The distance between the border turns out to be short Georgia-Armenia and the beginning of the long Debed river canyon.
The M6 road is the main route between these neighboring countries. It leads to the Alaverdi region and the neighboring monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin.
The M6 emulates the intricacies of Debed's winding bed. It takes us towards the southwest, closer to the capital Yerevan passing through five villages worthy of mention on the maps: Ayrum, Karkop, Snog, Akthala and Neghots, all of them with their churches, chapels or, at least, a group of ketchkars (secular memorial stones with inscriptions).
We stay for the next land, Haghpat. To get there, we climbed almost to the top of the gorge that we used to take.
Little by little, we leave the wooded and still-autumn-yellow riverside scenery and enter a bisected plateau, grassy and green to match. Haghpat, the village, appears in an area of the hillside that gave it stability.
Haghpat: the First of Armenia's Old Monasteries
A few kilometers before we reach it, we have a glimpse of the stone tower of the monastery of the same name, perched above the shadowy houses. But a lush monument protected behind a gate awakens our senses. We went off to investigate.
A soldier's partial torso holds a torch above a cement slab with hundreds of names inscribed on it.
Given Armenia's conflicted history, it was not difficult for us to assume that it was a memorial to fallen soldiers in the war against the Azerbaijan through the enclave of Naghorno-Karabakh.
This was confirmed by Cristina Kyureghyan, the guide who had accompanied us from the moment we left the Georgia and with her we met on the Armenian side of Bagratashen.
Armenians feel this and other historical conflicts intensely. Cristina and the driver Vladimir passed by there, at work, over and over again. Still, in silence, they pay him due homage.
Haghpat is not just any place. It houses a monastic complex founded in the XNUMXth century, so preserved and emblematic that UNESCO classified it and finances part of its recovery.
It's a few days beyond the tourist peak season when visitors take turns on Yerevan agency buses, as they often flock to the Great Lake of the Caucasus, the Sevan.
As would happen in several other monasteries in the nation, we did not find a soul in the vicinity. Only moments later does an elusive believer appear out of nowhere, tasked with opening the temple doors and guarding outsiders.
The guardian realizes that we are with her compatriots she knows. Don't delay.
Religious Mysticism and Secular Stone Acoustics
We are left to soak up the mystical atmosphere of the monastery, divided by three main buildings of age-darkened stone.
Founded in 976 by a queen named Khosrvanuch, the temple surrounds an older central building, Sourb Nishan Cathedral, with its small roofs emerging from the grassy ground.
It was later equipped with a bell tower, a library/scriptorium and a refectory that allowed the monks to settle down and deepen their monastic life.
An inscription in the entrance hall to the main nave reads: "Whoever enters through this door and prostrates himself before the Cross, in his prayers, remember us and our royal ancestors who lie at the door of the sacred cathedral, in Jesus Christ."
Both in Sourb Nishan Cathedral and in Sourb Grigor Chapels – dedicated to the Saint Gregory who introduced the Christianity in Armenia – and by Sourb Astvasatsin, the acoustics of the cold and dreary interiors are surreal.
Truly dens of repercussion are those we enter and then test simple random echoes to surrender to the evidence.
Two men appear out of nowhere. They enjoy the monastery as curious and fascinated as we are, with additional time dedicated to the khatchkars and tombs scattered in and around.
Since the early departure of Tbilisi that we postponed lunch. However religious the visit proved, we could not continue with such a fast.
Thus, we went down to the village, which has been subject to clerical supremacy for centuries, and settled in a traditional restaurant.
As always in Armenia, in Georgia, on these sides of the Caucasus in general, we are gifted with a new papal banquet. When the meal is over, we take a look at the landscape from a hillside threshold with a privileged view.
The canyon of Debed and, in the distance, the Soviet Alaverdi
From there, we can see the configuration of the Debed river gorge and, in the distance, the industrial complex of Alaverdi and the city from which it originated. That's where, without further ado, we moved.
In the short journey, we still stop at the only road cemetery we have come across on the face of the Earth. It stretched for a good few hundred meters, at the foot of the steep and then autumnal slope, about to invade the asphalt of the M6.
When we stopped at it and for a long time, almost only Ladas and Volgas – dying vehicles from the Soviet era – circulated in both directions.
From an ancient monastery, we have become an ancient monastery. From Haghpat's to Sanahin's. This too was built in the XNUMXth century, in an atmosphere of undisguised rivalry.
The Armenian term “Sanahin” translates as “this one, older than that one”. The original name of the building will have been changed with the exact purpose of clarifying which of the temples – and not the other – was the primordial one.
