Martakert region is situated in the north of Artsakh and occupies the territory north of Khachen and Kolatak river basins. In the north the border of the region reaches Shahoumyan region now occupied by Azerbaijan, in the west Martakert region adjoins with Karvatchar region of Artsakh, in the south Martakert region borders upon Askeran and Kashatagh regions, in the east – Azerbaijan. The total territory of the region is 1795 sq.km, the population is 19 000 people. Since 1992 the lower part of Martakert region has been occupied by Azerbaijan, which is the reason why this part of the region is impossible for visit by tourists.
The regional center of Martakert is situated at the distance of 60 km from the capital of the RA, Stepanakert. The territory of the modern Martakert region includes the historical province of Jraberd and the most part of Gyulistan and Khachen provinces. The nature of Martakert is picturesque and attractive for rest and hunting, as there is a great number of forests here. In full-flowing rivers of Tartar and Khachen there is fish, including the famous red-finned trout. Having visited Martakert region tourists can get in touch with virgin nature, Stormy waterfalls, blooming valleys and green hills.
North from the regional center of Martakert, on the river Tartar there are Sarsang water reservoir and Hydroelectric Power Station. Near the reservoir at the village of Drmbon the Copper-gold mine functions. Metal mining by means of the most modern methods is realized by “Base metals”, one of the biggest enterprises in AR. The mining centre does not only the exploit of the mine, but also construction-restoration works in the region.
Martakert region was of special importance in the history of Artsakh. It has a great number of historical-architectural monuments, including the monasteries of Gandzasar (13c), Yerek Mankunk, Eghishe Arakyal, Akobavank, the Palace of melics – princes of Beglaryans, fortresses of Jraberd, Kachaghakaberd, Khokhanaberd.
The regional centre of Martakert is a small cosy town, spread on the hills. During the occupation by Azerbaijan the town was hard hit, but after its liberation it was restored in a rather short period.
Surprising, but even after the temporary occupation of the town there have remained residential areas of the century before last. Many houses in the old part of the town differ by its original architectural style. All of them are decorated with carvings and ornaments. In narrow streets of the town there have remained even cobbles. Martakert church, built in 1883 and experienced the occupation, was fundamentally restored in 2008.
In Martakert tourists can visit the historical museum of local lore, the exhibits of which impart different periods of the history of the region, here they can also see the samples of both Christian and earlier cultures. In the museum yard there are exhibited picturesque stone idols of pre-Christian period, brought here from the suburbs of Seysulan village occupied by Azerbaijan.
Not far from the regional centre on the eastern slope of the mountain of Tazakhach there are visible the ruins of the old settlement. There are remained also the foundations of some houses, the walls of two churches and the cemetery. The church, near which burial stones with the image of idols stand out, is called among locals Krapashti hangstaran (the grave of the pagan – fire-worshipper). In the ancient pagan settlement of Martakert there were also found the ancient stone sarcophagi, two of which are kept now in Artsakh State Museum of Local Lore in Stepanаkert.
For the people of Artsakh the monument, embodying folk wisdom and ancient Christian traditions, is Gandzasar (the mount of treasures), the monastery, proudly standing on the high hill on the left bank of the river of Khachen. People call Gandzasar differently - “the greatest miracle of the Armenian architecture”, “church similar to the heaven’s cupola church”, “ perfect creation”, but the human tongue is powerless to describe this truly grand sight.
The construction of the monastery was initiated in 1216 and was finished in 1238. The church was consecrated in 1240 in the day of great holiday Vardavar (on 22th of July, Sunday) in the presence of a large quantity of people and priests of about 700.
The inscription on the church runs: "In the name of Holy Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit commanded I to strike my inscription, God’s servant Jalal Dola Hasan, son of Vakhtang, grandson of Great Hasan, the lord of high and great land of Artsakh, king of Khokhanaberd with its vast provinces".
The famous Byzantologist of the beginning of the last century, professor of Sorbonne University in Paris, Charles Dill, considered Gandzasar the third of five Armenian monuments included in the treasury of world culture and architecture.
St. John the Baptist Church is also known in the whole Christian world also for having under its altar the head of John the Baptist buried. The church of St. John the Baptist is crowned with high well-proportioned cupola. The polyhedral drum with original bas-reliefs, rosettes and fan-shaped roofing make the cupola majestic and refined at the same time. It is the architectural-decorative design of the cupola that is the most significant achievement of the unknown architecture.
