Aragatsotn Marz is a land of volcanic shields with their highest elevation at 4090 meters above sea level. It is the favourite site for the wealthy Yerevan dwellers, who are attracted by its proximity to the nation’s capital and mildly chill climate. Nor does the marz have a shortage of fortresses and other monuments of ancient Armenian architecture.
On the East, the marz runs along the Kasakh River. In the western part the territory of the region stretches up to the state border with Turkey. Fabulous monasteries scattered down the steep walls of the gorge present a magnificent site to behold. The villages of the western area of the marz huddle together, as if to survive harsh winters and bleak summers, but almost each host unforgettable fortresses dating back to the Bronze Age.
The marz administrative centre is the City of Ashtarak situated in the gorge of the Kasagh River. Aged basilicas and monasteries share the city streets with new buildings, modern offices and even newly erected churches.
To the south from Ashtarak, is Armenia-wide famous Oshakan village as the last resting place of Mesrop Mashtots, founder of the Armenian alphabet. Above his grave is a church rebuilt by Katholikos George IV in 1875. Excavations on Didikond hill, which rises just behind south of Oshakan, revealed a square fort of the 7-5th cent. BC. North of Oshakan, is a 7th cent. St. Sion church, with beside it an unusual pillar on a plinth dated to the 6-7th cent. Locals believe it marks the grave of Byzantine emperor Mauricius or his mother that based on the fact that according to an Armenian historian he came from here. Elsewhere in the vicinity there are many shrines as well as a series of rich Iron Age tomb fields.
Byurakan village is well-known among world astrophysicist because of Byurakan Observatory, one of the main astronomy centres of the USSR. Further up from Byurakan is located medieval fortress and church of Amberd. First being constructed in 7th century by Kamsarakan House, the fortress reached its zenith as the seat of the Pahlavuni feudal family in the 11th cent. As the inscription on the inside lintel documents Prince Vahram Pahlavuni built the church in 1026. Conquered by the Turks, reacquired by the Byzantines, lost again to the Seljuks, reconquered in 1196 by Ivane and Zakare Zakarian, and purchased by Vache Vachutian in 1215, the fortress was a key defensive site for centuries. The fortress had citadel, bath, church, and extensive house fortifications, as well as water supply as crucial infrastructure for its inhabitants. A hypocaust heating was used to heat the floors in this medieval castle.
In this marz located the highest mountain in the country - Aragats. There are four summits, North (the highest, 4090 m), West (4080 m), South (3879 m) and East (3916 m) forming the rim of a volcanic crater with a lake in the middle. Even on a clear August day, clouds usually gather in the crater in the morning. And if you like mountain hiking, therefore, it is preferable to start walking as early as possible (e.g. 5:00 a.m.) to increase both the safety of the final ascent and the odds of a spectacular view. Weather is unpredictable and often dramatic, with snow possible at any time. Multiple layers are indispensable, as are sturdy boots, sunscreen, lip balm, a hat, and plenty of water.