24B Bagramyan ave., Yerevan, Republic of Armenia, Tel.: +374(10)56-33-21 , +374(93)885-642
119/68 Prospekt Mira ave., VVC, Pavilion "Armenia", office 115., Moscow, Russia. Tel./fax: +7(495)772-9871
Area: 2737 km 2
Aragatsotn (also spelled Aragadzotn) is named after the massive mountain (4095m / 13,435 ft.) that hovers over the northern reaches of Armenia. The name itself means at the foot of or the legs of Aragats, a fitting title if ever there was one for this rugged land that wraps around the collapsed volcano. A district carved for convenience, the marz actually consists of three distinct geographical areas that made up previous administrative centers: Aparan, Ashtarak and Talin.
The mountain Mt. Aragats formed during the Miocene era, once reached 10,000m above sea level before a massive eruption 500,000 years ago (one of a string of eruptions in during the Pliocene and quaternary ages) caused the near perfect cone to collapse, leaving behind four peaks to serve as sentinels over the collapsed dome. The resulting lava flow spread outwards hundreds of km so that the mountain is 18% of the total land mass of the country, and can be viewed from every marz except two.
The area The result is a startling land of contrasts: to the west (old Talin province) the land is upper plateau dotted with small mountains and an almost lunar landscape. The now semi-desert steppe land is actually teeming with wildlife, hanging out in the deep ravines and mountain ripples that striate the sparse land. This area is actually the northern end of the great Ararat Valley, once covered with forests and tall grass, now barren scrub. Don’t be deceived; the soil is still fertile and springs to life when irrigated by the melting mountain snows, infrequent rainfall and numerous springs that nourish each village.
In the southeast, the land alternates between rolling steppe lands and deep gashes in the soil river gorges that have supported wildlife and civilization from before the Stone Age. The earliest skeletal remains found are 1.7 million years old with African ancestry and the area is in the midst of Armenias Cradle of Civilization, the Ararat/Akhurian River valleys. The area supported a series of settlements, burial mounds and ancient sites that grew to become vital sources of bronze and iron for the empires of the Near East. Like Talin, the land is rocky and dry in the summer, its soil surprisingly rich when irrigated. Unlike Talin the Southeast has deeper soils and is more heavily farmed. The mountain slopes receive more rainfall then on the plateau and has thick stands of mountain grass and wildflowers throughout the summer season.
Aragatsotn is a favorite haunt of the urban Yerevantsi, who escape the summer heat at one of the many dachas and pansionats (summer lodges) that inhabit the southern edge of the mountain. Camping, hiking, horse-back trails are an added treat.
Aragatsotn is the location of Biurakan Observatory and the second largest optical telescope in Eurasia. The observatory is home to some of the most brilliant astronomers in the world, one of which discovered the ancient observatories at Metsamor and Karahundj.
The Northern area (Aparan) is usually lumped as one but is really two distinct regions; Aragats itself, a looming mass of snow and wildflowers with some middle-to-tough mountain climbing, and the upper plateau around Aparan, home to the bulk of Armenias once nomadic Zoroastrian Yezidis (also called Yesdis or Yezedis), who begin their annual trek up the mountain slopes to graze their flocks each spring and summer. This area is a source of clean air, cool climes and some incredible prehistoric sites that are traced to a time when the volcanoes were still active and warmed the upper elevations. One exceptional site is near Tsaghkahovit.
Now the cold winters and meters-high snow give way to stunning greens capes and blankets of wildflowers in the summer. The mountain experiences eight months of flowering, beginning in the river valleys near Ashtarak and ascending the mountain in ever rising bands of color before retreating in August towards the base. The area also produces some of the best dairy products in the country.
Aparan locals (Aparantsis) also happen to be the butt of the Armenian version of the Polish joke, every country needing their country bumpkin.
If ever a region should not be judged by its first appearance, it is Aragatsotn. In the harshest summer months, the rolling hills on the south and west will seem parched brown, but deep in a nearby river gorge or a few km up the face of Aragats will bring a lush land of grass, flowers and a refreshing cool breeze.
The region has been a favorite haunt for the well-heeled for quite a long time Citadels and castles beginning from the Copper and Bronze Age dot the landscape, including the once impregnable summer fortress of Armenias kings, the fortress at Amberd.
The fortunes of the region are parallel to the fortunes of the “nakharars”, Armenia’s aristocratic families that broke and made in a continual dance of treaty and attack, treaty and attack. Somehow through all their self-inflicted turmoil they managed to create an apex of beauty under the Bagratuni, Zakarian, Proshian and Vachutian families in the 10-13th cc, producing the outstanding sister “vanks” monasteries of Hovhanavank, Saghmosavank and Tegher, plus the stunning mountain monasteries at Aruch, Ashtarak and Talin. Aragatsotn is also the final resting place for Mesrop Mashtots, credited with inventing the current Armenian alphabet and introducing a wave of learning and native literature in Armenia.
Mountain climates, stunning vistas, great climbing and hiking, some of the best preserved historic sites in the country and the friendliness and hospitality of locals make Aragatsotn a must-see destination. Leave the dusty streets of Yerevan behind for a quick (20 minute) trip uphill to some clean air and friendly folk.