The vestibule on the outside is rather simple – it is a rectangular construction with octahedral light rotunda in the center. The main place of the vestibule is the west double-edged portal.
The main decoration of the vestibule-gavit in inside are stalactites, different figures in the form rhombuses, chess rosettes, fine sennits, stars and so on.
The vestibule served as the burial-vault of the family of Hasan Jalalyans. In the eastern part of the vestibule many known representatives of this family lie, including Hasan-Jalal the Pious and confessors of his time, as well as metropolitan Bagdasar. At the entrance of the church it is impossible not to Step on the grave stone of Jalal Dola, the founder of the monastery. And it’s not considered to be blasphemy as it was his will that all people entering the church should pass over his grave for the atonement of the sins of the late.
Besides the church and the vestibule, Gandzasar, like other Armenian monasteries, is surrounded with the fence (fortress wall), with living and household quarters within In the eastern part of the complex there has been preserved two-storied building which once served as a school, then as a living quarter for the monastery community. In the system of the fortress walls the southern gates, which are considered to be the main entrance, are the most picturesque and original.
Not far from the monastery in the canyon of the river of Khachen a cosy recreation zone is arranged with a hotel built in the form of the ship ( for this reason people call it “Titanic”). At a distance of a few kilometers from here in the picturesque canyon a modern and comfortable hotel «Tsovin Kar» (sea stone) is built.
Gandzasar monastery with the head of St. John the Baptist buried under its Holy See has always been one of the main places of pilgrimage in Artsakh, thanks to its miracles, which the Holy Head has been doing here, as the locals believe. The most recent of these miracles happened here already in our days, in the years of Artsakhian war when during the heavy bombardment by Azerbaijani army the shells flying right onto the cupola suddenly were changing their direction and were exploding far from the monastery, in the canyon, not injuring the church. In 1992, high on the walls on each side of the altar two images of the guardian angels, not made by hands, appeared. These images have gotten clearer over the years, and can now immediately be noticed. Artsakhians believe that once having been in Gandzasar with its arches and cupolas, caps with rich ornaments and images, it is impossible to leave it staying an atheist.
Legend about the head of John the Baptist
In Bible there is told the story about the killing of John the Baptist.
Herod's brother died. And Herod’s wanted to marry his brother’s wife, and John used to blame him for that and say: “This is not the behaviour to marry your brother’s wife”. Then Herod, the King of Judaea, acting at Salome’s instigation ordered to behead the Saint.
A story about the head of John the Baptist found itself in Gandzasar reached us thanks to the work of the medieval historian Movses Kaghankatvatsi “About the honest head of St. John the Baptist”.
Two solitaries saw the bright light coming from the ruins of a house and found there the Head, from which this light was coming. They began to wander around curing people. At that time a beggar saw John the Baptist in his dream who told him to take the Head from the solitaries who were at that time sleeping in a cave, and go away and he would live a rich life. The beggar put the Head into scrip and started healing many obsessed and sick people. Then the head appeared at a house of a potter, from where it was stolen by a prince and brought to Constantinople. The Catholics, learning about it, wanted to take it from the prince, but he managed to take the relic to Iberia. Here the Holy Head fell into hands of the brother of Hasan Jalalyan – the prince of Artsakh. In 1211 the ruler of Artsakh came to Iberia to ask his brother to give him the Head. But the brother didn’t want to give it on his own will and Hasan Jalalyan took it by force, brought to the capital of his kingdom, his burial vault. He buried it there and built a church in the name of St. John the Baptist, which was consecrated in the great concourse of the clergy (over 700 priests). Many other relics such as the saint jaw of Gregory the Illuminator, the right hand of St. Zachary, the holy relics of St. Panteleimon and others are also concealed in the walls of the monastery.
The monastery of Eghishe Arakyal is at the bottom of the mountain of Mrov. The path to the monastery lies through the forest and rocks rising along the edges of deep gaps. The southern side of the hill, where the complex is situated, is a vertical rock; the other three sides are fortified by thick walls.
