Smbataberd Fortress – Vardenis, Armenia

Smbataberd Fortress – Vardenis, ArmeniaThe ruins of the Smbataberd fortress are located in the southwestern part of the Vardenis mountain range at a height of 200 meters above sea level, in the eastern part of Artabuynk village (Vayots Dzor province), surrounded by inaccessible rocks steeply breaking into the canyons, where Artabun (Արտաբուն) and Eghegis (Եղեգիս) rivers flow.

The high ridge offshoot is bordered on the southeastern side by the canyon of the Yeghegis river and from the northwest by the river ravine of the Artabun river. From this side, the fortress is protected by steep and inaccessible slopes, and from the northeast, it gradually merges with the terrain.

An observation point has been located here since the 5th century. Historians supplied us with information about the fierce battle against the Persians during the liberation war that took place in Hayots Dzor (Հայոց Ձոր) in the 5th century. Orbelians (Օրբելյան), having fortified the fortress, turned it into a powerful structure.

During its existence, the fortress was repeatedly besieged by the enemy but remained inaccessible. The victory over the Arab commander Nasr in the early 10th century is particularly notable.

In his “History of the Province of Sisakan”, Stepanos Orbelian wrote that when general Nasr attacked Syunik in 922 by order of the Emir Yusuf, he faced the resistance of prince Smbat in Eghegis, “The enemy, realizing that eliminating the fortress’ defenses is impossible, retreated, and the wise Smbat calmly and peacefully sat in his own province of Vayots Dzor.

Having received news of the enemy’s campaign, he fortified his residence and the entire province of Vayots Dzor. He withdrew the troops of the fortress and surrounded the royal residence in Yeghegis by a large number of soldiers.”

The present citadel and fortress wall were built in the 12th century by another prince Smbat. Stepanos Orbelian wrote that this prince was “a genius with a strong mind, incomparably skillful, resourceful, erudite, generous, competent at languages. He was undefeated at the Porte’s court.”

Having learned about the imminent arrival of the Mongols, prince Smbat built fortresses and defense points around the province and prepared the people to “warmly” meet the enemy. In honor of prince Smbat, who was famous for his courage and wisdom, the fortress was named Smbataberd by the inhabitants of the neighboring villages in the 19th century (“Smbat” – the prince’s name, “berd” – a fortress).

In Yeghegis, the family cemetery of Orbelians was located, where Prince Smbat was also buried (the grave is dated at 1280). Some researchers believe that Smbataberd is the Kapuyt Berd (Blue Fortress) mentioned by Stepanos Orbelian.

There were 12 10-11-meters high towers. The walls of the fortress were built of hewn basalt stones and limestone. The height in some places is more than ten meters, width is from three to five meters.

The fortress has three entrances – eastern, southern, and northern, which were built of hewn stone. The fortress had two strongholds – eastern and western. They were built at the highest points of the fortress. Inside the fortress stood numerous houses, now completely destroyed.

The northern and eastern entrances to Smbataberd had special galleries on the roofs with lodges and observation posts. To enter the fortress, one would need to go through a fortified outpost – the “barbican”.

The western citadel is poorly preserved. There were rooms connected by corridors adjoining the fortress wall. There are many ruins of buildings from basalt stone, which have once been barracks.

Water was delivered to the fortress from the vicinity of the Tsakhac Kar monastery. According to local residents, individual pieces of clay pipes were found between the ruins of the monasteries of Tsakhac Kar and Smbataberd.

In 800 meters, there are the remains of the walls, which were part of the fortification system of the fortress. There are traces of small structures on the peaks bordering the Eghegis canyon from Hermon to Shatin.

These structures, probably, served as observation posts, from which the approach of enemies was reported by using light signals. In 2006 – 2007, the fortress was restored, but it is very difficult to get there.

by Ashot Abrahamyan (Alexander Bakulin)

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