The countries bordering the shores of the Caspian Sea are home to some of the most fascinating cultures, as well as some of the world’s most ancient and timeless architecture. We bring you a travel guide to the South Caucasus; where you should visit and why.
Why visit? The beautiful skyline and the fascinating history. The Yerevan skyline is dominated by Mount Ararat in nearby Turkey, with its snow covered peak towering in the distance. It is perceived as the traditional resting place of Noah’s Ark and is the principal national symbol of Armenia, considered to be sacred. Yerevan’s history is rich and dates back to 6,000 BC. The city was passed back and forth between the Turks and the Persians until 1827, when it was taken by Russia. It became the capital of Soviet Armenia in 1920 and following the demise of the Soviet Union, the capital of the nation of Armenia.
What should I see?
Geghard Monastery Just a few miles outside of the city lies the ancient Geghard Monastery, a well preserved example of medieval Armenian architecture. Set into a landscape of great natural beauty, the monastery is surrounded by towering cliffs at the head of the Azat Valley. The monuments included in the property date back to as early as the 4th century.
Casfejian Museum of Modern Art Housed within the Cascade Giant Stairway, the Casfejian Museum of Modern Art is a big cultural attraction. The idea for the Museum originated in the 1920s from Soviet architect Alexander Tamanyan, as part of his plan to modernise Yerevan. However, work did not commence until the 1980s. After the earthquake of 1988, Armenian-American philanthropist Gerard Cafesjian funded the project and enabled its transformation into a contemporary arts space.
Garni The 1st Century pagan temple of Garni, built to worship the Sun God Mitra is a must-see for anyone visiting Armenia. The Goghi and Azat Rivers meet at Garni, dropping more than 300 feet below the temple site, creating a natural fortress above, and a diverse eco system below.
Lake Sevan Along with Lake Van and Lake Urmia, Sevan was considered one of the three great lakes of the Armenian Kingdom, collectively referred to as the Seas of Armenia. It is the only one within the boundaries of today’s Republic of Armenia. The largest lake in the Caucasus, it is set 1900m above sea level, making it one of the largest freshwater high-altitude lakes in the world. Fascinatingly, the colours and shades of its waters are constantly changing.
Why visit? Old meets new in this fascinating Georgian city. Tbilisi has undergone a recent regeneration, with bars and cafes and contemporary architecture bringing the city into the 21st century. However, the old town is still thriving and its original layout, a spider’s web of narrow winding streets, along with beautiful churches and small village-like communities provide a wonderful contrast.
What should I see?
Holy Trinity Cathedral Commonly known as Sameba (the Georgian word for trinity), it is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. Constructed between 1995 and 2004, the idea behind the new church was to commemorate 1,500 years of autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church and 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus. The construction of the church was aided mostly by generous donations from anonymous citizens.
Sioni Cathedral is another Orthodox Cathedral in Tbilisi. Originally built during the 6th and 7th centuries, it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times since. The church underwent a full reconstruction during the 13th century and much of what you can visit today is from that particular era. It is home to the sacred cross of St Nino and is of particular significance to Georgians.
Janashia Museum of Georgia or the ‘Georgian National Museum’, is home to Georgia’s principal architectural findings, Medieval art, spectacular gold and silver jewellery and contemporary paintings from Georgian artists.
Why visit? Gori is one of the oldest cities in Georgia, founded in the 7th century AD. It was also the birth place of former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin.
What should I see?
Stalin Museum The small house where Stalin was born is preserved under a canopy just outside of the huge palace-like Museum. Inside the Museum is filled with photographs of the man responsible for more deaths and suffering than any other human being.
Uplistsikhe The extensive history of this unique cave city dates from the 6th century BC and is first mentioned in the chronicles of the 1st century AD. There were numerous attempts to destroy Uplistsikhe and in the 13th Century, the city was ravaged by Mongols, led by Genghis Khan’s son Khulagu. The 5,000 inhabitants perished and life ended forever in the fortress. What remains today is the 40,000-sq-metre Shida Qalaqi (Inner City), less than half of its original size. Almost everything here has been uncovered by archaeologists in the last 60 years. The site was added to the UNESCO list in 2007. Almost everything here has been uncovered by archaeologists in the last 60 years.
Why visit? The port city of Baku, is the cultural, industrial and political capital of Azerbaijan. It lies on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and the southern side of the Apsheron Peninsula, around the wide, curving sweep of the Bay of Baku. The bay, sheltered by the islands of the Baku Archipelago, provides the best harbour of the Caspian Sea. The core of present-day Baku is the Old Town, Icheri-Shekher, highly picturesque, with its maze of narrow alleys and ancient buildings.
What should I see?
Palace of the Shirvan-Shahs
Now a museum, the Palace was built in the 15th-century by the Shivran-Shahs and described by UNESCO as one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture. It is located in the Inner City of Baku and, together with the Maiden Tower, is part of the UNESCO world heritage list.
Gobustan National Park located 40 miles from Baku on the west bank of the Caspian Sea, Gobustan is an outstanding archaeological site of more than 6000 pre-historic rock engravings. In 1966 Gobustan was declared a national historical landmark of Azerbaijan in an attempt to preserve the ancient carvings, relics, mud volcanoes and gas-stones in the region. The surrounding mountains were also taken under legal government protection. Gobustan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, deemed to be of outstanding universal value due to the quality and density of its rock art engravings.
To visit these fascinating destinations for yourself, be part of our Caspian Odyssey tour, departing October 2016 and 2017. To find out more information about this fascinating journey of a lifetime, click here.