Just south of the Caucasus mountains are two countries
where many cultures have clashed for thousands and thousands
of years. Formally part of the Soviet Union but independent
since 1991, Georgia and Armenia are situated at the
crossroads of Europe and Asia.
Ian Wright begins his journey in Yerevan,
the capital of Armenia. Its one of the oldest
cities in the world dating back over 2300 years but
hardly any architecture survives from before the 20th
century. Most of the buildings were erected during Soviet
times. Ian explores the flea markets in town, and catches
his first clear view of Mount Ararat, the
mountain where Noahs Ark is said to have come
En route to Lake Sevan Ian stops off at Gerhard
Church. Gerhad means spear, and
it is believed that the spear from Christs crucifixion
was brought here. The church dates form the first century
AD, and the dome, arches, alters and ornaments are all
cut from solid rock in order to deter invaders. Finally
Ian reaches Lake Sivan, which was once a favourite destination
with tourists from the Soviet Union, but he discovers
that these days most of the hotels close down for the
Before leaving Armenia, Ian visits the countrys
important monument the genocide memorial.
Armenians flock from far and wide to this place on the
hill overlooking Yerevan, in the shadow of Mount Ararat.
The monument commemorates the massacre of more than
a million Armenians by the Turks in 1915.
Ian continues his journey by bus into Georgia.
He arrives in Tbilisi, the capital
of Georgia, and hooks up with an arts teacher who guides
him around the many poignant reminders of Georgias
turbulent past. The old part of the city dates from
the 4th century, and It is because it has been invaded
so many times theres many different religious
ethnic groups living side by side.
The name tbilisi means warm water, and in
the middle of the city theres a number of sulphur
pools where locals and visitors alike can relax and
enjoy a massage. Finally its time to leave town,
and Ian travels by train up into the Caucasus
Mountains, via the seaside resort of Batumi.
Ushguli is the highest constantly
occupied village in Europe. It is fortified by 20 defence
towers reputed to be so strong that they have withstood
all kinds of disasters, including avalanches. It is
said that the reason for this is that eggs were used
as part of the cement in the building of the towers.
Ian is invited to join a local family for a meal, an
important ritual that binds together life in the mountains.
The Georgian roots of song and dance are deeply imbedded
in the culture of Svaneti, and the evening proves to
be a lively affair.
On his way down the mountain, Ian stops off in Mestia,
and the carved city of Vardzia. Vardzia
was build at the end of the 12th century by Kind George
III, who was concerned about the threat of Turkish invasion.
Whole communities inhabited the vast network of caves,
which were decorated by giant frescoes, until the end
of the 13th century, when the complex was destroyed
by a massive earthquake.
Ian also pays a visit to Gori, a town
which still worships a person whose memory the rest
of the country has tried to eradicate: Joseph
Stalin. Remembered by some as the most influential
leader of the 20th century, but my others as a bloodthirsty
mass-murdering tyrant, Stalin was born in Gori in 1879.
The last leg of his journey takes Ian to Mount
Kazbek, a long extinct volcano which, at 16,500
ft, is the highest peak in the eastern Caucasus. He
flies by helicopter to base camp at 12,000 feet, where
he hooks up with his guides and starts his trek. After
two days steady climbing the group prepares for an early
morning assault on the summit, but because of extreme
weather conditions its too dangerous to continue,
and the group settle for a smaller peak instead. Nonetheless,
its an unbelievable end to Ians extraordinary
journey through Georgia and Armenia.