Alaverdi, Sanahin and Haghpat

The operator of the Alaverdi-Sanahin cable-car has a slight memory problem.
[When was the ropeway built?] I ask him
[When was it built? What did you have for dinner last night?]
[I don't understand. I'm sorry, my Armenian isn't very good.]
[What did you eat for dinner last night?  I'm 65 years old. I can't remember what I had for dinner last night. How can I remember how old the ropeway is?]
[But is it safe?]
[Of course it's safe.  I remember how to drive it.]

Unlike the slick, newly opened cable-car in Tatev, the Alaverdi-Sanahin cable-car in Lori Marz is a daily commuter.  Its windows are scratched and cloudy, its paint worn and the operator must step out at each stop to keep the car from swaying on its single carrying cable.  But for a princely sum of 140 drams (~40 US cents) for a roundtrip, about 1/20th the price of the Tatev trip, the cable-car is an essential connection between the town of Sanahin, located on a clifftop overlooking the Debed River and the mining city of Alaverdi located in the valley floor.

The Alaverdi #2 Cable Car and the town's copper mine

 After overflying the river and rising up along a vertical cliff face, the cable-car deposits commuters and tourists at the bottom of Sanahin.  It's a 15-minute walk out to Sanahin's twin tourist attractions: the Mikoyan museum, dedicated to the life and careers of Artem Mikoyan, the legendary fighter jet designer and Anastas Mikoyan the Soviet apparatchik; and Sanahin monastery, a 10th-century monastic complex and UNESCO world heritage site.

Haykush Mikoyan and the MiG-21
I'm an airplane nut, so I couldn't help but visit the Mikoyan museum, where I had the pleasure of meeting Haykush Mikoyan, the museum's curator and niece of the Mikoyan brothers. The centerpiece of the museum’s collection is Artem Mikoyan’s most successful fighter, the MiG-21.This particular jet, Haykush explains, was built in Tbilisi, little more than an hour’s drive away. Appropriately, a family of wasps has taken up residence in the right aileron. The museum itself houses a collection of flight suits, books and aircraft models. The first floor also houses artifacts relating to life in Sanahin, including a medal presented by Soviet authorities to Mikoyan’s parents for having five children.

Artem’s brother Anastas Mikoyan occupies a corner of the museum.  He had a storied career as an unusually long-lived Soviet apparatchik with a close relationship to Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.  Photos show Anastas cavorting with dignitaries and revolutionaries ranging from Latin American guerillas to Ford engineers.  His official GaZ car is preserved in a glass case outside.
Tourists explore Haghpat
After I've got my fill of aviation history, I head up the hill to Sanahin.  Its archways, domed halls and grottoes are majestic in the light of the Spring day.  From Sanahin, it is possible to see its sister monastery, Haghpat, across the gorge.  Haghpat and Sanahin share majestic medieval Armenian architecture, blending secular and ecclesiastic styles and featuring intricate khachkars, the cross-stones that are a central feature of Armenian art.  Although most travelers will choose to take a taxi or marshrutka down the hill, through Alaverdi and back up the gorge, intrepid travelers can choose to walk the 6-kilometer hiking trail between the two.  I personally choose to ride the cable-car a second time and return to Alaverdi to catch a taxi.  [It's a beautiful walk and it can be done in a few hours,] says my driver [but you're too fat.]


Sam is an American Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia.  He lives and works in Aragotsotn Marz, where he teaches English in village schools. The views and opinions expressed are his personally and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Peace Corps. 

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