Armenia

Castles and Fortresses

Location: Artabuynk, Vayots Dzor

Established: V c.

From Yerevan: 140km/2h

    Defensive complex Smbataberd (or Tsakhats Kar fortress) is located in the East of Artabuynk village of Vayots Dzor region, in the Western part of Yeghegis village. The complex is surrounded by Yeghegis gorge in the East and South and Artabuynk gorge – in the West.   Smbataberd is one of the largest fortresses of Vayots Dzor and Syunik as a whole (regions in Armenia). Historic evidences about the bloody war between Armenians and Persians in the 5th century (Avarayr battle) were preserved. Nevertheless, it is possible, that the fortress was built before the 5th century.   Vasakyans, a branch of Syunik dukes dynasty, turned Smbataberd into a military base. During the reign of OrbelyansSmbataberd was more strengthened.   There is no certain etymology of word Stbataberd, though people say, that it was named after one of Orbelyan dynasty knights, which is buried near village-city Yeghegis; afterwards he rebuilt the fortress.  The more possible version says that the complex was named after Syunik duke Smbat, who lived in the 10th century.   The complex was built for defensive purpose; according to all the canons of medieval fortress constructing. The total length of the complex is about a kilometer. The septum divides the fortress into two parts: Southern and Northern. Both parts had acropolis.   Ruins of barracks and basins were found in territory of the two parts. The fortress had three entrances: in the North-East, North-West and North. The doors were built of treated basalt. Water was mined near Tsakhats Kar. Smbataberd served as the most important military base for village-city Yeghegis and nearest settlements. Gndevank is also located in Vayots Dzor region.

Location: Shushi, Artsakh

Established: XVIII c

From Yerevan: 320km/6h

    Shushi Fortress was built in the 18th century in The Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. It was the property of Melik-Shahnazaryan, the leader of Vananda. This medieval city-fortress had secret paths, which lead to the Karkar River.   The fortress walls, inaccessible for those times, served reliable support and storage of weapons; they were built of limestone. The walls of 7-8 m high were strengthened with semicircle towers. A number of caves in South of the fortress played fundamental role in the defensive system of Shushi.   It would be very interesting to see Tnjri tree in Skhtorashen during your visit to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Location: Gyumri, Shirak region

Established: 1830-1836 yy.

From Yerevan: 122km/2h 20min

      “Black” Fortress in Gyumri was built in 1834. After the visit of Russian tsar Nikolai the First in Gyumri in 1837, the city was turned into a castle-fortress and then renamed in honor of Alexandra, wife of the tsar (Alexandropol).   The need of building a fortress became essential after the end of the second Russian-Persian war. Taking into consideration the further possible battle, Russians paid especial attention to the strengthening of Gyumri city.   Huge walls, constructed of black treated basalt amaze the visitors up today. The fortress walls were so powerful, that they housed 100 cannons, and 8000 garrisons inside. The construction was built according to the latest tendencies in military art. “Black” fortress was one of the rarest constructions in the composition of Russian Empire, during the opening ceremony of which tsar himself was present.

Location: Stepanakert, Artsakh

Established: XVIII c

From Yerevan: 341km/6h 40min

    Mayraberd Fortress is located 14 km North-East of Stepanakert city. The construction of the fortress took place in the 50-ies of the 18th century. Earlier the fortress and the nearest settlement were called Mayraberd. The location and double walls with thickness of 2 m and height of 9 m served as an insurmountable obstacle for enemies.   Front door of the fortress stretch more than 1,5 km along the Karkar River gorge; served as a reliable and powerful guard during defense of Shushi. While protecting the heart of Artsakh in the 18th century these walls were an inaccessible and strong military base with a unique plan.

Location: Lori region

Established: 1005-1020 yy.

