Mount Aragats, on the western slopes of which the Stone Art Guest House is located, is the highest peak in the present-day Armenia (4090 meters) has become a permanent home for mountaineers visiting the country. With its unique nature, this mountain has sub-alpine and alpine zones as well as four peaks and one of the biggest craters in the world, created by a volcano eruption in the distant past. The crater of Mt. Aragats is a sub-polar zone, 750 meters below the rim of the mountain. There is no lake inside the crater, though in particularly warm summers, as ice melts, it forms shallow ponds. There is a high altitude lake nearby called Kari Litch (Stone Lake), well known in the country and a favorite campsite for climbers.
Mt. Aragats is accessible to most mountain climbers and naturalists wanting to explore its four peaks. From the top of the mountain you can see most of the Lesser and Great Caucasus Range, even as far as Mt. Elbrus, Europe’s tallest mountain at 5642 meters.
The mountain top has several “hidden” pagan and early Christian shrines, hardly surprising given it was considered a cauldron of the gods, its brooding cone generating storms and fair weather several times a day.
Now called “Armenia’s weather maker”, the mountain was worshiped by pagans who only tentatively traded their belief in the all powerful gods of Vahagn, Astghik and Aramazd for the Christian trinity in the 4th c. To this day pagan symbols and sacrifices abound on the mountain side, next to or within Christian shrines. One legend that descends from the pagan period, especially if the legend of the all-burning light of the Zoroastrian religion is applied, is about Saint Gregory the Illuminator who converted Armenia and its king at that time, King Tiridates III, to Christianity in the 4th century.
According to the legend, St. Gregory climbed to the top of Aragats to pray, an all-burning lamp hanging from the sky illuminated his way down in the evening. Probably predating even the Zoroastrians, legends of night lights on mountains (especially volcanic mountains) are easy enough to trace. The legend continues that the light still burns, seen only by those who are pure in their heart.
Local and foreign tourists have shown great interest towards hiking tourism in Armenia lately. It is no surprise as this «mountainous island» is an irresistible country for those who like conquering natural heights.
Featured image by: Alexander Mkhitaryan / wikimedia