Two beautiful, hospitable, neighboring countries in the South Caucasus – Armenia and Georgia – are attracting an increasing number of tourists from around the world. They have much in common, including mountain scenery, genuine hospitality, and rich Christian traditions and customs. They also have many unique incomparable features, which make them fascinating destinations for travellers. The following seven facts about Armenia and Georgia might just whet your appetite.
1. ARMENIA WAS THE FIRST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD TO ADOPT CHRISTIANITY AS A STATE RELIGION
According to historical data, Armenia was a pagan country before the adoption of Christianity in 301. This change came about after King Trdat III sent one of his companions – a Christian named Gregory – to prison for refusing to partake in pagan sacrifices. Gregory spent 13 years in a dungeon full of snakes, but miraculously survived. Upon his release he learned that the king was seriously ill and he prayed for him. The king recovered and – as a sign of his gratitude – proclaimed Christianity as the state religion. Gregory ‘the Illuminator’ became the first Catholicos of the Armenian Church, and he built the world’s first Christian temple – Echmiadzin Cathedral – to symbolise this conversion. For its historical significance alone, this place of worship should definitely be on your bucket list when you travel to Armenia.
2. ARMENIA IS A MONO-ETHNIC COUNTRY
Armenia is one of very few mono-ethnic countries in the world. About 97% of the population are Armenians. The remaining 3% are Russians, Yazidis, Jews and others.
3. LAKE SEVAN IS THE SECOND LARGEST HIGH-ALTITUDE FRESHWATER LAKE IN THE WORLD
Sevan is a beautiful lake in Armenia, which is sometimes also referred to as the ‘Armenian sea’. It is located over 1900 m above sea level, and is the second largest freshwater high-altitude lake in the world after Lake Titicaca in South America. The azure waters of the lake shine beautifully in the sun, backed by stunning snow-capped Alpine peaks. Recently, Sevan has become a very popular destination for both locals and tourists. Despite this, you can find places of solitude and relaxation. As the mountain climate is changeable, it’s useful to pack both sunscreen and warm clothes.
4. ARMENIAN BREAD, LAVASH, IS INCLUDED IN THE LIST OF UNESCO INTANGIBLE HERITAGE
This delicious low-calorie bread goes well with any dish. It is prepared quite simply from flour and water and is baked in a special oven called a ‘tonir’. Armenians use lavash to prepare very tasty and simple sandwiches containing greens (cilantro, parsley, chives or basil) and white, salty Armenian cheese. It is a simple but indispensable product that can be baked in large quantities and stored for up to a year. To moisten it for consumption, you just need to add water.
5. GEORGIAN WINEMAKING TRADITIONS ARE ALREADY 8000 YEARS OLD
Georgia is sometimes called the ‘cradle of winemaking’. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence proving that people in these territories started producing wines about 8000 years ago, and the country is still well-known for its national winemaking traditions. The most famous of Georgia’s wines are ‘Tsinandali’, ‘Kindzmarauli’ and ‘Kakheti’, the latter of which is named after the winemaking ‘capital’ – a great place for a wine tour. Other must-visit towns are Telavi, Tsinandali, Kvareli and Signagi.
6. POLYPHONIC SINGING IN GEORGIA IS ON THE LIST OF UNESCO INTANGIBLE HERITAGE
Polyphonic singing appeared several decades earlier in Georgia than in Western Europe. Georgian polyphonic songs have a very unique and beautiful quality. The deepest polyphony can be heard in the western part of the country, and especially in Guria, while Megrelia is known for its incredible mixed choirs. Almost all Georgians have the talent to sing and it’s a huge part of most feasts, holidays and weddings.
7. THE VILLAGE USHGULI IS THE HIGHEST IN EUROPE
Georgia’s Ushguli village is located in the mountainous region of Svaneti. It’s known for its ancient UNESCO-listed buildings and, at a height of 2086 to 2200 m above sea level, it’s also the highest settlement in Europe. If that weren’t enough, the country’s highest peak – Mount Shkhara – is also located here. For ancient traditions, incredible landscapes and hospitable people, this memorable mountainside village is unmissable.