Travel Guidebook -Mysteries and Sacred Sites of Stepanavan District
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P1050784The city and former regional capital Stepanavan – named in honor of the great Marxist revolutionary Stepan Shahumyan – is located on a dramatic green Lori plateau beside the remarkable gorge of the Dzoraget River. Stepanavan is located 167 km from Yerevan (a similar distance from the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi) and has always been a hub between the two capitals. It is only 30 km away from Vanadzor.

P1050817Stepanavan was one of Armenia’s most famous tourist spots, where tourists from Yerevan, Tbilisi and different parts of the former Soviet Union visited. The city suffered major destruction during the Spitak Earthquake of 1988. Today we have tourists from all over the world coming and enjoying their stay in one of Armenia’s most picturesque towns. Stepanavan, (population of 16.000) is located in the centre of the Yerevan— Tbilisi highway and is a very comfortable stop for those planning to travel to Georgia from Armenia. A mountain health resort, Stepanavan is known for its pine forests that give off a strong aroma, renowned for healing patients with respiratory illnesses.





  • Museum of Stepan Shahumyan
  • “Lori Berd” – a Fortress (XI century) – the capital of David Anhoghin (989-1049) of the Tashir- Dzoraget Kingdom
  • “Dzoraget” Canyon – a place to have a nice swim and barbeque
  • “Mayori dzor” – a beautiful cave in the canyon where marxists had their meetings
  • “Dendropark” – botanical garden (founded in 1931) covering 35 hectares
  • Lake of Kuybishev
  • Russian church in the nearest village Amrakits (1789)
  • Lovers Trail



Located in the Stepanavan Square, the Stepan Shahumyan Museum, was built around Shahumyans’ cosy and beautiful house. The museum not only provides information about the life of the revolutionary, but also offers an insight into the history of the Stepanavan community in the form of a variety of interesting historical artifacts and displays, mainly from Lori Fortress. Inside Shahumyan’s House is a model of the underground press in Tbilisi where Shahumyan secretly printed communist leaflets.





46047_10150256868680398_674830397_14230147_5115399_nPrehistoric sites in Stepanavan and Lori Berd date back to the Stone Age, with Bronze Age belts depicting riders on horses showing a domestic horse breeding in the area since at least the 3rd BCE.

The medieval town and fortress of Lori was founded by one of the powerful kings of Armenia, David Anhoghin, between 1005-1020. In 1065, King Kyurike I proclaimed Lori as the capital of the Kyurike Kingdom after losing the town of Shamshvilde to the Georgian King, Bagrat IV. Located on the northern trade route (from where to where), Lori was a large craft and commercial center in medieval Armenia. Roads connected the town to Ani, Dvin, Tpghis and other cities. It had a population of approximately 10.000 between the 11th and 13th centuries.

In 1105, Lori was taken over by the Seljuks, then by the Georgian Orbelian Lords in the early 12th century. Later, it came under the rule of the Zakarian brothers, Ivane and Zakare. In 1236, Chaghatai, the commander of the Mongolian army took over the town and razed it to the ground. They pillaged Shahnshah Zakarian’s treasures and demolished the chapel and tomb named after the King David Anhoghin’s wife. Between 14th and 17th centuries, while under the rule of Armenian Orbelians, Lori remained a strategically important fortress until the 17th century, when it was captured by the Turks, Persians and Georgians. It finally lost its role as a fortress in the 18th century and the new inhabitants settled and created today’s Lori Berd village.

The ruins of Lori fortress, occupying 35 hectares, are surrounded on three sides by the gorges of the Dzoraget and Urut Rivers, making it inaccessible from these three sides. On the fourth side, which is exposed, the walls stretch for 214 meters with consecutive round and quadrangular towers.

In 1966, a group of Yerevan State University archeologists excavated two XI-XIII century baths – one of them consisting of a cloak-room, three bathing rooms, a furnace, cold water reservoir and heating system. The bathing rooms and cloak-rooms have two floors; the furnace smoke and steam heating the upper floor. They also excavated a two-story palace, a small church, two fountains, and the chapel devoted to King David Anhoghin’s wife. The stone from Mecca in the southern wall is a reminder of Muslim occupation of the fortress during the XIV – XV centuries.

The many artifacts found by different archeologists in Lori Fortress over the years are exhibited at the Museum of Stepan Shahumyan on Shahumyan Square in Stepanavan. They include weapons, tools, jewelry, coins, clay jars, glass, water-jugs, ceramics, pottery, bones and stone objects.


