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Sisian: the mystery of Zorats Karer, Ughtasar and his hidden wonders

It is a small city of 17,000 inhabitants. The Vorotan River divides the town in two and it is the axis through which the life of its inhabitants rotates. The Garegin Ndzegh street Bridge is the main link between the two margins. The northern part acts the hub where the main institutional buildings and most of the shops, hotels, and other businesses are concentrated.

Sisian has very extreme weather, with freezing winters and hot summers. There really is not much to see inside Sisian, apart from the Sisavan Church or the History Museum. Its most visited places are located in the surroundings of the city. But if you want a more comprehensive tour around Armenia, visiting here for a few days is still recommended.

What to Do in Sisian?

There is not much to see in the centre of Sisian. There is the Sisavan Church, one of the oldest Christian temples in the region. But apart from that, the city serves best as a base to explore its surroundings.

As for the Sisavan Church, it is believed to have been built in the 6th century by the prince of Syunik, although it had to be renovated in the 20th century. Speaking of Syunik, if you find yourself there, then its capital, Kapan, makes a great base for exploration.

The History Museum shows an interesting collection of sculptures found in the province. Specifically in the park directly opposite the entrance. They are open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Visit their website for more information: www.sisianmuseum.am 

The works you can enjoy at the museum range from the ancient times until more recent ones: petroglyphs, primitive figures in the shape of a ram, and khachkars. This site exhibits an interesting display of jewels, carpets, and dresses as well. And there are diverse materials extracted from Zorats Karer in its interior.

What to Do in the Surroundings of Sisian

Visit Zorats Karer 

It is known as the ‘Armenian Stonehenge’. You can find it two miles north of Sisian, on the road that gives access to the city from Yeghegnadzor. Zorats Karer is the best-known megalithic monument in the country. It consists of 222 menhirs. Some of them are arranged from north to south while others surround the funerary monument that is in the centre.

It is inevitable to ask yourself the million-dollar question when you are walking around its gigantic rocks: why? The answer keeps the scientific community divided. For some, the strange holes, which perforated through 70 of the blocks, reveal that these stones may be part of an astronomical observatory. The theory according to the experts is that these holes are aligned with some constellations and stars.

For others, the area was a ceremonial place connected with the Ughtasar Petroglyphs or even an ancient cemetery. From Sisian, you can get to Zorats Karer on foot (50 minutes) or by taxi (1000 AMD).

Visit the Shaki Waterfall 

These beautiful waterfalls have a catch: water does not flow continuously. Although the Shaki Waterfalls are part of a natural environment, they belong to the hydroelectric station and there is an operator who is responsible for flipping the switch that gets them going.

He does it twice a day: from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The waterfall is at 17 meters high (55 feet). It is a good place to camp and there are also some other accommodations in the surrounding areas. The only drawback is that there is no public transportation to get here.

Where to Sleep?

Cheap Lodging

Holiday Resort

Phone: ✆+374 93 201728.

Email: reservation@holidayresort.am

It’s like a hostel but in the middle of nature. No noise is heard, and it is surrounded by fruit trees. It has its own pond to fish and space for barbecues. The resort is a two-story building with shared rooms and it offers the cheapest prices in the area.

It is 3 miles from Sisian, 2 from Zorats Karer, and about 1 mile from the waterfalls. You’ll find it on 44 Road, one mile past the village of Shaki along the route that goes from Yerevan to Sisian. Price: AMD 5,000 per person in high season. They share the website with the Hotel Basen. So if you want to book, you can also contact Hazmik: ✆ + 374 93 434685 or get in touch directly with the Basen Hotel.

Vorodnavank Monastery 

The Vorotnavank Monastery blends in with the mountains which surround it as if it had always been part of the landscape.

It was built in 1000 by Queen Sahakanuit. The site is in a semi-abandonment state due to the earthquake of 1931 and tourists usually do not go here.

It consists of three churches. There is a cemetery with some khachkars within its walls. The locals say that from time to time, you can see snakes around the church.

So if you want to visit it, you should make noise to alert them. We also recommend you walk looking at the ground because at least when we visited it, there was a huge hole inside one of the temples that cannot be seen in the darkness.

If you continue along the same road you will find the Tanghi Bridge (1853) and the ruins of the Vorotnaberd Fortress. Vorotnavank is about 7 miles from Sisian. There is a bus that leaves early in the morning to the villages of the Vorotan Valley.