From Yerevan: 142km/2h 20min

The medieval fortress Lori Berd is located in nowadays Lori region, 4, 5 km of Stepanavan Dendropark. It is situated in the crossing of Urut and Dzoraget gorges. The fortress was founded by David Anhoghin (David Landless), most probably in 1005-20. After the capturing Shamshulde city by Georgian king Bagrat D in 1065 Kyurike A proclaimed Lori the capital of Kyurikyan kingdom (1049-89). Being on the Northern trade road, Lori was a huge trade and craftsmanship center in medieval Armenia; the trade road was connected with Ani, Dvin, Dmanis, Tpghis and other cities. In the 11-13th cc Lori had population of 10 000 people. The territory (about 9 ha), surrounded by the first fortress walls of the city, was the acropolis. In 1105 Lori was invaded by Seljuks for some time, in 1118 – by Georgian troops, after which the city and the nearest territories became the estate of Orbelyan dynasty. In 1185 Lori was passes to Sarkis Zakaryan and after his death – to his sons Ivane and Zakare Zakaryans. In June of 1236 Mongol troops led by Chakhata Nuin captured and completely destroyed the city, stole Shahnshah Zakaryan’s treasures, demolished the chapel-crypt, ascribed to David Anhoghin’s wife. From 1430 Lori was ruled by Armenian Orbelyans. In 1562-1734 Lori, as an important military fortress, was passed either to Turks, or to Persians, and sometimes to Georgians. In the end of 18th century Lori lost its role as fortress and became an ordinary castle, where refugees, deported from different places settled. Exactly in the acropolis eponymous village was founded, which was deserted in 1926-30 (nowadays Lori Berd village is 2 km of Lori). The fortress had territory of 33 ha and was in the full blossom in the second half of the 11th century, becoming the capital of Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom. A church and 2 bathrooms were preserved at Lori-Berd castle. Near the castle, in the lower part of the gorge, an arched bridge stretches over the Urut River. There are lots of cross sculptures on the left side of bridge, on the cliff.  

Location: Haghpat, Lori region

Established: 1233y.

From Yerevan: 185km/4h

      Kayanberd is located in Lori region of the Republic of Armenia, between Haghpat and Sanahin villages.   According to the construction notes, Kayanberd was built by the leader of Haghpat Monastery Hovhannes bishop in 1233. Initially, the fortress was called Haghpat St. Nshan (Kayanberd and Dsevank are of later period). In 1241 the castle was damaged because of Tatar invasions. Inside ruins of buildings, basins, clay water pipes are still preserved.St. Astvatsatsin (St. Holy Virgin) church of Dsevank is in the territory.

Location: Kapan, Syuniq region

Established: XVII c.

From Yerevan: 310km/4h 50min

    Halidzor Fortress (Halidzor St. Astvatsatsin (Sw. Holy Virgin) desert) is an Armenian architectural complex in Syunik region of RA, on the right bank of the River Voghj. It was built in the first half of the 17th century. Then it was turned into ancestral castle of Melik-Parsadanyan dynasty from Bekh village; this was the most powerful family of Kapan territory.   There is an opinion, that the first representative of Parsadanyan dynasty was duke Dzagik from Syunik. One of the greatest Armenian commanders David Bek was of this family. Halidzor fortress was protected by strong walls, had several towers; the dynasty’s copper foundry was located in front of the castle. In the 18th century David Bek tuned the foundry into a fortress. Due to its inaccessibility it became the administrative center of Syunik, where the power of the region was concentrated.   The name Halidzor derives from the names of Hale and Halis settlements. In the 10th century duchess Hamazaspuhi presented Halidzor to Tatev Monastery; Halidzor served as it fortress up to the 14th century.   In 1711 abbot of Tatev Monastery bishop Arakel was severely killed in the desert. In the 18th century David Bek turned the desert into the main center of liberation movement. Nevertheless, even those years the establishment served as a monastery. In 1727, when the Turkish army was trying to capture Halidzor, even nuns were fighting. The complex is protected by fortress walls; the plan is rectangular, according to the location. The only round tower is located in the South-Western part of the complex. The large church, built of untreated basalt, has form of vaulted hall. Two-storey constructions from the North and South serve as parish; the enemy was bombed from the roofs of the constructions.   The appropriate system of protection and inaccessible location gave David Bek with his small army the opportunity to successfully face the numerous attacks of the Turkish army.