A gorgeous place to have a nice swim and barbeque

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MAYORI DZOR ( Communist Cave)

Evidence of Shahumyan’s role in contributing to the revolution, remains in the form of the mysterious “Mayori Dzor” (Majors Gorge or Communist) Caves, located in the face of the Dzoraget gorge cliffs, and where Stepan Shahumyan and his co-conspirators held illegal meetings. Bass-relief carvings depicting Shahumyan can be found on the cliffs near the caves, created by the self-taught artist Kamsar.

DENDRO PARK (Botanical Garden)

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Founded in 1931 by Edmon Leonovich, this 35 hectare botanical garden features a broad range of tree species from many regions and a cool, green respite in the heat of summer. It was founded to collect, study and acclimatize to Armenian conditions, useful trees and other plants. Kept in excellent condition by Mr. Leonovich, the son of the founder (buried on the site), the Dendropark is a cool and beautiful sanctuary unlike anywhere else in Armenia. It is only 12.5 kilometers from Stepanavan, just outside the village of Gyulagarak (1489). The Dendropark can be reached by a lovely bicycle ride along the shady, tree-lined highway. Dendropark is known for its Sojut area (Pine trees) where pine flower dust (two weeks either in May or in June depending on the year) has a medicinal effect on children with lung problems. The Pine pollen ( Shishki meghr-honey) is being sold outside of the gates that is a natural treatment for lungs and stuffed nose.

Lake of Kuybishev

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If you like adventures and like to walk a lot, this trip is for you. The road of Bager can take you to one of picturesque corners of Stepanavan area. Kuybishev lake in about 1 – 1.5 hour (by foot) far from Bager, former Soviet Farms. It is hidden in the heart of Lori’s alpine meadows. A beautiful view of mountains and a lake covered with gorgeous lilies and bulrushes. You can also go there by a car through gold mines and thenKuybishev village (today’s Urasar).

There is also one taxi company that can take you there by car. Please check Useful Links.


This beautiful trail was created by pine trees that people like to walk through and smell the magic smell of those trees, flowers and enjoy the romantic scenery.

Very close to it is Anahit holiday-hotel that has a cozy, beautiful forest sauna made of fir tree logs. People enjoy the sauna and then walk through the Lover’s Trail and clean up their lungs, enjoy the scenery while returning back to the town. Anahit also has a great restaurant with a unique foresty fairy-tale design.



RUSSIAN CHURCH in the nearest village Amrakits (Kirov) – 1789

IMG_0638_1This unique church has been built by Old-Believers (Molokans) who were forced into exile by Russian queen, Catherine the Great. Settling in Lori region, where they received a warm reception, they built the magnificent church towers over the village and is seen from the highway as you approach the village.

This village is very famous for its Russian “babushkas” grandmothers who used to sit on the highway and sell sunflower seeds that they grew all over the village.







Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lori Marz, and especially Stepanavan, Alaverdi cities and their surrounding villages, had an important proportion of ethnic minorities. In fact, in the early 20th century Lori became the most multiethnic region in Armenia. Alongside Armenians and Greeks, many other ethnic groups lived there, including Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Azeris, Osettians, Laz, Tats, Moldavians and Jews.

Greeks from the Ottoman Empire founded settlements in Armenia and Georgia. The first Greek villages founded in Armenia were Axtala, Alaverdi and Shamlug, later Bendik, Armutli, Yagdan, Koges, Madan, etc. Their forebears came from the shores of the Black Sea, from historic Pontos and then Gyumashan. Their language is closer to old Greek and is different from modern Greek. The Armenians and the Georgians referred to the Pontic Greeks as Bertsens.

In the northern parts of Armenia, there is an important Greeks village called Madan. Situated on the slope of Mount Lalvar, this village had played an important role in the history of Greeks of Armenia. At first, integration and adaptation of Greeks into the Armenian society was not an important issue for the village of Madan: there were no pressures or discriminations against Greeks living in Armenia, which may be the main reason for the cultural and religious autonomy of some closed Greek communities, such as the ones in Madan, Koghes or Yagdan.

Yaghdan – 13-14th century medieval bridge and Karmir Khach ( Red Cross) church. Try to buy local greek food – delicious.

Koghes – has a 13th century Karmir (“Red”) Agheg church. On the way to Ardvin is “Odzi Port” – Snake’s Bellybutton – a unique and unusual place with a distinctive story.