The construction of the monastery building is registered to the political and cultural figure – king Vachagan the Pious (the end of 5th and the beginning of 6th cc AD). The monastery got its name because of the following reason:
After the death of a martyr of St. Thaddaeus, Apl, preaching Christianity in the eastern regions of Armenia in the 1st century AD, one of his disciples Elisha (Eghishe) went to Jerusalem where he was ordained bishop of eastern countries. Returning to Caucasus, Apostle of Elisha started preaching Christianity in Derbent and the whole South Caucasus, where besides the local residents big communities of the Arameans and the Jews lived as well.
Apostle of Elisha built the first church in Caucasus in Gis, where bloodless sacrifice was made. However, some of the pagans apprehending his sermons with animosity began to pursue him. Apostle Elisha was martyred and his remains were thrown into the hole. In the second half of the 5th century King Vachagan the Pious got the relics of the saint, transferred them and buried in Artsakh and a chapel was built over his grave. Later the monastery was built round the chapel that is called “St. Elisha Monastery”. The grave, the grave-stone and the chapel of St. Apostle of Elisha has remained in the monastery up to the present time.And even nowadays people who believe in miracle-working power of the holy relics of St. Apostle of Elisha continue visiting the monastery.
The church, existing nowadays, was built in 1284. Seven temples are situated round the church; in one of them king Vachagan the Pious is buried, on the other – the prince of Jraberd Atom. Eghishe Arakyal monastery is one of the most known and honoured shrines and places of pilgrimage of believers in Artsakh.
Kachaghakaberd On the way to Gandzasar, from the south-western slope of the mountain of Gevorgasar, a picturesque view opens. In the distance, in front of the monastery of Sourb Hakob, on the top of the mountain range, covered with thick forests, the fortress of Kachaghakaberd (the magpies’ fortress) is situated. In sources this ancient fortification is mentioned under the name of Khachen fortress as well. According to Movses Kaghankatvatsi, in the 9th centuries one of the princesses of the region named Spram having lost her husband «found man’s courage and taking her survived daughter with her surmounted the hard way at night and took cover in the fortress of Khachen». An amazing view to the north opens from the top of Kachaghakaberd – in blue haze the contours of high mountains and a silver thread of the Tartar river stand out.
The monastery of Yerek Mankunk (Yeritsmankantsvank)
The monastery is situated at a distance of 7 kilometers from the famous Jraberd fortress. The architectural ensemble consists of the church and two living quarters. According to the inscriptions saved the moanstery was built by the Catholicos Semeon and his brother. The architect of the church was Sargis as the inscription on the inner wall of the altar runs: «the constructor and the architect of the church is master Sargis. Pray for me to Christ». Khachkars (cross-stones) dating back to 1571, 1620, 1745 are embedded into the walls of the church.
Many monks and hermits lived in this monastery; the evidence of that are numerous cells and halls having fireplaces. Built on the high narrow hill covered with forests the monastery of Yerek Mankunk is the picturesque construction. The mountains near the monastery raise their rocky peaks almost up to the clouds and along the canyon rapid rivers flow. One can visit the monastery only by land rovers or on foot, from the village of Tonashen.
Hakobavank (the Monastery of St. Jacob)
This famous monastery is situated on the right bank of the river Khachen. In the historical literature it is mentioned also under the name Metsaranits. The date of the monastery foundation is unknown, but the most ancient inscription on the khachkar (cross-stone) in the wall dates back to the year 853.
The next mentioning of Hakobavank is connected with its reconstruction in the beginning of 1212 initiated by the princess of Khorishakh. In 17c the monastery was reconstructed once more. The monastic complex consists of two churches, two vestibules, living and household constructions, which are surrounded by the fortress wall. Khachkars with the subtlest patterns, each of which carries in itself an information about the past and is a sample of high masterpiece of stonemasons, are of especial value.
The fortress of Jraberd
On the spot of junction of the Tartar and Trkhi rivers, on the left bank of the Tartar, granite rock stands out, on which one of the most famous fortresses of Artsakh is situated, the fortress of Jraberd (from Armeian “jur” – water, “berd” – fortress), the name arouse because from three sides it is surrounded with water. The nature hasn’t created many fortifications such impregnable and at the same time imposing. The great Armenian writer-historian Raffi, comparing Jraberd with rebel temper and unbending will of Artsakhians, wrote: “A wedge-shaped rock rises high from the monstrous depth. You look and get admired how majestic is the nature, that has created this miracle!”.
