Not Only A Land Of Sun-Kissed Apricot
Smbataberd – Fortresses Like Human-Made Mountains. Nowadays people know Armenia as a land of mountains, churches, and the tastiest apricot. In Russia, Armenia is also known as a country of sun and many tourists come here to enjoy sunny days, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, grown in the sun.
Not many people, even in Armenia, know that once Armenia was a country of big and small fortresses, which used to protect the inhabitants from enemy attacks. Only the most curious personalities, who like to explore everything and discover new places, have revealed the ruined, half-standing fortresses.
Most of them are situated in impregnable places. Тo get there, one should overcome hard paths going through tight woods, or climb high hills.
Smbataberd, which literally means “The fort of Smbat” is one of those fortresses.
Smbataberd Then And Now
Smbatabert is situated in the Vayots Dzor region, on the Eastern side of Artabuynk village, on a high hill, 2000 meters above the sea. The hill is surrounded by deep gorges and rocks from three sides, which makes the fort unapproachable from the east, south, and west. It is vulnerable only from the north since the hill is connected by a ridge to the Vardenis mountain range. Two rivers flow in the nearby gorges: Yeghegis and Artabuynq.
The fort is built with big basalt stones and lime mortar. It has double high and thick pyramidal fences. Smbataberd is a fortress with the largest fences in present-day Armenia. Its thickness is about 2-3 meters. The height is 8-10 meters, but it goes over 10 meters in some places. The total length of the fence surrounding the fort is almost 1 km.
Smbataberd had two Citadels, one on the East and the other on the West, which was located on the highest points of the territory. There were barracks and pools in both of them. It also had several observation points, which gave an opportunity to follow all the doings happening around the fortress.
There were buildings inside the walls of the fort that served as lodgings. Unfortunately, today they are totally ruined.
Smbataberd had three entrances․ The major gates were on the northern part, the other two in the west and east.
The water was brought from Tsaghats Qar monastery, which is 3.4 km away from the fort. Some traces of clay pipe were found in the path between the fortress and the monastery.
You will read about Tsaghats Qar more detailed in the future.
There was a time when Smbataberd was a great and safe place. Now, little remains from the past majesty of Smbataberd, and yet it still leaves a powerful and unforgettable impression on the visitors.
The History Of The Fortress
Historical sources do not say much about the time when exactly Smbataberd was built. Historians think it belongs to the Middle Ages and was built in the 5th century, while some researchers assume that it could be dated even before that.
Until the first quarter of the 7th century, it belonged to the princes of Syunik. Starting from the 10th-century Bagratid dynasty was the owner of Smbataberd and only in the 13th century, it passed to Orbelyan family, which was from Syunik as well. They owned it until the 15th century.
Smbataberd was destroyed during the campaign of Abbas I of Persia in 1605 together with Yeghegis village. The inhabitants were killed or captured.
Who Was The Fort Named After?
The story of the fortress’s name is more complicated than the century of its foundation. Some people connect it with the name of prince Smbat from Syunik, whose tombstone was found in the tribal cemetery of Orbelyan family, in Yeghegis village. Some others believe it was named after the Bagratid king Smbat and for others, this fort carries the name of prince Smbat, who lived in the 10th century.
At least one thing is more than clear: the fortress is named after a man, whose name was Smbat, although there was a time when it was also called Tsaghats Qar, as the monastery.
A Legend Of The Fall Of Smbataberd
As you already know, the water of Smbataberd was served from the Tsaghats Qar monastery and that it was an unapproachable fortress. Probably it could be conquered only with the help of guile, which Seljuk Turks turned to during their invasion.
It is believed, that if you leave the mule thirsty for a long time, he starts to search for water. That is exactly what Seljuks did when they understood that the fort could not be defeated by force. They brought a mule and made him suffer from thirst until it searched and found the pipe going from the monastery to the fort. They destroyed it and after some time people in the fort had to surrender and hand it over.
Fortresses Like Human-Made Mountains
I have always considered fortresses like human-made mountains. During our history, both of them had an important and hard mission: to protect our nation from enemies. Sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they failed, but they have always tried and stood until the end.
Smbataberd has lost the fight, but it was not defeated. It still stands despite the blows of time and the enemy. The walls talk to the visitors and tell them the story of power and majesty, which still glide in the air.
The view from the fortress is breathtaking.
You can see huge mountains with perfect clouds on their tops; you can see the woods, the villages, and Tsaghats Qar monastery. The sunrise and the sunset are magical from there and force you to think about the distant days when there were people in the fortress, who lived and smiled and loved.
They are still there and always will be, because nothing dies in the Universe and because the walls of the fort, even half-standing, will always carry their breaths within.