Vanadzor is the third largest city in Armenia after Yerevan and Gyumri. It is the administrative center of Lori Province.
The Turkish name of the city “Karakilisa” (Armenian: Ղարաքիլիսա, kara kilise – “black church”) was for the first time mentioned in a record made on one of the pages of the manuscript Bible of Priest Sahak. This record tells us about a disaster – seemingly, an earthquake – that occurred in this area on August 18, 1713. In 1825, the local Surb Astvatsatsin Church collapsed from a more powerful earthquake.
Not far from the city of Karakilisa, on the northern slope of the Pambak mountain range were located the settlements of Vanadzor (Vank, Vankadzor) and Papani. These settlements became deserted in 1750 when its last inhabitants moved to Karakilisa.
Tagavoranist is the oldest settlement that has existed in Vanadzor. Tagavoranist has been inhabited since the Iron Age. The first burial grounds in the area were discovered in 1893.
By the Bronze Age, the Tagavoranist had already been a large town protected by well-fortified fortress walls. More importantly, it had reached unprecedented flourishing. The fortress was located on a hill at the confluence of the Pambak and Tandzut rivers.
The locals still call this settlement “Tagavoranist” and associate its name with Armenian King Tigran the Great, Ashot II the Iron, and more often with Ashot III the Merciful.
According to one legend, when Ashot III’s wife Queen Khosrovanush was building the monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat in the name of the longevity of her sons, she and her husband frequently stayed in a fortress located on a hill northeast of present-day Vanadzor.
Even though no records testifying to the visit of Tigran the Great and Ashot III to this fortress have reached us, some people still claim that Tigran the Great was buried exactly there.
On the western side of the hill, in memory of some event, a stone monument was once installed, which could be easily seen from afar. Interestingly, there are traces visible around the stone – these are the traces of treasure hunters searching for hidden treasures.
Since the times of the New Stone Age, another territory in the area has been settled as well. This is evidenced by burial grounds found in the 19th century and archaeological excavations carried out in Soviet years.
Exceptional artifacts from the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age were found in this area, samples of which are stored in the Lori-Pambak Archaeological Museum in Vanadzor. Unfortunately, some of the samples have been taken out of Armenia.
In 1930-1980, during construction works in Kirovakan (the colloquial name of the city of Vanadzor), most of the monuments of exceptional value have been destroyed. In their place were built new houses and other buildings.
Numerous burial grounds have been unearthed in the territory of present-day Vanadzor, as a result of which archeologists came to the conclusion that the valley of the Pambak River had been inhabited since ancient times and had been the center of the civilizations of the New Stone, Copper, and Early Bronze Ages.
Locations bearing names “Mashtotsi Blur” and “Kosi Choter” are among the oldest settlements in the Armenian Highlands.
Mashtotsi Blur along with Tagavoranist was located on the right bank of the Tandzut River. Both have been well-fortified settlements back in the 3rd millennium BC. This is evidenced by studies conducted by archaeologists H. Martirosyan and Yeghia Momjyan.
Vanadzor city’s famous “Kirovakan” hotel was built on this hill. During excavation works of the foundation pit for the hotel, the primary school number 8, and other buildings, burial grounds, foundations of ancient buildings, tools, and decorations have been unearthed. All this, however, didn’t prevent the Soviet authorities from building up these sites.
The area of Kosi Choter is even more ancient. Archaeologist Yeghia Momjyan dated it back to the Copper Age. This ancient fortress building was located on a hill opposite the Vanadzor chemical combine. At the site of the fortress, a school was built in Soviet times. Valuable finds from the Kosi Choter are now stored in the archaeological museum of Lori-Pambak.
To the north of Kosi Choter, at the site of high school number 5, a burial site dating to the Bronze Age was discovered in 1948. This burial site was investigated by academician Boris Piotrovsky. Clay vessels, golden beads, bronze daggers, silverware, and a 17th-century BC gold cup with lion carvings were found in this area.