Visit the Petroglyphs of Ughtasar 

The petroglyphs of Ughtasar create one of the most inaccessible monuments in Armenia. They are located at 3,300 meters above sea level (10826 feet), in a unique natural environment: a short distance from the summit of Mount Tsghuk at 3,585 meters (11761 feet) and surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of Ughtasar Lake.

The place is full of rocks that the ancients adorned with animal prints, hunting scenes, rituals, spirals, and ancestral dances. From here you can see the Syunik Valley and the craters of the neighbouring mountains. And on a sunny day, they say that you can even see the Aylakh Lake, halfway between Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

Because of the snow, Ughtasar can only be visited during the summer months. From Sisian, there are 28 kilometres (17 miles) thatcan be covered in an SUV. Hazmik, the manager of the Hotel Basen specializes in organising this type of tours and she has the advantage of speaking perfect English (+374 93 43477).

A full day trip costs around AMD 45,000 per vehicle. If you prefer to plunge into the adventure of getting there on foot, the Basen Hotel can provide you with the equipment (tent, sleeping bag, etc.) needed to spend the night on the road. They will give you necessary advice to make the trek successful as well.

Festivals in Sisian

In mid-September, Karadaran Square is dressed up to celebrate the Bread Festival. There are dances, concerts, food stalls, and crafts.

Tours

Basen Hotel

The staff of the Basen Hotel are very professional. They organise all kinds of tours in the region. They are lovers of mountaineering and they have several SUVs.

Where to Sleep?

Cheap Lodging

Basen Hotel

Address: 6-8 Vorotan Poghots Street.

Phone: +374 93 434685.

It is the best hotel in the city, run by the smiling Hazmik, a passionate mountain Armenian who speaks English perfectly.

The hotel has 23 simple but comfortable rooms with newly renovated bathrooms and WIFI. They organise all kinds of trips to the surroundings. It has a good restaurant specializing in local cuisine. Prices: individual AMD 12,000, double AMD 18,000, triple AMD 24,000 (high season). For more information: www.basenhotel.am 

Dina Hotel

Address: 35 Sisakan Poghots Street.

Phone: +374 283 03333.

Its facade is Soviet-style and the decoration of the rooms is a little old-fashioned, but it is cheap. The double room costs AMD 14,000. For more information: www.dinahotel.am

Lalaner Hotel

Address: 29 Sisakan Poghots Street.

Phone: ✆+374 283 26600.

It was renovated in 2006. They have rooms of different prices, sizes, and categories. Some of them boast views of the Town Hall Square. Some of the hotel’s staff speak English. Single room: AMD 10,000. Double rooms: AMD 15,000-25,000, depending on type and size. For more information: www.lalahotel.am

Zorats Qarer B&B

Address: 29B Nelson Stepanyan Street.

Phone: ✆+374 283 24242.

It costs AMD 10.000.

Where to Eat?

Cheap restaurant

Flamenco Cafe

Address: 1 Vorotan Poghots Street.

Opening Hours: from 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

It is a typical place to have a couple of beers or eat a pizza for dinner.

Medium price restaurant

Basen Restaurant

Address: 6-8 Vorotan Poghots Street.

Phone: ✆+374 93 434685.

If you want to try the real local cuisine and enjoy friendly service, this is your place. It is the restaurant of the Basen Hotel and if you want to have a decent meal, it is worth checking it out. Hazmik, the owner, speaks English perfectly and also a little bit of broken Spanish. In addition, if you have any doubts about the region, she will help you happily. www.basenhotel.am

Jrahars Restaurant.

Phone: ✆+374 283 25 386.

It is located on the banks of the Vorotang River. Its chef is considered one of the best in the region. They serve grilled fish, vegetables, and traditional cuisine. Their speciality is the goulash.

Transportation

The bus stop is situated next to the taxi stand, on Israelyan Street, very close to the Vorotan River Bridge. The main connections via marshrutka are:

  • Sisian-Goris: there is a marshrutka leaving at 9:30 a.m. (schedules subject to changes).
  • Sisian-Stepanakert: they leave at 10:30 am. (schedules subject to changes).
  • Sisian-Yerevan: they leave from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. when it is full (schedules subject to changes).
  • Yerevan-Sisian: they leave at 9:00 a.m., from the Kilikia bus station (2.000 AMD). It takes about four hours.

In Sisian, the shared taxis work very well, especially those that go towards Yerevan. If you want to make a reservation, you can do it through the hotel staff.