Special for the Armenian Weekly
Armenia is known for its ancient monasteries in the mountains, its historic brandy, and its warm-hearted hospitality—a small country in the South Caucasus bridging Europe and Asia. It is a land of undiscovered natural beauty both above and below the ground.
Most visitors to the country, fly into the capital city, Yerevan. Several reputable tour companies based in Yerevan offer rough-road and off-road touring and guiding. Since I was traveling without equipment or transportation, DA Tours (Discover Armenia Tours) was an excellent choice to lead my personalized trip to one of the best caves in Armenia: Mozrov Cave.
Mozrov Cave along with Arjer (meaning “Bear”) Cave and several others in the area are located in the Vayots Dzor province, in the southern part of Armenia, located near the village of Areni, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Yerevan. A great way to enjoy the region is to stay at the Areni Wine Art Bed and Breakfast (options for lunch and dinner) with some of the tastiest home-cooked food in all of Armenia. Its knowledgeable owner, David Simonyan is always eager to lead sightseeing and hiking trips in the area.
Vladimir Grigoryan, owner of DA Tours, provided hard-hats, head-lamps, and flashlights and we turned off the Yerevanyan Highway near the village of Arpi, crossed the Arpa River and ascended a dirt road to around 1560 meters with spectacular views of the valley along the way.
Mozrov Cave was discovered in 1965 during road construction. The entrance partially collapsed due to heavy snowfall in 2012 but the cave is still accessible. This karst cave is about 300 meters in length and is one of Armenia’s most decorated caves.
We carefully descended, slipping under the protective tin plates covering the entrance and sliding down the dry, loose rubble. We soon encountered flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites and columns, pristine popcorn, cave coral, active soda straws, bacon-rind, and draperies. I was heartened to discover that there was very little evidence of vandalism or damage. The cave is ideal for intermediate-level recreational cavers on their own and novice cavers with a guide.
Underground and Beyond
Many other caves in Armenia are known for their historic and prehistoric habitation and religious uses. Nearby, in the Areni-1 cave complex, archeologists discovered the world’s oldest known shoe (5,500 years old) and the world’s earliest-known (6,100 years old) wine making. The human remains, fermentation vats, a wine press, and storage jars clearly point to a sacred religious use of the cave. Tourists are not allowed in the cave but are welcome to explore the ancient cave settlement of Khndzoresk, located near the town of Goris and UNESCO World Heritage Site Geghard, a medieval monastery carved out of a mountain cave with a sacred spring that still flows inside the ancient sanctuary.
Many of the local wineries still practice the ancient Armenian tradition of wine-making and are happy to take visitors to see their underground cellars–and of course celebrate a great day of caving with a toast!