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The landscape around the village of Byurakan, about 14km west of Ashtarak on the southern slopes of Mt Aragats, includes a couple of astronomical observatories and the impressive remains of the fortress of Amberd, 15km up the mountain.

The Surp Hovhannes Church in Byurakan is an interesting early basilica model. Other churches and villages in the vicinity have khatchkars and vishap scattered about. The fortress of Amberd was constructed on a ridge above the confluence of the little gorges of the Amberd and Arkashen streams. The high stone walls and rounded towers are a rough but effective defence, rebuilt many times but mostly dating from the 11th century. It’s easy to see why the site was chosen – at 2300m above sea level, it commands a position above the farms and trade routes of the Ararat Plain. According to local lore, the thick walls of the fortress were never breached – not even by those pesky Mongols. A church stands downhill from the fortress with the ruins of fortified houses and a substantial public bathhouse. A small kiosk here sells drinks and snacks.

The fortress is about a two-hour hike from the scout camp near the very end of Byurakan village. The scenery along the footpath is rewarding. Walk along the Mt Aragats road until you reach the ski house. A sign in Cyrillic and Latin script points ahead – take the lefthand fork anyway. The fortress can be seen from a distance, but you have to walk around a steep valley before reaching it. Although geographically close to Byurakan, the paved road makes a 15km long circuitous route. The first part of the road heads uphill towards Kari Lich and then branches off to the left 5km before the fortress. As you walk or drive through this landscape look for the large green or white tents owned by Armenian shepherds who graze their flocks here in summer.The Tegher Monastery is about 5km uphill from the village of Aghtsk in the old village of the same name, on the far side of the Amberd Gorge from Byurakan. The church was built by Mamakhatun, the wife of Prince Vache Vahutyan, in 1232.

Getting There & Away - There are three buses per day from Yerevan to Byurakan, departing at 10.30am, 12.45pm and 5.30pm from the bus stand on Grigor Lusavorich Poghota in Yerevan. If you don’t catch one of these there are also a few buses to Agarak, 6km south of Byurakan on the Ashtarak–Gyumri highway. From Agarak you could walk, hitch or hire a taxi. There are very few, if any, taxis in Byurakan itself so if you need a cab to go to Aragats or Amberd its better to take one from Ashtarak. The three buses return to Yerevan at noon, 4pm and 6.30pm.

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