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Kapan (45,700 people) is a complete contrast to Goris. It is Armenia’s version of Pittsburgh or Kalgoorlie, a town built for the mining industry that surrounds it. The Russians first started mining here in earnest in the 1850s and the city boomed during the Soviet period, when most of the town’s infrastructure was developed. Locals say there’s so much unrefined metal beneath the ground that magnetic compasses won’t work in some parts of town. Below the looming peak of Mt Khustup (3210m), Kapan’s industrial outskirts and concrete apartment blocks have a harsh appearance, but the town centre, where two rushing rivers meet, has leafy parks and squares.

Kapan has not changed as much as many towns in Armenia. The church, built in 2002 and dedicated to Mesrop Mashtots, is a large cross-dome church with a balcony at the west end for the choir.

The reopening of the copper-molybdenum mine has kick-started the local economy after a decade of jobless isolation. Australians make up the bulk of the foreign experts, many of whom can be found clutching bottles of beer in the evening at the Hotel Darist. While the local economy moves forward, tourist facilities remain basic, with only a couple of hotels and restaurants and an absence of B&Bs.

Kapan is bisected by the Voghji River. Most facilities are within a short distance of each other in the centre of the town on the south bank of the river. The market is on the north bank. The statue of a horseman by the bridge in the centre is of David Bek. Otherwise Kapan has little to attract the visitor, but a visit to the railway station offers an unusual experience. In 1932, a branch line was opened to Kapan from Mindzhevan in Azerbaijan and it was operated by the Azerbaijan division of Soviet railways. The Nagorno Karabagh war meant that the line became isolated from both the Armenian and Azeri rail networks. As a consequence, a dozen Azeri diesel locomotives were marooned here along with an assortment of goods wagons and passenger coaches. They were still in place in 2005 but since then the rolling stock has gradually been removed and all that now remains are two coaches, stripped of everything including their wheels. The rails remain, as does the derelict station building, and livestock browse along the grass-grown tracks.

Kapan’s main church is near the Hotel Lernagordz, and is noted locally for its good acoustics and the priest’s fine singing. A city historical museum (22 Shahumian; admission free) is worth wandering into if you are killing time in Kapan and need to catch up on your Syunik regional history. Among the thousands of artefacts are 19th-century swords, carpets and kilims.

Karajan lies 33km up the highway from Kapan. The road climbs even further across the Tashtun Pass before descending to the Iranian border on the Araks River. Another road heads south from Kapan into the mountainous wilds of the Shikahogh Nature Reserve. This road is being improved and by 2008 should become the primary highway to Meghri.

Orientation & Information - The town centre is a triangle joined by two rivers, with a Davit Bek statue in rippling bronze across the main highway from the confluence. Facing the buildings between the rivers, the Hotel Darist is up the right fork and the Hotel Lernagordz is up on the left. The hulking Marz Petaran (provincial government building), the Haypost building and the Palace of Culture face each other off in the middle of the triangle.

Getting There & Away - There are marshrutkas to Yerevan (six/eight hours in summer/winter, 7am, 8am and noon) from in front of the Hotel Lernagordz. There are three marshrutkas to Goris (90 minutes to two hours, 9am, noon and 3pm). For Meghri there is a 2pm bus departing from a stop at the Davit Bek statue.

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