| Metsamor 1:
| Basics | Overview
Metsamor 2: Museum |
| Upstairs |
Lower Level | Gold
Metsamor 3: Excavation |
Temple | Observatory |
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Located just outside the village of Taronik,
Metsamor (which means “black swamp” or “black quicksand”) is a working
excavation and museum on the site of an urban complex with a large metallurgical
and astronomical center (occupied ca. 5000 BC-17th c. CE). The site
occupies a volcanic hill and surrounding area.
on top of the volcanic hill is about 10.5 hectares in size, but the entire
city is believed to have covered 200 hectares at its greatest extent,
housing up to 50,000 people (making it a huge metropolis in those days).
Nearby spring-fed marshes and lakes suggest the extent of the wildlife
that covered the area up to the bases of Mount Aragats and Ararat.
The area was rich in water, mineral and hunting resources at the time
of the development of Metsamor. The nearby Metsamor river provided
both transportation and the first irrigation source recorded in Armenia.
Excavations began at Metsamor in 1965 and are still in progress, led by
Professor Emma Khanzatian. The most recent excavation work occurred
in the summer of 1996, along the inner cyclopic wall. Excavations
have shown strata of occupancy going back to the Neolithic period (7,000-5,000
BC), but the most outstanding features of the site were constructed during
the early, middle and late Bronze Ages (5000-2,000 BC). Inscriptions
found within the excavation go back as far as the Neolithic period , and
a sophisticated pictograph form of writing was developed as early as 2000-1800
BC. The “Metsamor Inscriptions” have a likeness to later scripts,
which influenced Mashtots' alphabet (see Evolution of the Armenian Alphabet).
excavation has uncovered a large metal industry, including a foundry with
2 kinds of blast furnaces (brick and in-ground). Metal processing
at Metsamor was among the most sophisticated of its kind at that time:
the foundry extracted and processed high-grade gold, copper, several types
of bronze, manganese, zinc, strychnine, mercury and iron. Metsamor’s processed
metal was coveted by all nearby cultures, and found its way to Egypt,
Central Asia and China. The iron smelting process was not advanced
in Metsamor, probably due to the vast quantities of pure bronze alloys
at hand, and Metsamor primarily mined and sold iron ore to neighboring
cultures which took better advantage of its properties. One of the
early examples of R&D not getting past the lab door. It is not
until the Early Iron Age that Metsamor took full advantage of the high-grade
iron ore it had been selling to others.
The astronomical observatory predates all other known observatories in
the ancient world-- that is, observatories that geometrically divided
the heavens into constellations and assigned them fixed positions and
symbolic design. Until the discovery of Metsamor it had been widely
accepted that the Babylonians were the first astronomers. The observatory
at Metsamor predates the Babylonian kingdom by 2000 years, and contains
the first recorded example of dividing the year into 12 sections.
Using an early form of geometry, the inhabitants of Metsamor were able
to create both a calendar and envision the curve of the earth.
Hours, Ticket Price: The museum and site are open from 10:00-17:00
Tues-Sun. In winter the museum opens at 11:00. Admission is 100
AMD, guided tour another 100 AMD (we suggest an additional tip of another
500 AMD per person in the tour: they’re getting 2000 AMD a month as salary,
and receive no support for keeping the site and museum going).
Guided Tour: The museum offers guided tours in Armenian and Russian.
The self-guided tour we describe is provided as a short translation, but
the details (and wonderful enthusiasm for their site) cannot be translated
and need to be taken in person. This tour is worth finding a translator
or using your rough Armenian and hand gestures--the two guides we had
are the most thorough and engaging we have found in Armenia. Even
without the language, you’ll get the gist of it, and feel you were there
6000 years ago.
Metsamor is located 6 kilometers from the AdaBlur site via the Aratashen/Lenughi-Taronik
road. This is the same road you arrived in Aratashen on. It
is 1 kilometer West of the village of Taronik.
By Car, Taxi: Beginning from AdaBlur, back track to the Aratashen-Taronik
road, and turn R. One kilometer beyond you will see a road that
intersects yours and leads to Hoktemberian. Continue forward.
