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Amberd 1: History. Legend


A Stone Age settlement at the spot evolved into a Bronze Age & Urartian fortress that protected Armenia's rulers, most famously during the Roman and Christian eras, when the current castle was built, then expanded and rebuilt over successive periods.

Some sources say Amberd used to be a summer residence for kings, and that the castle (along with some sections of the wall) were built in the 7th century, for the Kamsarakan family. A letter by the medieval statesman and scholar Grigor Magistros Pahlavuni, who was also the archimandrite (a superior abbot) of Ani around the year 1050, places the fortress and surrounding district in the hands of the powerful Pahlavuni family in the late 10th century.

The Pahlavunis rivaled the Bagratuni royal house for power and supplied a single line of Catholicos (patriarchs) for 100 years. The fortress was their seat of power at the time the church was built, for Prince Vahram Pahlavuni, in 1026 (inscription on inside lintel of north doorway). Vahram also fortified the complex with thicker stone walls and added three bastions along the ridge of the Arkashen (old Arkhashan) River canyon. In the 1070s Seljuks invaded Amberd and turned it into a military base.

In 1196 Amberd was liberated by the joint Armenian-Georgian army lead by general Zakareh Zakarian, as a result the fortress was granted into his tenure. The Zakarians liberated most of Armenia and fostered a new golden age as the kingdom's fortunes were met with the construction and enlargement of monasteries, churches and castles throughout the country, Amberd included, with structural reinforcement of the walls and the addition of 12th-13th century renovations to the castle and outer buildings.

Amberd was purchased by the noble Vacheh Vachutian in 1215, the fortress becoming a key defense for a few years until it was captured and destroyed by the Mongols in 1236. Vachutian and his wife Mamakhatun were donors of the nearby monasteries at Tegher, Saghmosavank and Hovhanavank. The Vachutians reconstructed it in late 13th century.

The fortress was abandoned and remained untouched until the 20th century when reconstruction begun. Despite the ongoing research and restoration works, the site- the fortress and the castle, in particular- are assessed as highly endangered monuments.


1. Defensive walls
2. North Gate
3. Northwest Gate
4. Castle
5. Castle entrance
6. Fortress cistern
7. Chapel
8. Bath
9. St. Astvatsatsin Church
10. Remains of walls and other