single stroke.

Resistance to the deportations was infrequent. Only in one instance did the entire population of an Armenian settlement manage to evade death. The mountaineers of Musa Dagh defended themselves in the heights above their villages until French naval vessels in the eastern Mediterranean detected them and transported them to safety. The inhabitants of the city of Van in eastern Armenia defended themselves until relieved by advancing Russian forces. They abandoned the city in May 1915, a month after the siege was lifted, when the Russian Army withdrew. The fleeing population was hunted down mercilessly by Turkish irregular forces. Inland towns that resisted, such as Urfa (Edessa), were reduced to rubble by artillery. The survival of the Armenians in large part is credited not to acts of resistance, but to the humanitarian intervention led by American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau. Although the Allied Powers expressly warned the Ottoman government about its policy of genocide, ultimately it was through Morgenthau’s efforts that the plight of the Armenians was publicized in the United States. The U.S. Congress authorized the formation of a relief committee which raised funds to feed “the starving Armenians.” Near East Relief, as the committee was eventually known, saved tens of thousands of lives. After the war, it headed a large-scale effort to rehabilitate the survivors who were mostly left to their own devices in their places of deportation. By setting up refugee camps, orphanages, medical clinics and educational facilities, Near East Relief rescued the surviving Armenian population.

In the post-war period nearly four hundred of the key CUP officials implicated in the atrocities committed against the Armenians were arrested. A number of domestic military tribunals were convened which brought charges ranging from the unconstitutional seizure of power and subversion of the legal government, the conduct of a war of aggression, and conspiring the liquidation of the Armenian population, to more explicit capital crimes, including massacre. Some of the accused were found guilty of the charges. Most significantly, the ruling triumvirate was condemned to death. They, however, eluded justice by fleeing abroad. Their escape left the matter of avenging the countless victims to a clandestine group of survivors that tracked down the CUP arch conspirators. Talaat, the principal architect of the Armenian genocide, was killed in 1921 in Berlin where he had gone into hiding. His assassin was arrested and tried in a German court which acquitted him.

Most of those implicated in war crimes evaded justice and many joined the new Nationalist Turkish movement led by Mustafa Kemal. In a series of military campaigns against Russian Armenia in 1920, against the refugee Armenians who had returned to Cilicia in southern Turkey in 1921, and against the Greek army that had occupied Izmir (Smyrna) where the last intact Armenian community in Anatolia still existed in 1922, the Nationalist forces completed the process of eradicating the Armenians through further expulsions and massacres. When Turkey was declared a republic in 1923 and received international recognition, the Armenian Question and all related matters of resettlement and restitution were swept aside and soon forgotten.

In all, it is estimated that up to a million and a half Armenians perished at the hands of Ottoman and Turkish military and paramilitary forces and through atrocities intentionally inflicted to eliminate the Armenian demographic presence in Turkey. In the process, the population of historic Armenia at the eastern extremity of Anatolia was wiped off the map. With their disappearance, an ancient people which had inhabited the Armenian highlands for three thousand years lost its historic homeland and was forced into exile and a new diaspora. The surviving refugees spread around the world and eventually settled in some two dozen countries on all continents of the globe. Triumphant in its total annihilation of the Armenians and relieved of any obligations to the victims and survivors, the Turkish Republic adopted a policy of dismissing the charge of genocide and denying that the deportations and atrocities had constituted part of a deliberate plan to exterminate the Armenians. When the Red Army sovietized what remained of Russian Armenia in 1920, the Armenians had been compressed into an area amounting to no more than ten percent of the territories of their historic homeland. Armenians annually commemorate the Genocide on April 24 at the site of memorials raised by the survivors in all their communities around the world.

 

 

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”  By – William Saroyan