After 1.4 kilometers you will reach Taronik village. Continue another
1.3 kilometers to the end to the village (always going forward if you
see optional turns), and just past an electrical tower and a large
rusting tower, there will be a road on your left.
That is the Metsamor road. Turn L, and follow it as it skirts along
a large earthen ditch (part of the Metsamor river). You can already spy
the museum and hill in the upper right of your view. 800 meters
from the turnoff you will reach a low bridge. Cross it and proceed 200
meters to the gates of the site. There is a small parking lot within
the fencing. If the site has other visitors, park here and walk
to the museum ahead of you. Otherwise, continue forward past the
marshland and pond, and follow the road as it winds to the left to the
top of the hill, about meters to the front entrance.
There are no taxis from Aratashen to Metsamor, but you can probably get
a villager to drive you (barter for petrol and an extra 1000 AMD).
They don’t work on schedules, so plan on waiting a bit. It isn’t
a bad hike if you’ve got your walking shoes on.
By Bus, YT, On Foot: There is a private Echmiadzin-Taronik bus (150
AMD one-way Echmiadzin-Taronik) that goes directly to the villages nearest
all three sites. It originates at the Echmiadzin Avtokayan,
and travels between 07:30 and 17:00-- when it has enough passengers (i.e.
it has no set schedule: when it fills up, it leaves).
Another departs from Taronik about 9:30 a.m. and travels via Aratashen,
Lenughi and Atarbekian.
From Aratashen, the bus stop is about 200 meters west of the river bridge
(ask for the “avtobusi kangarr depi Taronik”
Tell the bus driver you want to get off at Metsamor Museum, (“yes uzum
em ichnel Metsamor Tangaran” »ë
áõ½áõÙ »Ù ÇçÝ»É
Where to Eat/Where to Stay:
Homestay: Taronik is a good village for resting or eating. It is
one of the larger villages in the area, and the excavation workers live
there. They can point you in the right direction for bed and hearth
in the village ($10-12 per night, includes three meals).
Lodging: 1.5 kilometers from the excavation turnoff, going west (away
from Taronik and towards Hoktemberian), is the newly renovated “Litch
Motel” (Lake Motel, Tel: (374-37) 5-00-44, ask for Bingio), with 7 bright
and comfortable units, a lake to call your own and one of the best views
of Ararat we’ve seen, unspoiled by urban growth. They have cable
TV, an International telephone connection, central heat and air conditioning,
hot showers, and the freshest food at their pier restaurant. At
$15-25 dollars a room (double occupancy), they beat anything in Yerevan.
Come summer they plan to install a sauna and deluxe rooms (still a very
reasonable $50 per room, double occupancy).
Setraki Restaurant/motel (Tel: Yerevan: (3741) 27-73-69, ask for Spartak)
is located on Aknalich (Akna Lake), 700 meters from Lake Motel entrance
(turn left on side street at a rock wall, go 200 meters, green wire gate
is on left). 10 cottages in wooded area, no phone, but swimming
pool, hot water, air conditioning and central heat, beautiful walks through
wooded area up to edge of lake. $50-70 for two people, meals included.
In Echmiadzin, the Van Restaurant/Motel (Tel: (374-37) 4-80-24, ask for
Valodia, David or Arsen) offers 6 suites with private entrances off the
main dining area for $25 (double occupancy), and 2 deluxe suites on the
second floor for $50 (double occupancy). Full dinner and breakfast
is an additional $10-15 per person. Valodia worked for Intourist
and built the complex on Swedish motels he saw as a guide. The results
are quite good. To get to the Van, take the exit off Echmiadzin
Highway by the Ferris wheel, and follow the road to the right, the complex
is about 1 kilometer from the turn off, on your right.
The complex you are in was a large urban settlement which occupied
an area of 10.5 hectares and consisted of a citadel within the inner cyclopic
stone walls and an observatory at the farthest point from the museum,
on the edge of the rocky hill (ca. 5th-4th millennium BC). The fortress
further encompassed a series of oval shaped dwellings with adjacent out
buildings. By the Late Bronze Age a more pronounced class system
had occurred, shown by burial artifacts uncovered at royal tombs.
