Armenia & Georgia
Between Europe and Asia, the Caspian and the Black Sea, and on the ancient Silk Roads and the Scythian invasion routes stand the republics — ancient kingdoms — of Armenia and Georgia. Until recently cut off by the Iron Curtain, these warm, hospitable countries are but little known to western travellers, yet their names conjure up images of trade and hospitality, the Greek myths of Prometheus, Medea and the Golden Fleece. Their location between great civilisations guaranteed them a pivotal role in world history. Yet, their varied landscapes are reason enough to visit — Europe’s highest mountains, fertile plains, semi-tropical coastlands and arid steppes are the backdrop to our travels.
- Discover the history that created Tbilisi and Yerevan’s urban centres
- See exquisite metalwork and jewellery from the Bronze Age
- Dramatic landscapes, from lush sub-tropics to the semi-desert steppes
- View fortresses, Hellenistic temples and Art Nouveau palaces
- Learn about the ancient Georgian wine-making tradition
- Historic Churches
Upon arrival in Yerevan, we transfer to our hotel in the midst of the bustling city and have time to relax after our flight.
Not far from Yerevan on the Araxes plain is the city and Mother Cathedral of Echmiadzin. This Cathedral complex, with its richly decorated interior, is the seat of the Catholicos- Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the spiritual heart of the country. Just outside the city stand the striking ruins of Zvartnots, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 7th century church and ruined palace of the patriarchs dates to an innovative period in Armenian architecture. This afternoon we visit the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Manuscripts and its Matenadaran Museum, which commemorates the creation of the Armenian alphabet at the beginning of the 5th century, and the subsequent achievements of Armenia’s translators, authors, thinkers and scribes.
Today we drive east into the Gegham mountains to visit the World Heritage Site of Geghard. Named after the relic of the Holy Spear that pierces Christ’s side during the crucifixion, the 12th and 13th century monastery is carved out of the living rock. Nearby, perched above the gorge of the Azat, stands the fortress and summer palace of Garni with its Graeco-Roman temple. In the afternoon, we explore Yerevan’s History Museum, a national treasure-house of archaeological artefacts telling the story of Armenia’s long history.
We begin at Shengavit, a settlement that spans the Chalcolithic to the Bronze Age, the 5th millennium to the 3rd millennium BC. We continue to the museum and fortress of Erebuni, the ancient Urartian capital in the Araxes valley in the first half of the 1st millennium BC. This afternoon we have free time to explore Yerevan at our own leisure, or choose to take an optional visit to the moving Genocide Museum and memorial at Tsitsernakaberd (Swallow’s fortress). This impressively curated exhibition records the invention of the Armenian Question over the course of the 19th century, the desperate plight of the Armenians in the face of the Ottoman’s state attack on its own citizens in 1915-1920, and the long aftermath of what is often called the first modern genocide.
This morning we travel across the Araxes plain towards Ararat. Beneath the mountain stands the monastery of Khor Virap. Here, King Artaxias I founded one of Armenia’s ancient capitals, Artashat, on the advice of Hannibal the Carthaginian. Gregory the Illuminator was also held captive for 13 years by the Emperor Diocletian’s contemporary King Trdat III. Further south we visit Areni Cave, a fascinating archaeological site that has preserved organic materials from the 5th millennium BC, including an ancient winery and the world’s oldest shoe. We lunch at the medieval monastery of Noravank, an architectural gem in a stunning valley setting. Our day ends with a drive to our hotel in Dilijan, Armenia’s ‘Little Switzerland’.
Today we visit three of Armenia’s finest and best-preserved monastic complexes. The 10th-13th century Haghartsin is hidden at the head of the wooded valley outside Dilijan. While the twin World Heritage Sites of Haghpat and Sanahin are perched on a high plateau above the valley of the Debed River, and the copper-processing town of Alaverdi.
We begin our Georgian tour with an exploration of the capital, Tbilisi, ancient Tiflis, and for more than a millennium, the most important city in the South Caucasus. This morning we start with a walking tour of Old Tbilisi, taking in the Metekhi Church, the Narikala Fortress, the Baths district, the Great Synagogue, the Sioni Cathedral, and the 6th century Anchiskhati Basilica. After lunch, we visit the Georgian National Museum with its spectacular gold rooms — a testament to the skill of its ancient smiths and the wealth of its kings. Other exhibitions include the Dmanisi skulls of early hominids, its archaeological rooms, with fine Bronze Age, Hellenistic and Iranian artefacts, and an exhibit devoted to the Soviet Occupation.
We make an excursion over the scenic Gombori pass to Kakheti, the most important of Georgia’s wine-growing regions. The monastery of Iqalto, was founded in the late 6th century, and in the 12th century, David IV ‘the Rebuilder’ founded an Academy here. We continue with a visit to Tsinandali, the 19th century summer palace of the princely Chavchavadze family. Over lunch at a local winery, we sample the local wines and learn about the ancient Georgian ‘Qvevri’ wine-making tradition, which creates its unique taste.
Our last day in Tbilisi, we start with a visit to the Open Air Ethnographic House Museum. This attractive museum preserves type examples of traditional architecture from Georgia’s many regions. We continue to the Museum of Fine Arts, which displays some of Georgia’s most precious Medieval Christian artwork, including gilded icons, processional crosses, fine embroideries and Queen Tamar’s exquisite bejewelled cross brooch. Free time this afternoon offers the opportunity to relax and enjoy the local cafés, markets and bookshops.
We start our day at Mtskheta, Georgia’s ancient capital and religious centre. After visiting the 6th century Jvari Chuch, we explore the excavations of the ancient royal citadel of Armazistsikhe. We finish our time here at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. After lunch, we visit Gori for the ancient rock-cut city of Uplistsikhe and the Stalin Museum. The latter preserves the museum erected by Stalin’s murderous Caucasian viceroy Beria, making it a fascinating relic of the cult of Stalin and the counterpoint to the exhibition on the Soviet Occupation in Tbilisi’s National Museum. Later, we travel up the Mtkvari gorge to Borjomi and check-in to our hotel.
This morning we drive past the fortress of Khertvisi, to the Medieval cave monastery of Vardzia. Renowned as a mustering point of Queen Tamar’s armies in her wars against the Turks, the monastery is also famous for its cycle of frescoes, including a famous depiction of Queen Tamar herself. This afternoon we return to Borjomi via Akhaltsikhe and the Rabati fortress, a centre for Ottoman slaving at late as the 1820s.
We drive to Kutaisi this morning, Georgia’s second city and historic capital of Imereti. Here, we visit the royal monastery and World Heritage Site of Gelati, with its rich mosaic and frescoes and its medieval Academy. After lunch, we have free time to explore the city.
Today we visit our guide lecturer’s site of Nokalakevi. The extensive ruins of a large Byzantine-period fortress stand atop earlier archaeological levels going back through the 1st millennium BC to at least the 3rd millennium. After a tour of the site and the small museum, we lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, we drive through the Colchian lowlands towards the Black Sea coast, arriving at Batumi.
Batumi, is the Bathus Limen, or deep water port discovered by Greek settlers of the Black Sea coast in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. The Russians developed it into a major warm water port in the late 19th century, with the help of foreign investors like the Rothschilds and the Nobels. The city retains much of the architecture of this Art Nouveau period, alongside the churches and mosques of its diverse population. After a leisurely walking tour of the city, we visit the Roman playing-card fort at nearby Apsarus, with its small museum. After lunch, there is some free time to explore at leisure. Tonight, we come together to celebrate the success of our memorable adventure.
We transfer to the airport for our return flight back to London.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - Most meals included
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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