The Provinces of Armenia

Getting to Know Some of The Best Attractions and Sights in Armenia (By Provinces)

 

The Aragatsotn Province
Armenia is referred as a mountainous country for most of the people, and the Aragatsotn province is a great example proving it.
The Aragatsotn Province back in the days had an important role in international trade affairs. It was located on the network of routes on Armenia’s Silk Road. Noteworthy to say that the province is a home to the country’s tallest mountain, Aragats, a four peaked extinct volcano of 4090 meters. However, the province has certainly a lot to offer both for nature and history and archaeology lovers.
Catch some of the best attractions and sights worth to visit in Aragatsotn:
The city of Aparan, located on the Yerevan-Spitak highway, is one of the prominent cities in Aragatsotn. There are several eye-catching sites here that visitors should check out when passing through.
One of them is the Kasagh Basilica (also called as the St. Khach), built in the late 4th century, it is one of the fewest basilic churches in Armenia and a great place for a religious tour. Next must-visit in the town of Aparan is the “Renaissance” monument, consisting of three separate monuments built in memory of the Armenian Genocide, the heroic battle of Aparan (May 21 of 1918), and of the victims of World War II (1939-1945).
The city of Ashtarak is considered to be the capital of the Aragatsontn province. It is located on the bank of the Kasagh River at an altitude of 1100 meters above sea level. For those of you who aren’t aware, the town of Ashtarak is a home to 7th century renowned twin churches of Spitakavor and Karmravor. Another must see place in the town is the Kasagh three-arched, stone-built bridge of 1664 right on the Kasagh river. Noteworthy to say that Kasagh along with Talin was often mentioned as Casala, (the Hellenized version of Kasagh), and Talina (now Talin) by Ptolemy, during the reign of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, back in the 12 CE.
On the southwest of the town of Ashtarak, there is a major village of Oshakan, also worth to pay a visit. It is known as the site of the grave of Mesrop Mashtots (buried in 443), who was the creator of the Armenian alphabet. Another very interesting site in Oshakan, especially for archeologists and historians, is the hill of “Didi Cond.” Which is a home to dozens of mausoleums and monuments. One of them is a 0.25-hectare fortress dating back to the 6th-5th centuries BC.
Beside the cultural tours the town offers wide range of a recreation tour right in the stunning Kasagh Gorge.
Right on the edge of the Kasagh Gorge, in the village of Saghmosavan, you can see an astonishing monastic complex of Saghmosavank or Psalm Monastery of 13th century. Most of the monasteries in Armenia used to have academic schools, the Saghmosavank is not an exception here as well. Another prominent spot in the Aragatsotn is the Hovhannavank Monastery of 13th century. The Hovhannavank and Saghmosavank monasteries are situated within walking distance from each other, hence you can easily make a day trip out of this.
Another spectacular place to give a visit is the Mount Aragats, which is one of the most iconic mountains not only in the Aragatsotn region but in all of Armenia and the Caucasus. The mountain is easily noticeable due to its four peaks. We are happy to announce that the Mt Aragast is not only a favorable hiking location but also an entire archeological site.  Here, right in the slopes of the Mount you can find a 4th century Arsacid (Arshakuni) dynasty’s mausoleum, which was originally transferred from the Ani-Kamakh by Vassak Mamikonian who was the supreme commander of the armed forces in ancient and medieval Armenia.  Near the royal mausoleum you can find a church constructed adjacent to the site in the late 4th – early 5th centuries,
Amberd Fortress located right in the slopes of the Mt Aragats, is one of the most iconic and underrated historic attractions in Armenia. Translated to “fortress in the clouds,” Amberd Fortress is a 10th-century fortress located at an altitude of 2,300 meters above sea level. According to some sources, the Amberd Fortress was a holiday residence for the Armenian monarchs. Even though the fortress was captured and destroyed by the Mongols in 1236. It was left untouched until the 20th century when it was reconstructed. Now the Amberd fortress greets its visitors with all its glory. Near the fortress you can find the Vahramashen Church, built in 1029 by the Prince Vahram Pahlavuni.
Another must-visit place for a nature lover is the Gegharot waterfall, which may be one of the most underrated spots of Aragatsotn. It’s located about 12 km away from Aragats village.
Another perfect spot especially for archaeologies is the town of Talin, it is one of the oldest centers of civilization in the region. It was inhabited back in the 2nd century BC. The renowned Talin Cathedral of 7th century is also situated there. It is considered to be one of the most typical examples of Armenian church architecture from the early Christian period. However, noteworthy to mention that the dome has collapsed and the cathedral is inactive. Beside the cathedral and archaeological sites, Talin has a Political Café, so make sure to spend your time there.