Location: Urtsadzor, Ararat region

Established: X-XIII

From Yerevan: 62km/1h

  Monastery-fortress complex “Gevorg Marzpetuni” is located 6 km North-West of Urtsadzor village of Ararat region of RA. The complex was founded in the 10-13th cc. Here there is also the semi-circle vaulted asp; the rectangular perimeter of its inner walls includes the ruins of the church of the 12-13th cc.   The church of the monastery-fortress founded in the 13th century, is a vaulted hall, built of well treated stones of whitefelsite. It is surrounded by fortress walls of rectangular plan, four corners of which are strengthened with round towers. The vaulted living and household buildings are constructed along the Southern and Eastern walls. Fortresses of this kind were imortant military bases in Armenia.

Location: Yerevan

Established: 782 B.C.

  Tourists visiting Yerevan are particularly interested in the history of foundation of the city, and a great opportunity to explore it is a visit to Erebuni Fortress within Yerevan city tour. Erebuni Fortress is located in Erebuni administrative district, on Arin-berd hill. It was founded in 782 BC, during the reign of Urartian king Argishti A. Later on the foot of the hill the eponymous city was situated. Erebuni had strong military garrison and was a major military-strategic bridgehead. During the times of the foundation of the city, Urartian kingdom reached the highest economic, politic and military strength and dominated in Southern Asia. From the point of city planning, Erebuni, like other cities of the time, had a simple structure. Similarity of cities of that period is: they are built on elevated located, on an inaccessible hill; powerful acropolis was high on the top.  The acropolis is researched quite well at the moment, though the other structures on the territory of the hill are not. They are investigated only partially, but we can surely state that the monument has lots of secrets, discovery of which will complement and contribute to the integrity of the history of the Middle East. The acropolis of Erebuni fortress (of triangular plan) was built of Arin-berd hill. It has convenient strategic location and is protected by strong fortress walls, which form tree rows from right side of the entrance, in the South-Eastern part. They are masterfully connected with the steep slope of the hill.   The largest structure of the acropolis is the palace; the inscription on the entrance says: “By the will of Khald (the presiding deity of Urartu Kingdom) Argishti, son of Menua, built this majestic palace.”  
Location: Gladzor, Vayots Dzor Established: XIII c. From Yerevan: 140km/2h 30min       Boloraberd or Proshaberd Fortress is located in Vayots Dzor region, 6-7 km of Vernashen, in front of Gladzor University Museum. The construction was founded in the 13th century by duke Prosh Proshyan.   Boloraberd was the residence of Proshyans dynasty; occupied the territory of 1-1,5 ha of the mountain peak plateau. The fortress had basalt defensive walls and water supply, the pipes of which are still noticeable. Walls and the towers are preserved. Inner defensive constructions, armory base and barracks as well as Proshyan dynasty palace were destroyed, covered with thick layer of soil. There is a chapel on the Eastern side; St. Astvatsatsin (St. Holy Virgin) Spitakavor is 1-2 km South-East of the fortress.

