Lake Sevan is known as the Jewel of Armenia.
When the Caucasian Challenge reaches Armenia, we head straight for Lake Sevan. The Caucasus’ largest lake, it is dotted with ancient churches, and set against a backdrop of snow-touched mountains. We often camp on its shore, mesmerised by its tranquil blue water. Here is everything you need to know about Lake Sevan.
Is Lake Sevan really “bigger than the Pacific Ocean”?
Well, no. Obviously. That is, though, a lyric from a (gently satirical) Armenian song from the Soviet era. It highlights the importance of Lake Sevan to locals. While Armenia may be landlocked — unlike its Caucasian neighbours Georgia and Azerbaijan who have access to, respectively, the Black and Caspian seas — it does possess the largest lake in the region. Not only that, but with a surface area of almost 500 square miles, Lake Sevan is one of the world’s largest freshwater high-altitude lakes.
What Makes Lake Sevan Special?
Armenia gets incredibly warm in the summer time, as any Caucasian Challenge participants can testify. So, having access to water and, better yet, beaches, is important to many Armenians, especially in a poor country where travel to foreign climes can prove expensive. However, there’s more to Lake Sevan’s charm than that: it’s a genuinely beautiful lake. Clear blue water, distant mountains, and shore-side monasteries mean that Lake Sevan is one of the most idyllic spots in the Caucasus.
Surrounded by History
Understandably, alongside Lake Sevan has long been a sought after location for real estate in Armenia. While nowadays this means beach resorts (some of a higher quality than others) traditionally it was seen as the perfect place for monasteries. Hayravank Monastery has been around since the 9th century, while Kotavank is famous not only for its church but also for its collection of khachkars. the famous variety of Armenian cross stones. However, the most famous monastery of Lake Sevan is Sevanavank, founded in 874. It was built on an island, which has since become a peninsula.
The Rising (and Falling) Tide
Why? Soviet irrigation policies. In the 20th Century, the level of the lake reduced by almost 20 meters, and the lake lost over 12% of its surface area. The eagerness to utilise the lake as a water resource in such a dry climate was understandable, and actually resulted in the uncovering of many fascinating historical artefacts. However, locals were on the whole displeased by the reduction, and in particular by its effect on the quality of the water, and the health of local wildlife. In recent decades attempts have been made to restore the water level, and indeed has risen several meters since the turn of the 21st Century. That’s why each year we return on the Caucasian Challenge Lake Sevan is even more beautiful!