There is no trip to the Aragatsotn province without visiting the Armenian Alphabet Monument, a monumental tribute to every Armenia letter. It is one of the most visited places in Armenia, and you can see both locals and tourists walking around, finding the letter that corresponds with the first letter of their name, and taking pictures of it.
The Aragatsotn province is not only a perfect location for history and nature lover, but it also an excellent spot for astronomers and overall astronomy fanatics, since the main astrophysical observatory of the country, Byurakan built during the Soviet period (1946) is located right in this province. Aside from scientific study, the observatory engages in educational activities by hosting amateur tours and lectures.
Beside the Byurakan observatory you can easily find the Radio Optical Observatory ROT-54 (also known as Orgov Radio-Optical Telescope), which is a huge aantenna and radio receiver that detects radio waves from astronomical radio sources and is mostly utilized in radio astronomy.  It is located at the RRI Aragats Scientific Center in the town of Orgov in Aragatsotn.
The Aragatsotn Province is a home to number of water resources. One of the most underrated of them is the Aparan Reservoir, which is an artificial reservoir. Nearby, you can check out the ruins of church St. Poghos Petros, built in the 4th-century, and the nearby ancient tombs.
Another treasure of the province is the mountainous Kari Lake. The lake is situated at an altitude of 3,200m and is surrounded by ice, the water is very cold year-round, even if you’re are planning to visit in the hot summer months.
There is no trip to the Aragatsotn province without visiting the Armenian Alphabet Monument, a monumental tribute to every Armenia letter. It is one of the most visited places in Armenia, and you can see both locals and tourists walking around, finding the letter that corresponds with the first letter of their name, and taking pictures of it.
The Aragatsotn province has a lot to offer its visitors, so make sure to add it on your travel bucket list, when you are in Armenia.
The Ararat Province
The Ararat province is probably one of the most underrated provinces of Armenia. It is the province where you can still feel the Hellenistic breath. The Ararat province is naturally named after the biblical Mt Ararat, where, the Book of Genesis says Noah’s Ark came to rest on after the Great Deluge.
Catch some of the best attractions and sights worth to visit in Ararat:
The capital of the province is Artashat, beside it, the two of the ancient capitals of Armenia, Dvin and Artashat are also within the province, which we will talk about later.
One of the most remarkable places of the province is the Khosrov State Reserve. The forest being both historical and natural monument is one of the first artificial forests in the world. It was initially founded as a hunting ground in the 4th century by the Armenian king Khosrov II Kotak. The forest was declared as a reserve in 1958. Khosrov Forest State Reserve is home to endangered animals and plants, for example, the Persian Leopard, Marbled Polecat, European Wildcat, brown bears, and the Bezoar Ibex. There are also 33 species of reptiles found in Khosrov and two of the main snakes are the Armenian Viper and the Mountain Grassland Viper. All in all, the Khosrov Forest is definitely a great spot for nature lovers. Another remarkable fact about the forest is that within the Khosrov Forest State Reserve, you will see a 2000-hectare area that is protected for its unique biodiversity. It is the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, the first private protected area in all of the South Caucasus.
However, the Khosrov Forest is not only nature and wildlife, as we mentioned above it is also remarkable historic sight as there are several notable attractions and landmarks, worth to visit.
The Kakavaberd Fortress of 9th century located within the Khosrov Forest State Reserve is probably one of the most underrated and untouched places in Armenia. The Kakavaberd is well-preserved but it is inaccessible from three sides because of the steep terrain. Inside the fortress, you will find the ruins of several structures, including a church.
Another underrated fortress in Armenia is the Gevorg Marzpetuni Castle of 10th century (also known as Tapi Fortress) which is technically within the forest, however, it is sort of detached from the main forest as the fort is located on the Mount Kotuts in the Kotuts Mountains, a branch of the Yeranos Mountain chain. Take into account that It might take a little long time to get inside, as it requires a 13-kilometer hike.
When we are thinking of the Ararat Province, the Khor Virap Monastery immediately comes into mind. The Monastery is probably the leading tourist attraction in the entire province and is absolutely worth the visit, aside it is one of the best observative desks for the Mt Ararat.
Originally, before Khor Virap was a symbol of Christian Armenia, it was a royal dungeon that was built by King Artashes who founded the historic capital of Armenia, Artashat, in 180 BC during the Artaxiad Dynasty.
King Artashes and later other royals was using the royal signet for a strategic purpose, much more for their personal enemies, hence Khor Virap literally means “deep dungeon”.
Gregory the Illuminator, made famous by helping to make Armenia the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, was actually locked up for 13 years at Khor Virap in a dungeon. However, the monastery is strongly connected with a special person, Grigor the Illuminator the one who first preached Christianity and was the key reason that Armenia eventually became the first Christian country in the world in 301.
