In world history, at all times and in all wars, a country’s geographic location has played an exceptional and decisive role in the conduct of military operations. In this regard, the Armenian Highlands had a strategically special significance. Due to its physical and geographical conditions, Armenia has always resembled a giant natural fortress that dominated other countries.
Initially, Armenian fortresses and castles were built as defensive structures adapted to the mountainous terrain. They were designed to protect people from enemy attacks and therefore were built mainly along the edge of sharp cliffs or on hills to hinder enemy advances.
The fortress-castle Amberd is located in the province of Aragatsotn on the southern slope of Mount Aragats, the highest mountain peak in modern Armenia. The fortress was built in the 7th century AD.
Amberd was one of the most important military defense positions of the Armenian kingdom. The name translates as “fortress in the clouds” and is due to the location of the fortress at an altitude of 2300 meters. Amberd lies 49 km from the capital Yerevan – a 50-minute drive.
On the way to Amberd, we advise you to take an excursion to the Byurakan Observatory of V. Hambartsumyan – the greatest Armenian astrophysicist of the 20th century. The observatory is located in the village of Byurakan, 7 km from the Amberd fortress, and is one of the most important observatories in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Here, you can observe stars and planets from telescopes or simply enjoy the night sky.
Amberd Fortress is built on a promontory surrounded by deep gorges from three sides. In the 10th-13th centuries, the fortress belonged to the princely family of Pahlavuni.
The fortress was often attacked by enemies. In 1236, the Mongols conquered and almost completely destroyed the fortress. At the end of the 13th century, the fortress passed into the possession of the Vachutyan dynasty and was restored.
On the territory of the fortress, there is a church built in 1026 by Prince Vahram Pahlavuni. In his honor, it was named Vahramashen, which means “built by Vahram”. The church is of the domed architectural style. The exterior architecture of the church crowned with an umbrella-shaped dome is simple and expressive.
Amberd stands out among the fortresses of Armenia with another unique phenomenon. The fortress had a developed system of constant water supply and heating. Thus, the inhabitants, even during long sieges, always had access to water and avoided death from thirst.
On the territory of the fortress also stands a well-preserved bathhouse building that, according to historians, was built in the 10th-11th centuries. Surprisingly, in those early days, the bathhouse was heated and had a supply of hot water which, after being heated in a boiler, passed through iron pipes directly into the bathhouse.
The establishment of the ancient but at the same time modern city of Yerevan (which, according to historians, is about 3 decades older than Rome) begins precisely from the walls of the Erebuni museum complex.
The Erebuni fortress is located in the Armenian capital – in the Erebuni administrative district, on the Arin-Berd hill. You can reach the museum either by taxi for 600-1500 AMD (depending on taxi demand or the taxi service) or by public transport for only 100 AMD.
The fortress was founded during the reign of Argishti I, King of the ancient state of Urartu. It was a major military and strategic stronghold of the country, designed to protect the state from enemy attacks. At the same time, Erebuni was its second most important economic, political, and cultural center.
The fortress is surrounded by powerful defensive walls that stood 12 meters tall. However, only half of the walls have survived to this day, mostly 5-6 meters tall.
The fortress consisted of three main parts – a spacious palace, a temple to the deity Khaldi, and outbuildings. The king’s palace was the most beautiful and luxurious building in the fortress. At the entrance to the palace, one could read the following inscription: “Under the Greatness of Khaldi, Argishti, the son of Menua, built this wonderful palace.”
Erebuni Fortress is a part of the Erebuni Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve. In the museum, you can see the most ancient exhibits of the Urartian, Achaemenid, Hellenistic, and early Armenian eras found during archaeological excavations.
The Halidzor fortress is located near Kapan in the Syunik province, 310 km from the capital. Built in the 17th century, the fortress originally served as a nunnery. After that, the fortress became the residence and ancestral castle of the Melik-Parsadanyan dynasty, which was the most influential in the region.
In the 17th century, David Bek found refuge here with his small army and restored the fortress, which, thanks to its impregnable position, helped to successfully protect the borders of Syunik from the attacks of the huge Turkish army.
The medieval Akhtala fortress is located in the province of Lori in the village of Akhtala, on the bank of the Debed River. The fortress was built in the 10th century by the Kyurikyan princely family, descendants of the Bagratuni princes. The fortress’ location was not accidental – the fortress lies on a rocky promontory surrounded on three sides by deep gorges.
Open spaces not protected by natural fortifications are covered by tall and thick walls. The main entrance is flanked by three-story conical towers on both sides.
Another pearl of Armenian medieval architecture is located on the territory of the fortress – the Akhtala monastery complex, which consists of three churches, a chapel, halls, and stone dwellings.
The main church of the complex – the Surb Astvatsatsin church – was built in the 13th century. The walls of the monastery are decorated with striking frescoes depicting saints and scenes from the Old and New Testaments, which have been perfectly preserved to this day.
This is the only place in the world where ancient wall paintings have been preserved in such a quantity. Its walls, columns, and arches are covered with skillful paintings by Armenian masters. Thus, the Akhtala monastery complex performed not only defensive functions but also served as a spiritual, cultural, and educational center.
In the 20th century, the famous Armenian film director Sergei Parajanov, inspired by its architecture, landscape, and mysterious legends, filmed some episodes of his outstanding film “The Color of Pomegranate” within the walls of this ancient monastery.
The fortress city of Shushi sits proudly on the top of a mountain. The fortress was erected in the 18th century and belonged to the Melik-Shahnazaryan dynasty, the rulers of Varanda.
The walls of the citadel have survived almost completely to this day. The impenetrable walls – 7-8 meters high and 2,5 km long – are built of limestone and reinforced with semicircular towers.
Natural fortifiers in the form of numerous caves located to the south of the fortress also played an important role in the defensive system of Shushi. This medieval fortress had a secret passage that led to the Karkar River as well.