Church bells were ringing loud in Tatev on October 16, heralding the launch of a program to revive a medieval monastic complex and the opening of an aerial tramway called Wings of Tatev linking a local village with the monastery and said to be the world’s longest skyway cablecar.
The 5.7-kilometer ropeway was built within 11 months, passes through a deep gorge of the River Vorotan and over hills covered with lush forests. Within about 11 minutes a tramway cabin takes passengers, 25 at a time, from the village of Halidzor to the magnificent complex of Tatev.
The ninth-century monastery of Tatev played a major role in the life of the region as its spiritual, cultural and scientific center. It is one of the most favorite tourist attraction sites in Armenia.
President Serzh Sargsyan was onboard the first crossing. In his welcome speech, he said that “with the construction of the world’s longest aerial tramway we do not aim to impress anyone, but this is aimed at reviving the area’s economic and cultural life and developing tourism”.
The ceremony was also attended by His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh President Bako Sahakyan, senior government officials of Armenia and foreign guests.
The facility allows visitors to bypass a grueling 40-minute drive up a winding road to the ninth-century monastery of Tatev, which is situated on top of a rocky hill. The road becomes impassable in winter months.
Now the aerial tramway will also allow visitors to enjoy the picturesque landscape of Tatev year-round. About 20,000 people are expected to use the cable car line during a year.
The project that cost 13 million euros (about $18 million) was carried out by the Swiss-Austrian Garaventa Doppelmayr company, which, according to the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia Executive Director Pegor Papazian “is the world’s best known and most reliable company in aerial tramway construction and gives a 100-percent safety guarantee.”
The idea of the Tatev Revival project belongs to Russia-based Armenian businessman Ruben Vardanian, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of the Troika Dialog Group. For him “the initiated work is a sacred thing that must be completed.”
Vardanian managed to inspire some 100 Armenian and foreign benefactors with his idea and it is with their support that the aerial tramway has been built, the road leading to the monastery and some buildings within the cloistral complex were repaired and renovated, and improvements made in the area around the complex.
The implementation of Vardanian’s $50-million Tatev Revival project falls to the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, which operates based on the principle of cooperation between the public and private sectors. The Foundation plans to implement projects of culinary and rural tourism for the six villages surrounding the monastery.
Currently, accommodations for Tatev tourists are found only in Goris, a two-hour drive away. In the future, tourists will have an opportunity to spend the night at one of the six villages around the site, where they will be offered Armenian cuisine and an introduction to village life and traditions.
The peace of the monastery surrounded by a landscape that already wears autumn colors was disturbed on the day of the aerial tramway opening as about 800 high-ranking Armenian and foreign guests were enjoying the beauty of the monastery and the joy of the celebrations.
The sounds of zurna and dhol, folk musical wind and percussion instruments, were heard everywhere, traditional food was served and the smell of lavash being baked inside a tonir mixed with the smell of incense and candles burning inside the church.
Beirut-born and US-based MIT Professor Noubar Afeyan, Managing Partner of Flagship Ventures, is one of the benefactors of the project. He believes that “such projects are the revival of Armenia.”
“It seemed that the idea of the aerial tramway, the idea of developing these villages was very
ambitious, but it is projects like this that Armenia needs today to become truly competitive in the world, one needs to start with something high to achieve success,” Afeyan told ArmeniaNow as he hurried to join the group dancing a circle dance near the monastery.
Karen, 10, was one of the happiest participants of the celebrations as he was among those who took a ride up to Tatev together with President Sargsyan.
The boy, who is from the nearby village of Shinuhayr, was very excited and not only because he was taking his first cable car ride together with the country’s president, but because he was seeing the forests and gorges familiar to him for the first time from above.
“Well, I was in the forests a lot, but when I saw it now, it seemed a different place, it was a little scary, but very good,” says Karen, who won the ride in a lottery.
Residents of the six nearby villages say they are also fortunate to have the development project around them.
“I’m very happy that they are implementing projects, that there will be hotels in our village, that they have built this ropeway. We believe that the next projects will be related to our villages,” Silva Gevorgyan from the village of Tatev told ArmeniaNow.