Before preaching Christianity, the Illuminator was an advisor to King Tiridates III, who believed in many gods and practiced Paganism in Armenia and was not satisfied with the information that Gregory was preaching Christianity, a one God religion, in his kingdom. That is one of the most significant reasons Grigori ended up being dropped into that dungeon to his death while he massively executed all Christians inside of the territory of the kingdom.
Later in 5th century a chapel was built in Khor Virap. A much larger one was built in 1662. Now the church and its composition started to become an icon in Armenia.
Another underrated town in the province is Artashat, located along the Aras River, 30 kms south of Yerevan. As mentioned before, it was founded by the King Artashes in 180 BC and was one of historic capitals of Armenia.
As historian Moses the Chorene mentioned in the 3rd century BC, Artashat was chosen on the advice of the Carthaginian general Hannibal. Antique writers Strabo and Plutarch called Artashat “a beautiful and large city”, “Armenian Cartagena”.
As the town used to be the most Hellenized one back in the days and largely dealt with the western culture, there are a lot of ruins and artifact evidencing it. Noteworthy to say the town and its surroundings used to be strongly involved in the cultural movement, which was conditioned by the political and economic rise in the country.  It is a legit reason, that the town is one of the most renowned places for archaeology and history lovers.
Another ancient city is the Dvin, which was the capital of medieval Armenia in its early stages. It was located about 35 kilometers south of Yerevan along the Metsamor River. There have been many excavations in Dvin that have shown proof of civilization and Armenian culture between the 5th and 13th centuries. Noteworthy to mention that during excavations an ancient step pyramid, which form strongly resembles the pyramids located in Egypt and Mexico, was discovered in the village of Getazat, near Dvin. The investigations led the archaeologists to an unusual structure which was built in the 3th-2th millennia BC.
Another historic structure founded in the Ararat Province is the Turkmen Mausoleum. This Qara Qoyunlu mausoleum was built in 1413 when Armenia, due to its strategic significance, was constantly fought over and passed back and forth between Safavid Persia and the Ottomans. Now it is located the village of Argavand. The Funerary Tower was built to honor Turkmen Amira Pir Husein, a past ruler of Yerevan. It is also an amazing place to visit and witness a piece of local history.
Another must see place in Ararat is the stunning Angels’ Canyon. Surrounded by yellowish-orange rocks near the town of Vedi. There a hiking experience is needed and a it Is truly fantastic place to connect with the nature.
The Armavir Province
The Armavir Province in the West of Armenia, is probably one of the most renowned provinces among both locals and tourists. It is named after the ancient city of Armavir founded in 331 BC. Located in the Ararat valley, the biggest and the most fertile of 40 valleys of Armenian upland, the province is dominated by Mount Ararat from the south and Mount Aragats from the north, its capital is the town of Armavir while the largest city is Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin). The province shares a 72 km long border with Turkey to the south and west.
When you think of Armavir, Etchmiadzin (town and cathedral) is the first thing that comes to mind, however, the province has a lot to offer its visitors.
Catch some of the best attractions and sights worth to visit in Armavir:
The most significant site of the province is the religious and spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church – The Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin. The monastery was built by the King Trdates III and Gregory the Illuminator (the founder and first patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church). between 301-303 CE. Here you can visit St. Echmiadzin monastery complex, which is the key place of pilgrimage and the seat of the Catholicosate of all Armenians. This historically and culturally-rich city is located about 20 kilometers from the capital city and according to history, Etchmiadzin is the exact place, where two students named Saint Thaddeus and Saint Bartholomew came to Armenia to spread Christianity and wound up.
The Armavir province is home to one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Armenia, the ruins of the Zvartnots Cathedral. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits right on the left side of the road, which leads to Etchmiadzin. it was the biggest and oldest tetraconch church of Armenia throughout its history. Built in the 7th century CE, Zvartnots Cathedral was a rare architectural monument because of its unique design and it was destroyed because of a devastated earthquake back in the 10th century. Now the sight is one of the most leading tour attractions across the entire country. Near the ruins of the cathedral there is a museum, where you can see rare artefacts excavated from the area.
Overall, there are several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the small city and almost all of them survived enemy invasions and earthquakes that happened throughout its many centuries.
One of the most visited UNESCO World Heritage churches in Etchmiadzin is the Saint Gayane Church, a small church surrounded by a little garden of apricot trees. The church was built in 640 CE, there are still holding wedding and other traditional ceremonies. It is considered to be one of the coziest and most peaceful places in Etchmiadzin.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Saint Hripsime Cathedral. This 7th-century Cathedral is located right at the entrance of the city and gives tourists a great impression as they pass through.
