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If I’d had time, I certainly would have hiked Mt. Aragats. Hiking in Armenia may be one of the best ways to appreciate the south Caucasus’ sweeping landscapes. Aragats is Armenia’s highest peak (Ararat is higher, but technically in Turkish territory, though it is symbolically still very much Armenian).

On one of my last days in Armenia, I headed part way up Aragats to see Amberd Fortress, the “fortress in the clouds.”

The cow-lined road up Aragats meanders through airy fields, with the occasional rusting shell of a bus thrown in for zest. This version of the castle came about in the ninth century, but the historical significance of this spot extends back much further. Amberd perches on an outcropping between two rivers, the Arkashen and the Amberd. Actually, the fortress is set back, but the church peers right over the edge.

One of the Mongol waves of mayhem destroyed the fortress in the fourteenth century, and Amberd remained in ruins until the Soviets came along, looking for non-religious archaeology projects (which are the minority in Armenia).

The church has a notable architectural exception. Most Armenian churches face east (because that’s the direction Jesus will come from, of course). This church altar faces directly south, toward Mt. Ararat, which is visible from this spot on the clearest of days.

On the way up Aragats is the Armenian Alphabet Monument:

The Alphabet Monument is simply the 39 letters of the Armenian alphabet, placed at 1600 metres above sea level in honor of the 1600 years since its creation. It was surprisingly delightful to visit.

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