During the Middle Bronze Period (late 3rd to mid 2nd millennium BC) there
was a surge of urban growth and a development of complex architectural
forms which extended the boundaries of the settlement to the area below
the hill. Basically, that area within the inner cyclopic walls are
the older city, and that beyond represent newer areas. By the 11th
c. BC the central city occupied the lowlands stretching to Lake Akna,
and covered 100 hectares (247 acres).
About 500 meters southeast of the citadel is the location of the traditional
necropolis (town dwellings), which covered an additional 100 hectares
of land. With a population of 50,000, Metsamor rivaled in size the
largest cities in the world at that time.
70-80 hectares (170-200 acres) next to the Necropolis comprises the main
burial site, where thousands of people were buried in simple graves and
large burial mounds. Once uncovered, these graves revealed an underlying
layer of crushed-stone which further revealed large mausoleums built from
red tufa, encircled by a series of cromlechs (monoliths of arched stone).
What the excavators uncovered in the process was both a history of Metsamor’s
burial rituals and a concern for hiding wealthy tombs. Like the
Pharaohs buried in the Valley of the Kings, Metsamor’s rulers tried to
thwart grave robbers by hiding the locations of royal tombs.
Fortunately the grave robbers at Metsamor were not as lucky as those in
Egypt, and the Mausoleums revealed intact and richly adorned burial vaults,
giving us an excellent glimpse into the traditions for preparing the body
for the afterlife.
Among the artifacts uncovered in the royal tombs
were evidences of great wealth: gold, silver and bronze jewelry
and adornments were found over and next to the body, which was placed
in a sitting fetal position in a large stone sarcophagus (early Metsamor)
or lying in a casket (late Metsamor). The bodies were laid out with
their feet oriented towards the East, so they could greet the sun and
follow it to the afterlife in the West. Included in the vaults were
the skeletal remains of horses, cattle, domesticated dogs and humans--presumed
to be servants or slaves to the deceased. The sacrifice of slaves
and animals was a common feature of burial rituals during the Bronze and
Early Iron Age, as they were considered necessary to assist their master
in the next life. In addition to jewelry, pottery and tools, excavators
discovered pots filled with grape and pear piths, grains, wine and oil.
The fruit piths are a prominent part of the food offerings, and considered
a necessary part of the funeral rites.
objects discovered were rare amethyst bowls, ornamented wooden caskets
with inlaid covers, glazed ceramic perfume bottles, and ornaments of gold,
silver and semiprecious stones, and paste decorated with traditional mythological
scenes typical of local art traditions. Egyptian, Central Asian
and Babylonian objects were also found at the site, indicating that from
earliest of times Metsamor was on the crossroads of travel routes spanning
the Ararat plain and linking Asia Minor with the North Caucasus and Central
Asia. By the early Iron Age Metsamor was one of the “royal” towns,
an administrative-political and cultural center in the Ararat Valley.
By looking at the uncovered layers of excavated areas, you can also see
traces of wars, devastation and fire. At the most recent excavation, a
mass of bones were uncovered, piled one upon the other. Piled outside
the citadel wall, the bodies were dumped by survivors of a cataclysmic
event (a siege or plague). A complete destruction of
the city is dated to the Urartian conquest in the 8th c BC. Immediately
following its destruction the Urartian conquerors rebuilt the site, including
the cyclopean walls. Afterwards Metsamor became a subject city to
the Urartians and later, the Armenian kings. The city continued
to be inhabited through the Hellenic period and the Middle Ages to a sudden
end in the 17th c CE. Excavations from these periods can still be
seen on the hilltop and its eastern slope, as well as by glazed
earthenware and luxury items now housed in the museum. Special among
these are coins excavated from the Medieval period: they include
the coin of Levon II (1270-1289), coins from the Khulavites mines minted
in Tabriz (16th c) and West European 13-14th cc coins.
The largest and most developed of the three excavations on this tour,
Metsamor’s importance is best appreciated by first visiting the museum
before exploring the site.