On our tour across the Caucasus we will pass by Lake Sevan, aka the “Jewel of Armenia”. During the middle ages due to its size also known as Sea of Gegham, Lake Sevan is with a location on 1,900m above sea level and a length of 74km one of the largest freshwater high-altitude lakes in Eurasia.
Facing major ecological issues after having been drained as main source of irrigation water and for the use in the six hydroelectric power stations of Sevan Hrazdan Cascade and consequently dropping 20m and losing about 40% of its volume, serious efforts have been started to increase the water level again. Luckily the two tunnels that have been built to close rivers to support the water influx to Lake Sevan have proven a success and the water level is slowly rising again.
The winters are long here and the summers short, but warm. Many Armenians come to visit Lake Sevan during July and August to escape the heat and spend some hours or days splashing around its cool, pristine waters. Most of the beaches are privatized and many belong to hotels, but there are also 11 public beaches with appropriate infrastructure. It is the perfect place to spend some lazy days in the sun and indulge in freshly caught fish in one of the many sea front restaurants.
If the lazy beach life is too boring for you, there are lots of historical villages, ancient sites and medieval churches and monasteries for you to visit! You are in the heartland of early Christianity after all!
Nerkin Getashen and Kotavank
Nerkin Getashen is a small village on the west coast of Lake Sevan, which, formerly known as Kot, was an important trade center in the early middle ages. In the village itself you can find a small funeral chapel with some old khachkars – Armenian cross-stones carved with artistic motives.
On a nearby hill overlooking the village is Kotavank, a old church built in the 9th century. The collapsed roof and dome have recently been restored and now the church can be seen in old beauty again.
Also this historical village along the west coast boasts with a 9th century church. But the main attraction here is the cemetery with almost 1000 khachkars, the largest collection of khachkars in Armenia, with the oldest ones dating back to the 10th century. It is said, that when famous conqueror Tamerlane approached, the villagers put helmets on the khachkars and swords at their side, so that from the distance they would appear like soldiers. And you won’t believe it, be the trick worked and Tamerlan, intimidated by the number of opponents, did not attack!
In the north of the western shore, Sevanavank is the most famous tourist destination at Lake Sevan. Once an island, now a peninsula, you’ll find there yet another medieval Christian monument with amazing view over the lake to visit: a monastery, founded in 874 and belonging to it two churches. This was a special place and definitely not a place of joy. Monks were sent here after they had sinned, to repent and to live under even stricter rules than in normal monasteries.
Another pretty impressive monastery at Lake Sevan’s west coast, whose foundations have been laid in the 9th century, consisting out of a church, a chapel and a cemetery with several khachkars. The collapsed dome has been renovated a while ago, so you can see the church in her full beauty today.