A priest who lived around Koghes village had 12 monks. One day he sends one of his monks out for water who goes out to the fields and never comes back. So, he sends his second monk. The second one also disappears. The priest gets surprised and sends the third, then forth, and finally the last one after the water. When he realizes that the last one is also being late, he gets angry and goes out to see what happened to all of them. When he gets to the fields, he sees a big snake like a dragon lying down on the ground and is about to swallow the last monk. He loses his temper and hits on the snake’s head with his scepter shouting “May you become a stone and may water flows out of your bellybutton and may people drink it and get cured from various illnesses”. At that same moment a woman with a backpack full of bread was stepping over the snake to bring the bread to her husband who was working in the field. When the priest shouts these words, the woman also becomes stone together with the snake.

So, today you can see the stone snake laying down on the hill of Ardvi’s mountains near Koghes village and a woman with a bag of bread stepping on it. The water that falls down from the snake’s bellybutton is mineral(contailns gold and silver in it) and locals believe that it cures sicknesses. The nature and surroundings are very beautiful here and people gather for picnics or outdoor fun around it.

Up the gorge is Hovnanadzor, founded in 1867, with a medieval cemetery housing the tomb of Prince Tute (1241 century)

Madan – has beautiful camping areas

Right after Lori Fortress is village Lejan, there you can see a beautiful 19th c church built on 5th c. foundations.

After Lejan is ancient village Agarak – 5-6th c. Astvatsatsin church (ruins), 10-11th c. water shrine built on prehistoric vishap (dragon) stone. Agarak also has nice caves and gorge that worths visiting if you like hiking.

In the north side of Stepanavan is village Sverdlov (former Haydarbek) that has two unique churches – Dorband where locals get together from all over the world to celebrate St. Astvatsatsin holiday on the next Sunday after August 20th.

The second one is 6-7th c. S. Gevorg church that has an uncommonly long central part, hall being three times as long as it is wide.

Stepanavan is an excellent spot to take a day tour to Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries (1.5 hours through gorgeous Lori nature).


144Haghpat and Sanahin, two of the most gorgeous Monasteries in Armenia, are located on the rocks around Alaverdi town. The architectural complexes of Sanahin and Haghpat are among the outstanding works of medieval Armenian architecture. In their artistic merits, they transcend the limits of national culture.

DSC_0155Retracing steps across the Debed River, take the main road north, passing the Sanahin Bridge, built in 1192. The bridge is elegantly decorated with stone cats. About 1 km after crossing back to the eastern side of the Debed on leaving Alaverdi Town, a cluster of large modern buildings, the transport terminal, marks the turn-off right to Haghpat and Tsaghkashat. Take the left fork which winds up to Haghpat, with one of Armenia’s most beautiful monasteries perched atop the rim of the gorge. This fortified monastery was founded, like Sanahin Monastery, by Queen Khosrovanush around 976. The SurbNshan church, finished in 991 by Smbat Bagratuni and his brother Gurgen, served as the religious headquarters of the Kyurikians. The gavit was built in 1185, with the following inscription on the northern facade: “In the year 634/AD 1185, I Mariam, daughter of King Kyurike, built with great hope this house of prayer over our tombs — those of my paternal aunt Rousoudan, my mother Tamara, and myself, Mariam, under the superior Ter Barsegh, archbishop, who finished the construction. You who enter through its door and prostrate yourself before the cross, in your prayers remember us and our royal ancestors, who rest at the door of the holy cathedral, in Jesus Christ.” A smaller St. Grigor church was built in 1025 and rebuilt in 1211. There is a huge, self-standing gavit of the Abbot Hamazasp built in 1257, a “grand and marvelous bell tower” from 1245, and a library built in 1262. There is a large dining hall incorporated in the defensive wall, and several other picturesque chapels and mausoleums. Haghpat was a major literary center, and maintained rich feudal lands until the monastery properties were confiscated by the Russian Empire in the 19th century.

DSC_0190The exact date of the foundations of Sanahin and Haghpat is unknown. Documentary evidence and monuments of material culture, suggest that these structures date back to the middle of the 10th century. The formation of the Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom of the Kyurikids in 979 and the great attention paid to Sanahin and Haghpat by various rulers of Armenia and their vassals, favored the construction of many religious and civil structures there. In these monasteries, especially in Sanahin, humanitarian sciences and medicine were studied, scientific treaties written and paintings, mostly miniatures, created. Built in the monasteries over three centuries, were more than 20 various churches and chapels, four annexes, sepulchers, bell-towers, the building of the Academy, book depositories, refectories, galleries, bridges and other monumental structures, to say nothing of numerous dwelling and service premises.DSC_0134

The main monastery buildings are grouped around their chief temples, forming integral architectural organisms. They are asymmetrical relative to their main axes, which lends to them being so picturesque. Compact and harmonious balancing of the complexes are achieved owing to the fact that each subsequent architect proceeded from the state of the ensemble that already existed and coordinated the shape and layout of his own buildings with it.