Caucasian Vacation 14 (Armenia): Sevanavank

A further hour’s drive east of the Geghard Monastery is Lake Sevan. With the elevation rising, the temperature drops to 10 degrees below 0. Snow covers the foliage along the highway, and the lakeside breeze exacerbates the already frigid air.

Lake Sevan is the largest body of freshwater in the Caucasus, and its significant fish population is integral to Armenia. A landlocked country, Armenia gets most of its fish, mostly trout, from the lake.

Perhaps of more interest to visitors are the number of churches along the lake’s shores. Most famous of these is the Sevanavank monastery complex in the northwestern edge.

The complex was built in the 4th century by St. Gregory the Illuminator, who was responsible for converting the Armenian king into Christianity. Shortly after the Christianization of the the whole country, Gregory set upon building a monastic complex composed of two churches in what used to be an island in the lake. In the 9th century, Princess Mariam expanded the complex and built two more churches. Today, these two churches are the ones left standing: the larger Surp Arakelots and Surp Astvatsatsin.

In the 1930s, when the Soviet Union introduced industrialization in Armenia, 65 feet of water was drained from the lake, turning the island into a peninsula. This has made access to the complex much easier, and nowadays, the Sevanavank is a popular day trip from Yerevan.

With the bitterly cold weather, though, only a few souls, including our group, brave the trek to the hill where the complex stands. The heavy fog by the lake has also dampened the view. After a few minutes exploring the churches and the area surrounding it, we climb down and return to the comforting warmth of the van.

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