The fortress first was mentioned in the years of 620 AD. As it was noted the fortress was surrounded by water and steep rocks on three sides and only on the fourth one it was defended by the wall, in which is the only entrance. The territory of the fortress is rather vast. In the rocks there are carved secret stairs going downstairs to the river. Jraberd is one of the well preserved fortresses of Artsakh and is of great interest not only for historians, but also for the lovers of keen senses and extreme tourism.
In front of Gandzasar the mountain of Tarkhanasar stands out covered with thick forests. In 13 century the prince of Khachen, Asan Jalal bordered its peak with defensive wall and turned it into the impregnable fortress known as Khokhanaberd. According to the Armenian historian of 13c., Kirakos Gandzaketsi, “…when Tartars came and, having besieged it, couldn’t take it by storm, they (Tartars) offered to make peace with Prince Asan Jalal.”
Now there are only walls left from the fortress and reservoirs for the collection of rain-water. According to the legend the fortress served as a summer residence for the daughter of Khacheni prince, beautiful Ruzan. Tourist can get to the fortress either on foot or on horses that can be rented in the nearest village.
Sarsang water reservoir
Sarsang water reservoir was built in the beginning of 1970s (the length is 12 km, the width is 2 km, the mirror area is 14 sq.km, the bulk is 612 million cube meters, the maximal depth is 90 m, the height of the dam is125 m.) on the largest river flowing along the territory of RA- Tartar. It is the highest fill dam in the South Caucasus. On the reservoir Sarsang hydroelectric power station is built (the power is 110 megawatt) which provides the whole republic with the energy. For the construction of the dam brigades from the different republics of the former USSR were enabled. The dam served not only for the supply of electricity, but also for the irrigation of fields.
During the liberation movement fierce battles took place round Sarsang reservoir, during which the summer attack of Azeri forces was stopped in 1992; after that military forces of RA took back the control over Sarsang reservoir.
Besides its economical meaning for the county Sarsang water reservoir is also one of the places of interest of the region. Situated among the picturesque mountains the reservoir attracts not only with the beauty of the surrounding nature but also with the opportunity to go in for aquatics or just to have a walk. There are varieties of fish in the reservoir that are met nowhere in the world. Fishing is permitted round the year, but in spite of it there are much fish here. The lovers of fishing will have what to recall not so much because of the abundance of fish as because of its (fish) especial taste quite out of comparison. On the territory adjoined to Sarsang water reservoir near the village of Drmbon there has been functioning Drmbon gold-mining centre since 2003. The population of the nearest villages is engaged in the work which favourably affects the social-economical state of the population. In gold mining an especial emphasis is placed on the preservation of the ecological environment, the exclusion of negative influence of mining and smelting production on the environment.
The monastery of St. All-Saviour
On the territory, surrounding Sarsang water reservoir and inhabited locations adjoined to it, one can see many historical-architectural monuments as well. These monuments are a stone chronicle of the history of our ancestors, in which the patriotic spirit and inflexible will to the liberty and independence are reflected. One of these is the monastery of All-Saviour. The monastery is situated on the right bank of the Tartar River, between the villages of Pogosagomer, Chldran, Kochoghot and Drmbon. The exact date of the construction of the monastery is unknown, but the record of the name of prince Asan and his son Vakhtang in the inscription gives grounds to suppose that the monastery was built in the beginning of 13c. The monastery was one of the centers of spiritual and cultural life of Khachen princedom. In the environs of the monastery traces of the ancient constructions, cross-stones and lapidary inscriptions have remained.
The fortress of Akanaberd
The other significant monument is the fortress of Akanaberd at the village of the same name in the region of Martakert. Built in the early Middle Ages at the bottom of Balin mountain on the left bank of the Akan river on the inaccessible plateau it occupies a big area. Judging by the extant parts of its walls the fortress was of special importance in the organization of the self-defense of the inhabitants of this province. From the north-eastern part of the wall the secret underground passage begins which leads to the river. To the south-east of the fortress the ruins of the prince’s palace and the vast settlement lie, as well as the ruins of big and small constructions, three half-destroyed churches, trimmed quadras and slabs. In its time there was the administrative center of Haterk princedom here.