Sacred Mount Ararat – Noah’s Ark

Near Mount Ararat, it feels as if time has stopped and that any moment now, Noah will set foot on Earth with his children and household and begin a new life on Earth. The ark will be covered by snow and ice, remaining in human memory as the first life-saving vessel.

Humanity will probably never know whether the events described in the Bible actually happened or not. Most of what transpired is unproven, and we can only speculate about the locations of Eden, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Noah’s Ark.

The Ark has captivated human attention for almost three thousand years. Did it exist, or is it just a tale?

“And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was saddened. (Genesis 6:5-6)

In those times, there lived a righteous and blameless man in his generation, pleasing to the Lord, and his name was Noah. God said to Noah: “The end of all flesh has come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. Make it this way: the length of the ark will be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a window for the ark, a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. (Genesis 6:13-16)”

Noah did everything as God had commanded him. Upon completing the construction, God told Noah to enter the ark with his sons and wife, and the wives of his sons, and to also bring into the ark pairs of all living animals, so they may remain alive.

And to take for themselves all kinds of food that is needed, for themselves and for the animals. After that, the ark was sealed by God.

Seven days later (in the second month, on the seventeenth day), rain poured down on the earth, and the flood continued on the earth for forty days and forty nights. The waters multiplied and lifted the ark, and it rose above the earth and floated on the surface of the waters.

“And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth; and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered” (Genesis 7:19). Every living thing that was on the face of the earth perished, only Noah and those with him in the ark remained.

The water continued to prevail on the earth for one hundred and fifty days, after which it began to recede. “And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat. And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: on the first day of the tenth month, the tops of the mountains became visible” (Genesis 8:4-5). By the first day of the following year, the water had dried up from the earth; and Noah opened the covering of the ark, and in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day, the earth was dry.

And God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you; bring out with you every living thing […] And I will never again destroy all living creatures […] And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ (Gen. 8:15-9:1).

So it is told in the Book of Genesis, the first Book of the Old Testament. Later on, Muslims adopted the Ark and Noah, renaming him Nuh and “specifying” the landing place to be near Nakhchivan. Despite the Old Testament being considered the history of the Jewish people, the Book of Genesis does not hint at the nationality of the patriarch Noah.

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus writes in detail about Noah, the Flood, and the ark: “One part of the ship can still be found today in the mountains of Armenia—there people collect resin to make amulets.”

In his work “The Jewish War,” the author shares curious information: “Armenians call this place where the ark has remained forever, ‘the dock,’ and they show the parts of it that have survived to this day.”

Another unexpected version of this story is provided by another first-century author, Nicholas of Damascus, in his “World Chronicle.” According to him, “in Armenia there is a high mountain called Baris where many refugees found salvation from the Great Flood. Also, atop this mountain, a man arrived in an ark, the remnants of which remained there for a long time.” Baris, or Masis, are ancient Armenian names for Mount Ararat.

Meanwhile, according to Armenian historiography, one of the saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church, St. Jacob of Mtsbin, desiring to find the ark, made numerous attempts to climb Ararat. But each time, according to legend, he would fall asleep halfway and wake up at the base.

The story tells that once during another attempt, an angel supposedly appeared to him in a dream and asked him not to try to find the ark anymore but promised to give him a piece of the wooden hull of the vessel.

Legend has it that upon waking, St. Jacob found a nearby fragment of the ark, and brought it to Etchmiadzin (Vagharshapat), where that fragment is still kept. On the spot where, according to belief, the fragment was found, a monastery of St. Jacob was later erected. The Ahora Gorge on the northeastern slope of the mountain also came to be known as the Gorge of St. Jacob. This legend is an adaptation of an earlier legend where Mount Judi (the peak in Arabic) was featured.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, several expeditions visited the area, and although none of them discovered the ark, many of the researchers claimed to have seen something resembling a huge ship.

In 1955, French industrialist and explorer Fernand Navarra undertook an expedition to Mount Ararat, from which he brought back remnants of a wooden plank. According to him, it was a fragment of the wooden hull, presumably of the Ark.

Some of the conducted studies partially confirmed the wood’s age to be around 5,000 years; however, these findings were highly subjective and variable.