Location: Aragatsotn

Established: VII

From Yerevan: 49km/50min

  The Amberd Fortress (VII-X1V c.) was built to the north of Byurakan Observatory at an inaccessible site. Amberd was a powerful fortress in medieval Armenia. T. Toramanyan places Amberd in the same row with the rest of its pristine fortresses. The position of Amberd, as well as the cyclopean fortresses around it, confirm that the fortress existed as early as III-I1 BC.   Amberd was built in X c, at an altitude of 2300 m at the site of an ancient fortress. It had three construction periods: the Bagratounis, the Zakaryans and the Vachoutyans.   Armenia had elaborated and developed unique principles of fortress-construction, which attained perfection in Ambercl. The fortress was founded on a high triangular promontory edged with abysmal gorges and impregnable rocks. Walls, towers and pyramids were built on its less protected parts. The Amberd Fortress was a powerful and finite defense unit.   The citadel, with its dominating position, occupies a unique place in the defense system of Amberd. It is a large 3-storey building. The walls of the lower 2 floors and in certain places of the third floor have been preserved. In the first construction period of the fortress, the external wall of the palace had a circular staircase: the middle one is in a relatively good shape now. In the second period, the facade of the citadel was reinforced with a strong new wall. Outside the wall the rock has a latitudinal cleavage of about 10 m. The resulting deep long hollow complicated the enemy's advance towards the citadel. The two entrances are small. They were shut with an iron door and locked with logs from behind. The windows of the palace are from the side that looks to the fortress. This had 2 advantages: firstly, the windows were protected by the fortress and, secondly, by looking to the sun, they could receive more light and heat. The window-openings in the ground floor arc narrow and broader - in upper floors. The openings were closed by metal nets and fas-tened with metal rods. The three-storey citadel-palace of Amberd is among the best medieval buildings of the world. When the Vachoutyans made Amberd their administrative centre, they transformed the citadel into a palace.   No fortress was ever built without solving the problem of water supply. Water was transmitted from a distance of 4-5 km with clay pipes. There were 2 tanks: small and large. The smaller one was situated inside the citadel under the floor of one of the rooms. The inside of the tank was covered with a thick layer of water-proof whitewash, the roofing was vaulted. Water was poured from above for which special devices were built oti the roof and the floor. The water pipeline entered the palace and then flew inside the fortress where the larger tank was. This is where water was supplied to the bath and the rest of the fortress.   The secret passageway served as a means for uninterrupted water supply and for communication with the outer world. It was built by using, on the one hand, the natural rocks and, on the other hand, large slabs of stone, which were placed on the opposite side. Then, by placing single-piece slabs on them a regular broad road was built. Human beings or animals carrying water could freely pass there. Special walls were built on top of the opposite rocks with a view to making the entrance to the secret passageway secure and protect it.   The Bath of Amberd is a prominent monument of household construction. It is a vaulted building with hewn stones, a small cloakroom, a large bathroom and heating equipment accommodating the water boiling pot. Water was transmitted to the bath with clay pipes, while hot water was transmitted to the bathroom with iron pipes. The vapour of the furnace flowing under the floor exited through the chimneys on walls heating the floor and walls of the bathroom. Academician H. Orbeli in his work entitled The Bath of XII Century and the Clown opines that die Bath of Amberd existed for many years. Its current condition is the result of a XIT c. transformation, in the course of which the floor of the bath was raised on to tiles to create a hollow space to heat the building with warm air and vapour. The waterpipes are perfect; they were placed side by side and connected with an iron bridge. The technique of connecting iron pipes was among the progressive inventions of the time, since the connection was not done by alloying but by heating them to a melting degree for which a high temperature was required. Another invention of the medieval technology was the regulation of hot and cold waters by means of iron pipes and bronze taps.   Under the floor tiles of a room next to the bath, the archaeologists found a tomb of a clown. Next to it were the bones of his permanent companion -the rooster. In the past, the rooster was the patron of clowns and the earthly symbol of the sun. Orbeli thinks that special surgery had been performed on the clown as a result of which his mouth remained open so that he was always laughing. Noting that the mutilation of clowns was not practiced in the East, Orbeli believes that he was brought from the Western countries.   The Church of Amberd (1026) is at the heart of the fortress. On the outside it has a rectangular, and on the inside a cruciform plan and was built from the local basalt. It is among the first churches that have two-storey sacristies in the 4 comers of cross wings. It has few window openings. The wide windows, typical of the early medieval Armenian monuments, narrow down starting from X c. and their number decreases.   From the constructional point of view, the church is magnificent: there is no difference of even 1 cm between the external and internal walls and the diagonals. To make the roof lighter and to enhance the acoustics, large and small clay bowels were used in the mortar of the roof. Metal rods were also used in the construction to fortify the stones of cornices.   The austere and pure style of the Church of Amberd endured the devastating hand of the time and preserved its force of aesthetic impact.   The Amberd Fortress has seen innumerable invasions. In XI c, it was conquered by Seijuks, in XT11 c. by Mongols and then leveled by Turkic Tatars. The fortress was abandoned after Timur the Lame's invasion in XIV c.
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