| Armen Antonyan|
Ashtarak (Armenian: ) is a town in the Aragatsotn Province of Armenia, located on the left bank of Kasagh River along the gorge, northwest of the capital Yerevan. It is the administrative capital of the Aragatsotn province. Ashtarak, with a population of 21,600, is an important crossroad of routes for the Yerevan–Gyumri–Vanadzor rectangle.
The city plays a great role in the national economy as well as the cultural life of Armenia through several industrial enterprises and cultural institutions. It has developed as a satellite town of Yerevan. The nearby village of Mughni is part of the Ashtarak municipality.
Ashtarak is one of the important industrial centres in the Republic of Armenia. The main economic sectors of the town are based on food and beverage products. The activities are focused on processing of agricultural raw materials and grapes. The Ashtarak-Kat company of dairy and ice cream products is one of the leading producers in Armenia.
Historically, the area of modern-day Ashtark was part of the Aragatsotn canton of Ayrarat province of the ancient Kingdom of Armenia,. the town is one of the oldest settlements in Armenia with many historical and cultural monuments that demonstrate the valuable patterns of Armenian architecture.
Ashtarak was mentioned as a rural settlement for the first time in history during the 9th century. However, the importance of Ahtarak has declined during the following centuries under the foreign powers. In the 17th century, the town was entirely rebuilt under the Persian rule.
Present-day Ashtarak is located on the left bank of Kasagh River, 13 km to the northwest of the capital Yerevan, at a height of 1100 meters above sea level. It almost occupies a central point between the Ararat plain from the south and the mountains of Aragats from the north.
According to a legend, three sisters lived in Ashtarak, all of whom fell in love with the same man, prince Sargis. The elder two sisters decided to commit suicide in favour of the youngest one. One wearing an apricot-orange dress and the other wearing a red dress, they threw themselves into the gorge. When the youngest sister found out, she put on a white dress and also threw herself into the gorge. Sargis then became a hermit and three small churches appeared at the edge of the gorge, named after the sisters dress colours.
Best preserved among them is the Karmravor Church (meaning reddish for its dome colour), dating back to the 7th century, dedicated to the Holy Mother of God (Surp Astvatsatsin). It has a small cruciform central-plan, with a reddish/apricot coloured dome, and an octagonal drum. Other churches include, Spitakavor (meaning whitish because of its colour) was built between the 5th and 6th centuries, and Tsiranavor (meaning apricot-coulored) built between the 13th and 14th centuries, both are located along the edge of the gorge.
The largest church in the town is the Surp Marine church located at the center of Ashtarak. It was constructed in 1271 and has a rectangular plan from outside and a cruciform type plan from inside with an octagonal drum above.
The 19th-century church of Surp Sarkis built on an old foundation, is situated on an attractive point at a promontory overlooking the gorge and offers a fine view to the above-mentioned three churches. The external walls of the structure were almost completely restored recently while the interior walls remain the same. Some pieces of the outer walls remain sitting next to the church with carvings on them.
One of the interesting sites in the town is the 17th century bridge of Ashtarak on Kasagh River, located in the gorge just below the church of Surp Sarkis. It was built in 1664 by the efforts of Mahdesi Khoja Grigor; a wealthy merchant from Kanaker. The bridge features 3 arches that are unequal in size.