An Armenian folktale goes like this: The invading army of Timur of the Timurid Dynasty appeared on the horizon close to the Noratus Cemetery near Lake Sevan. Upon seeing the oncoming troops, villagers set to work placing helmets on top of the burial site’s tombstones and propping swords against them at a visible angle. From a distance, the marauders were convinced they would be met by an immoveable foe, ready to hold their front without mercy. Fearing for his slaughter, Timur retreated. And so it was that the dead saved the living.
Your small group will visit the Noratus Cemetery during our new Armenia & Georgia Discovery, where you are sure to hear the tale again. Here, you will also come to understand how these grave markers became the stuff of legend. You see, these are no ordinary tombstones: These are sacred khachkars, also known as Armenian cross-stones, a piece of local culture and history so important and central to Armenia’s identity that they have been recognized on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
What sets them apart is their intricate and extraordinary design. A decorative cross has been carved into each one, further adorned with a rosette or solar disc, floral and botanical motifs, and lace-like patterns that tie it all together. Biblical figures might also be present. These incredibly artistic stone carvings embody medieval Christian Armenian art at its pinnacle.
The most intricate and detailed Khachkar carving reached its peak between the 12th and 14th centuries, though the earliest one is thought to have been created as early as 879. They have had many purposes through the centuries: to save the soul of the deceased, to commemorate a military triumph, to mark the construction of a church, and to fend off natural disasters. Many were specifically created as tombstones. But many others have been erected at monastery sites and built into church walls.
The Mongol invasion led to their decline and they have never returned to their former artistic glory. About 40,000 remain today; about 900 of various styles and from various periods are at Noratus Cemetery where, if you use your imagination, you may be able to see Timur and his army retreating into the distance.
Join us on Discovery Tours’ new Armenia & Georgia Discovery small group tour.