Currently, one of the main places where, according to seekers, the ark may rest is the “Ararat Anomaly.” This anomaly is an object of unknown origin protruding from the snow on the northwestern slope of Mount Ararat, about 2,200 meters from the summit.

Scientists who have access to the images explain the formation by natural causes. On-site investigations are complicated because the area, situated near the Armenian-Turkish border, is a restricted military zone, and access is limited.

Another potential location for the ark is Tendürek, an area approximately 30 kilometers south of Ararat. In 1957, photos taken from an airplane in this region were published in the American magazine “Life.”

Captain Ilham Durupınar of the Turkish army, while reviewing aerial photos, discovered interesting formations resembling the shape of a ship and sent them to the magazine. The article caught the attention of Ron Wyatt, an American anesthesiologist, who decided to investigate the phenomenon. After several expeditions, he concluded that the formation was none other than Noah’s Ark.

In October 2009, scientists visited the interior and filmed what they claimed to be the remains of the legendary Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat. The archaeological discovery was made during a joint expedition of scientists from Turkey and Hong Kong.

Ancient and medieval authors wrote about the ark, including the Flemish traveler, monk, and diplomat William of Rubruck, who was an envoy at the court of the Mongol Khan in the 13th century, and the famous Venetian traveler of the 13th-14th centuries Marco Polo. Marco Polo passed by Ararat on his way to China.

In the “Book of the Diversity of the World,” which includes stories recorded from the great traveler, Armenia is also mentioned: “You should know that in this country of Armenia, atop a high mountain, Noah’s Ark rests, covered by eternal snows. No one can reach its peak, especially since the snow never melts and new snowfall adds to the depth of the snow cover.

However, its lower layers do melt, and the resulting streams and rivers flow down into the valley, thoroughly moisturizing the surrounding area. This creates a lush grassy cover that attracts numerous herds of large and small herbivores from all around during the summer.”

In 1316, Oderic, a monk of the Franciscan Order, told the head of the Catholic Church, who was in Avignon at the time, about the inaccessibility of the ancient sanctuary: “The people living there told us that no one has climbed the mountain, as this would probably displease the Almighty.”

The contradictory information and the difficult-to-access nature of these regions even today make one listen more carefully to the words of this medieval monk. The Ararat relic is also mentioned by the German traveler of the early 16th century, Adam Olearius.

In his travel notes “Voyage to Muscovy and Persia,” he wrote: “Armenians and Persians believe that fragments of the ark still exist on the mentioned mountain, which over time have become as solid and durable as stone.”

According to legends, the remains of Noah’s Ark are still located on Mount Ararat amid eternal ice. Starting from the first half of the 19th century, searches for the ark became more active.

The path to the famous mountain was paved by French alpinist Friedrich Parrot, although he went there with a sporting objective, and searching for the ark was not part of his agenda. A glacier on the northwestern slopes of the mountain was named in honor of the alpinist.

According to James Bryce, the impossibility of reaching the summit of Ararat was “almost part of the doctrine” of the Armenian Church. Two Armenians who accompanied Parrot on the ascent claimed that they had climbed to a great height, but not to the summit. A similar story occurred with another conqueror of Ararat, Abich, in 1845.

A group of Englishmen who climbed the mountain in 1856 received assurances from Kurds and Turks that the summit was unreachable. According to Bryce, in 1876, no one living within sight of Ararat (except perhaps for some well-educated Russian official in Yerevan) doubted that after Noah, no one had set foot on the mountain’s summit.

After ascending Ararat, Bryce visited Echmiadzin, where he was introduced to the archimandrite managing the site. During their conversation, Bryce informed him that he had climbed the mountain. The translator told the archimandrite, “This Englishman says he has been to the summit of Masis.” The archimandrite smiled and replied, “No, that cannot be. No one has ever been there. It’s impossible.”

We all love stories, especially those that might one day be confirmed. Noah’s Ark really existed—perhaps not as it was later depicted, but it did come to rest on the Ararat mountains, that is, on both Greater and Lesser Masis. There’s something mystical about this mountain—separated by a 12-kilometer saddle, from a distance, it looks like two adjacent peaks. And who knows what other secrets, besides the Ark, lie beneath its massive layer of ice?

by Karine Ter-Saakyan
Translated Vigen Avetistan

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