Ashtarak: The Legend of Three Sisters

In the town of Ashtarak, where I live now in Armenia, there aren’t many interesting places to explore.. But the town has some beautiful churches.. The four churches I am going to tell about below are related to each other in a story of tragic love.. That’s the town’s most famous legend – The Legend of Three Sisters..

According to the legend, three sisters lived in Ashtarak, all of whom fell in love with the same man, prince Sargis..The two elder sisters decided to commit suicide in favor of the youngest.. The threw themselves into the gorge of Kasakh river.. When the youngest sister found out what her sisters have done, she also committed suicide.. The prince, after knowing that three innocent girls died because of him, became a hermit.. And on the edge of the gorge, on the spots from where the three sisters threw themselves into the gorge, three churches were built, named after the sisters’ dress colors..

St. Sargis Church on the photo above is located on the edge of the gorge opposite the three other churches.. Church has a small cruciform central-plan supposedly built in the 19th century on an old foundation of XII century.. A single drum and umbrella type dome rest on top of the church.. The interior stone has not been changed, yet the exterior façades have had extensive restoration work done recently.. That’s why the church looks to be new, but a small number of the older original stones carved with decorative relief and inscriptions show its age to be much older.

As I already said, the three churches built in memory of the three sisters were named after the colors of the dresses the wore when they committed suicide.. The church of photo above is the Karmravor Church.. Translated from Armenian, “karmravor” means “reddish”, and as you can guess the color of the dress was red.. Karmravo Church (the other name is The Holy Mother of God Church) was built in VII century by priests Gregory and Manas. It’s a simple building with a small cruciform central-plan and a Byzantine style single red tile dome roof.. According to Jean-Michel Thierry de Crussol, French physician and art historian, specializing in Byzantine and Armenian art, the Karmravor Church marks a turning point in Armenian architecture, with its simple building in the shape of a cross with a single dome setting a style that would be repeated over the years in spite of other influences (Thierry, Jean-Michel, 1989, “Armenian Art”).

Unfortulately, the other two churches aren’t well-preserved, and only the ruins stand on the edge of the gorge.. The arch-shaped walls on the photo above are the walls of the Tsiranavor church, built between XIII and XIV centuries.. It is apricot-orange in color, because of the tufa stone used for the construction of the building.. Today, only the walls remain since the roof, drum, and dome have collapsed.. Very little decoration adorns the church other than some cruciform relief found on the exterior walls..

And on the last photo are the ruins of Spitakavor Church, which, according to the legend, was built in the memory of the youngest sister, who dressed into white dress and them threw herself into the gorge.. Spitakavor means “whitish”.. The church is a triple-aisled basilica built in the 5th-6th centuries, most-likely around the years of 540-557.. It was the only basilica of Ashtarak.. The front façade had at one time been painted white, that’s where the name come from.. During the 17th century the church was fortified by doubling the north and west walls in order to defend the structure, and above the southern wall a gun slot was erected.. In 1815, the church was partially ruined. The south façade was supposedly rebuilt at one point. During 1963-64, restorations were done to the church which revealed walls, piers, arches, fragments of vaults, and a khachkar..


20 thoughts on “Ashtarak: The Legend of Three Sisters

    • Unfortunately, it isn’t hunted. Otherwise, we could have some spooky legend as well.

      oh, and yeah, it’s a legend. It didn’t really happen:) so don’t worry about the sisters:)

  1. Sorry, I just noticed…it’s supposed to read “haunted”. Too bad there are no spooky encounters; it would’ve been an adventure otherwise. But then, legends don’t come back to haunt 😀

    • Ahhh))) Lol:)) And just followed you and wrote hunted:)))

      hmm.. Actually, I don’t know if there are stories about the places being haunted.. I will ask friends here if they’ve heard anything like that:)

      • So you finally manged to get a job? Well, things have been busy for me as well. I’m running here and there to get admitted into a good college. Applied on a few colleges. Results will be out on June 19. After that, I’ll have an even more busier time with my new college. Until then, I’m free. 😀

  2. Many years ago…..1995-1999, I spent several weeks a year in Ashtarak…. a beautiful place.i remember the churches very well. I also remember an elderly gentleman who was a painter who lived in a house built intothe side of the khasak gorge,but I cannot now remember his name….. his walls were lined with his paintings. This is a beautiful website…keep going.

    • Thank You.

      I’m afraid I don’r know the name of the painter, too. But if it’s the same man I am thinking about, then I passed by his house many times. Nice place to live.

      Thank You very much!

    • Hi Dave
      saw your comment about Ashtarak and was reminded about the time we were there together with the team from Cardiff. You ask about the painter whose house was filled with paintings. He was Vahav Khorenian but sadly died about six years ago. The house was closed up and his wife went to live in Yerevan. I dont know what happened to his collection but I was fortunate in obtaining two of his works
      Last time I was in Armenia three years ago I went to the Moughney Centre and was sad to see it close up and overgrown. I will try and get an update
      I am still in touch with Armine who you will remember was our interpreter
      I hope you ar ekeeping well

      • Hi Patrick,
        I wandered here again by accident having long forgotten my previous postings. Hope you are well Patrick…am now retired!

  3. Yes, the house had a tree growing inside of it as a natural feature. I was involved at the time in the training of nurses to staff a childrens centre in Moughney and spent a lot of timein and around the town. My last year was 1999… the year of the yerevan Jazz festival. I used to sit under the wallnut trees playing chess with the old men, they used to laugh as I practised my Armenian phrases, but they were good teachers although their cigarettes and vodka were very strong!

  4. Don’t apologise…… Like all things you can acquire a taste for them.(I don’t remember protesting that much about it) Yes ,I did go to the church at Moughney,but I did not know it was called St George’s.I remember that there was building work underwayat that time and lots of stone (tufa) and machinery around the church. For the first few visits to ashtarak I used to stay on the third floor of the ashtarak hotel… but when the children’s centre was finished, i used to stay up there…. every morning, at first, I used to walk up through the Ashtarak town to moughney, to get to the children’s centre I had to walk through a small apricot grove… the childrens centre was next to a missile base.

    I also went to the small grotto or shrine up on the mountain of Arer…(I don’t know how to spell it) it was a quite a walk up the mountain so that you could wait in single file to go into the small chapel and light a you looked back down towards ashtarak there were thousands of fruit trees….. it was quite beautiful.I must say that i fell in love with Armenia and it has remained in my heart. I also spent some time in Gores in the south of the country during the war…but that is another story.

    • In Goris during the war?! Oh wow..
      I’m not sure if I have the right to ask you to tell about it a bit more. But that must have been tough time.

      Great to know you liked it in Armenia.

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