Get ready for a historical road ride on the highway from Stepanakert to Martakert. A sequence of medieval fortresses and castles, churches and monasteries will transform you into their origins, the Askeran fortress, the State Historical and Cultural Reserve Tigranakert, church of Yeghishe Arakyal (Yeghishe Apostle) and other memorable sights will give you a tangible insight on Artsakhian heritage. The village of Drmbon connects the North tourist route.
Askeran city was founded in the early 20th century near the ancient fort and literally means "barracks". As we promised you history and culture in almost every corner of Artsakh, when approaching the city you will notice the glorious walls of the Middle Ages Askeran fortress, already from the road leading to Tigranakert Reserve, 14 km east of Stepanakert. In the XVIII century it underwent reconstruction and has established its present appearance. The ramparts have a thickness of 2 m and a height of 9 m and round towers are interconnected by narrow passages. The embrasures are walled. You can climb on the wall through a vertical entrance. If you want to gain a spiritual experience, visit the newly built Church of St. Astvatsatsin (Holy Virgin), where Apostolic church services are held.
Don’t miss out checking the historical museum that is established in the city. It stores a unique collection; presents numerous ancient artifacts discovered during excavations in the Askeran region, showing the life of inhabitants in ancient times. The museum consists of two departments - department of military art, which presents materials about World War II (1939-1945) and the Artsakh liberation war - books, photographs, and personal files of dead veterans of the liberation movement. The second department presents Archaeological and ethnographic exhibits - photographs of architectural monuments and settlements, books on Armenian history, culture and more.
Continuing discoveries in history, you should visit the State historical and cultural reserve "Tigranakert". It was created in 2008 in the area of the excavations of the ancient Armenian town of Tigranakert in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of the early Middle Ages. Tigranakert expedition of the Institute of Ethnology and Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia, headed by PhD Hamlet Petrosyan, began excavations of the city and its surroundings. As a result, it was found that Tigranakert, like any classical medieval towns, had a quarter, surrounded by an impregnable wall, cultural and handicraft or central quarter, a vast agricultural suburb. The Archaeological Museum, acting on the reserve was founded in 2010. The museum demonstrates the relics found in excavations. Let us note that Tigranakert is named after Tigran the Great who is considered to be the Armenian Alexander the Great.
You may find many churches in Artsakh, but each of them has its unique beauty and story. Vankasar Church, located in the vicinity of the famous historic monument of Tigranakert, was built in the 6th and 7th centuries. It is white, mountaintop and truly gorgeous. The church is partly renovated inside, located on a round square near the archaeological site of Tigranakert. Once you reach there, you will also see gates not far from this abandoned church. Vankasar Church is a unique “fortress,” you can gaze at the surrounding panorama that opens up from it; the views are top-end, heartwarming and dramatic at the same time.
Visiting Martakert as any other city of Artsakh is an emotional trip to take. When we speak of Martakert regional centre now, it’s about coziness and warmth territorially spread out in the hills. During the Azerbaijani occupation the town was totally damaged, but after the liberation it was quickly recovered. Surprisingly, even after the temporary occupation, the city preserved its 19th-century buildings. Many houses of the old Armenian quarter still have their unique architectural style. They are all decorated with beautiful carvings. The narrow streets of the old town are paved with cobblestones. You can also visit the “pagan cemetery”, this is what locals call a church, around which there are gravestones with images of idols. In the old pagan settlements of Martakert were found ancient stone sarcophagus, two of which are presented in Artsakh State Historical Museum in Stepanakert. Visiting the historical museum in Martakert, you can get acquainted with numerous exhibits belonging to different historical periods of the region, samples of Christian culture as well as of an earlier time. In the courtyard of the museum you can find scenic stone idols of pre-Christian era.
The latest archaeological studies, which were taken at the end of 2016, have revealed some strange stones on the left side of the entrance to the city of Martakert. Later on, they were found out to be microbialites which form during a long geological period and these processes are still going on. They enrich the atmosphere with oxygen, and can also create and store hydrocarbons. Microbialites can be environmentally friendly - indicators of environmental change due to fluctuation of nutrient content and water level. They can serve as important reservoirs for carbohydrates.
Village Tonashen. Fortress Jraberd
One of the famous castles in Artsakh, named Jraberd (caste of water) was built at the junction of the rivers Tartar and Trkchi, on the right bank of the river Tartar, on top of the hill. You can already imagine how naturally awesome it is. It got its name from the fact of being surrounded by water on three sides. Nature has created a few inaccessible and at the same time imposing fortresses that amaze us by their inarguable force and presence. The first notes of the fort are mentioned in the years of 620 AD. We are sure that Jraberd will be on your must-visit list.
Near the village Tonashen, 7 km away from the famous castle Jraberd, you will find the monastery Yerek Mankunk. The architectural complex consists of a church, and 2 residential buildings. Khachkars are walled up over the facade of the monastery, dating back to 1571, 1620, 1745 years, respectively. The monastery was once inhabited by monks and hermits, the evidence of which are the halls and numerous cells with a fireplace. It is such a cozy sanctuary surrounded by thick Artsakhian forest. The place speaks for itself leaving people in their own feelings.
Village Madaghis. Church of Yeghishe Arakyal (Yeghishe the Apostle)
Near the village of Madaghis, you will come across the monastery of Yeghishe Arakyal, located at the foot of the mountain Mrav. The path to the monastery leads through the forest on the rocks, rising on the edge of canyons. Construction of the first building of the monastery is associated with the famous political and cultural figures - the king Vachagan Barepasht, (late 5th century BC, the beginning of the 6th century). The church houses the remains of Vachagan Barepasht (the Pious) and Yeghishe Arakyal (the Apostle). It is considered an important place of pilgrimage for all Armenians. During the Middle Ages, Yeghishe Arakyal monastery was a cultural and educational centre of Artsakh with churches, chapels, residential buildings and utility structures (now ruined). In ancient times, before the adoption of Chrsitianity, it was a pagan sacred place called holy monastery at Nersmihr.