Ashtarak, an ancient Armenian city, gracefully stretches over a vast plain along the banks of the Kasagh River, just 20 kilometers away from Yerevan. Its rich history can be traced back to its name, intertwined with myths and legends. Some believe the name “Ashtarak,” which in Armenian means “tower,” reflects the city’s strategic significance in ancient times. However, another fascinating theory links the name to the Assyrian-Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, hinting at the cultural exchanges that might have taken place centuries ago.
The city’s historical importance is evident in Armenian literary sources. As early as the 9th century, it was mentioned as a notable settlement in the Aragatsotn district of the Ayrarat province of Greater Armenia. But it’s not just the written records that speak volumes about Ashtarak’s past; its very landscape is dotted with relics from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Fortified settlements, ancient burial grounds, and numerous other monuments stand as silent testimonies to the city’s position as one of Armenia’s most ancient settlements.
Ashtarak is truly an archeological gem, with each discovery offering a glimpse into its illustrious past:
Darabavor: Within the Kasagh River Gorge that meanders through the city, lies Darabavor, a site teeming with archaeological finds.
Ancient Settlement Ruins: On the left bank of the Kasagh River are the remnants of a settlement that traces its origins from the Bronze Age, enduring until the medieval era.
Darabavor Caves: Just adjacent to the ancient settlement are the renowned Darabavor caves. These caves, with their intricate formations, have served as dwellings since time immemorial.
Aknates Irrigation Canal: Demonstrating the engineering prowess of its ancestors, this canal, originating from the Urartian period, was functional up until medieval times.
Khachkars (Cross-Stones): Scattered across the city, especially in its cemetery, are khachkars dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Among them, the Surb Nshan or Surb Tsak cross stands out, placed on a pedestal by priest Tovmas in 1268, as a symbol of faith and artistry.
Kasagh River Bridge: This three-arched, wide-span stone bridge, constructed by the Kanaker magnate Mahtesi Khodja Grigor (Motsakents) in 1664, replaced an older 12th-century bridge, acting as a vital link between the river’s banks.
Adding to the city’s rich tapestry of history are its churches, each with its own unique story. Notable among them are Surb Marine, Surb Sarkis, Spitakavor, Karmravor, and Tsiranavor. These sacred structures have withstood the test of time, bearing witness to Ashtarak’s enduring spiritual heritage.