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Presenter : Ian Wright

Georgia & Armenia

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.
image; IIan Wright surveys the mighty Mt Kazbek

Ian Wright begins his journey in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. It’s 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 Noah’s Ark is said to have come to rest.En route to Lake Sevan Ian stops off at Gerhard Church. Gerhad means ‘spear’, and it is believed that the spear from Christ’s 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 summer.
Before leaving Armenia, Ian visits the country’s 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 Georgia’s turbulent past. The old part of the city dates from the 4th century, and It is because it has been invaded so many times there’s many different religious ethnic groups living side by side.The name tbilisi means ‘warm water’, and in the middle of the city there’s a number of sulphur pools where locals and visitors alike can relax and enjoy a massage. Finally it’s 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.
image: Wrighty: Lord of the Manor
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 it’s too dangerous to continue, and the group settle for a smaller peak instead. Nonetheless, it’s an unbelievable end to Ian’s extraordinary journey through Georgia and Armenia.

Places Mentioned - Armenia, Georgia

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