On the fringe of antiquity, too Sanahin has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.. The organization's main criterion for choosing the two neighboring monasteries and, rather, rivals, must have been the fact that they “represent the highest flowering of religious architecture in Armenia.
Its unique style combines elements of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture with the traditional vernacular architecture of the Caucasus region”. That would not be the only peculiar heritage that we would find in Alaverdi and surroundings.
The Migs, Mikoyan and the Industrial Life of Alaverdi
We went down to the housing area of the city. We came across a herdsman who had just released a small herd of goats from the corral and a group of entertaining young men fanning combat pitbulls.
Fifty meters below, highlighted over a large museum space and beyond a bronze bust, we discover a silver fighter plane.
Until then, somewhat neutral, the driver Vladimir senses our curiosity and gets ready to explain. “It's a Mig. Next to it is a tribute to the Armenian inventor, Artem Mikoyan.”
"Did Mig have an Armenian inventor?" we inquired without disguising our surprise. Vladimir confirms this with an expression that is at once restrained, vehement and proud. “There are Armenians everywhere.
Dozens of famous people, they are Armenians or of Armenian origin and you have no idea. Cristina allies with her colleague. “Do you know why? Because they change names. The final part of "ian" or "yan" is removed from them. The idea is to avoid endings for nicknames that they would otherwise have to share.”
We are not going to list them now, but we are aware of several examples, of which Kim Kardashian and her glamorous and voluptuous family are obvious exceptions.
After careful examination of the dreaded game, we descended part of the slope into the heart of the housing blocks we had glimpsed from the Haghpat viewpoint.
We keep an eye out for their uncharacteristic or disheveled businesses and the sullen passersby, many of them with fair hair who testify to the Armenian-Slavic ethnic mix of yesteryear.
Alaverdi's Post-Soviet and Post-Industrial Decay
It gives us the idea that those parts of Armenia had already had better days. Cristina validates it. “After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was no money left.
Armenia did not have it. THE Russia didn't send it. The maintenance of the mine and factories became impossible.
They were left abandoned.
These were difficult times for the families who have lived here for decades. A good part had to move to Yerevan or emigrate.
It was only a while ago that the Armenian government, with some foreign investment, managed to recover the complexes. The production is back on track but it's still not the same thing.”
We needed to investigate the industrial fulcrum of the issue. We ended up finding him on our own. In a more accurate incursion to several routes that seemed to end in the abyss above the Debed, we bumped into the platform of an unexpected cable car.
The Cable Car Linking the Depths to the Top of the City
From this strange and decadent summit, among residents who, while waiting for the departure of the next cabin, we unveil the metallurgical reason for being Alaverdi and his people.
We approached the edge of the balcony and took a look. Below, between the north bank of the river and the opposite mountains, lay the iron and rusty skeleton of the city's old copper foundry.
Underground, the mine that provided the raw material was hidden. Two triple sets of steel cables connected the heights where we were to the riverside industrial base that had been installed there centuries ago.
From the investment of the century XVIII to the Recent Recovery Attempt
The foundry in Alaverdi was inaugurated in 1770. It was ordered by a Georgian king who then dominated the territory of the Armenian province of Lori. In the middle of the 13th century, French and Russian investments made the business flourish. At one point it insured about XNUMX% of all copper produced in the Russian Empire.
In 1909, a hydroelectric power station on the river Debed was completed, which started to generate the energy needed for the complex. Already in the middle of the Soviet era, Kremlin orders dictated massive new constructions, including the neighborhoods that promoted Alaverdi to the city.
More recently, such a national project "Armenian Copper” has been expanding the number of mines, increasing smelting and promoting a substantial increase in jobs.
Vulnerability to Meteorology that Condition Alaverdi
Unrestrained gusts of wind sweep across Debed's canyon. From time to time, they even afflict those at the upper station of the cable car.
The hours of the cable car shuttles are adapted to the shifts of the mine workers. In solidarity with the working class, the operations chief still allows the descent that follows, but he soon cancels the trips.
Despite being used to the wind and these mishaps, passengers come on board with a frown. The photographic intentions with which we suddenly arrived are strange.
And they fear the likely sway of the cabin during the dizzying ride. The doors close.
The cabin descends, somewhat more swaying than would be normal, but without incident. We were alone at the top. Until Cristina rescues us from that high evasion to the foundry level.
In precarious balance on a roadside wall that wound down the slope, we enjoyed the sunset leaving the section closest to us in the shade.
And, little by little, gild the buildings and the maze of pipes beyond Debed. That night we were supposed to sleep in Yerevan.
We were still 3h30 on the way.