The triangle of this churches completes the 7th-century Shoghakat Church. Unfortunately, it did not survive and had to be rebuilt in the 17th century by Prince Aghamal Sorotetsi.  The name ‘Shoghakat’ in Armenian means ‘drop of light’ and this was the given name because of the light that shines from the heavens onto one of the virgin martyrs.
Not to mention The Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, which is the most significant cultural and religious gem not only in the province, but also in the entire country. As mentioned at the bottom of the article, it is the exact place where Christianity started in Armenia, since it is the first Christian church in the world. The original church was built in the early 4th century between 301-303 CE by Armenia’s patron saint Gregory the Illuminator, later in medieval era an extension was added to the church, turning It into a cathedral.
Inside of The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin facility, there is oldest restaurant in the Caucasus and has been welcoming guests since the 17th-century.  the restaurant has a spacious interior that can accommodate a lot of guests as well as a terrace that overlooks a beautiful rose garden.
Another archaeological and historic site worth to visit is the Metsamor Historical and Archaeological Museum. It is another joint open-air and indoor museum that the Armavir province. This museum is located about 16 minutes away from Etchmiadzin. This site dates back to the 5th millennium BC and stayed populated until around the 18th-century. The neolithic stone circles dating back to around 5000 BC, was excavated in 1965. The site has become a museum only during the Soviet Era, in 1968. It is another favourite place for history and archaeology lovers.
The Armavir province is not surrounded by forests and high mountains as the other parts of Armenia, since it is flat, however, the Armavir province is rich in fruits and vegetables which is exactly why the Ararat Valley is famous for growing a large percentage of Armenia’s exported produce.
The Armavir province has a lot to offer its visitors, so make sure to add it on your travel bucket list, when you are in Armenia.
The Gegharkunik Province
The Gegharkunik Province is in the East of Armenia. It Is probably the most overvisited provinces among the other ones both by locals and tourists. Gegharkunik is the largest province in Armenia, however, 24% of the territory is covered with Lake Sevan. The capital of the province is the town of Gavar.
When you think of Gegharkunik, Lake Sevan is the first thing that comes to mind, and for a good reason. This astonishing lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the entire region, noteworthy to say it has a significant and vital meaning for a mankind.
Lake Sevan is a high-altitude lake surrounded by the Geghama Mountain chain, where it is possible to see the amazing landscape, ancient churches situated on the top of the hills and rocks facing the lake.
One of the most visited spots around the lake is definitely the Sevanavank Monastery.  It is a 9th century monastery, and the highlight of this fascinating area, and the most famous historical and cultural monument in Gegharkunik region. The monastery is located on the peninsula of Lake Sevan, on the top of a hill that overlooks the lake. Worth to mention the north-western part of the lake used to be an island and during the Soviet period, the lake was drained a bit, creating a peninsula out of the former island. The monastery is surrounded by outstanding views and many khachkars (Armenian cross stones). The monastery is a great place to spend some time.
Another astonishing extension to the visit of Sevanavank is the Hayravank Monastery. It is a mesmerizing 9th century monastery located right on the edge of the Lake Sevan, near the village of Noratus. This is probably the most underrated ones in the entire region; however, its doors are open to its visitors, and there are still holding weddings and other spiritual ceremonies. Overall, it is a fantastic stop off of the main highway.
Another place to visit near the Lake Sevan is the Noratus Cemetery, the largest cemetery in the world. It is a home to the largest collection of cross stones. This cross-stone field has a significant meaning both for historians and archaeologies; however, it is truly a sight to behold for everyone. The present-day village was founded in 1829. There are two churches in this area: the first, dedicated to the Mother of God, is situated in the center of the village and was founded in the 9th century by the prince Sahak. Noteworthy to mention this astonishing field is added to the UNESCO list of intangible Cultural Heritage
Did you know that Sevan is a home to one of the Sevsar Ancient Astronomical Observatory? Recent studies suggest the birthplace of naming constellations and the creation of the zodiac is in the Armenian plateau. One of such places used for star observation is located on the western slopes of Mt. Sevsar, east of the Martuni-Selim Pass. An ancient observatory with a unique image of bolide carved on a huge stone block, astronomical calendars and pictograms from 3rd – 1st Millennia BCE are easily noticeable. There are all together 15 pictured rock-pieces within an area of 50 by 20 meters. There is a theory that the big round image represents a bolide, and the adjoining pictures are constellations. Here, an assumption can be made that this is a stellar map, which shows a sector of the sky from which the bolide descended.
Another great place for the Soviet modernism lovers is the Sevan Writer’s House. the Sevan Writers House is a prime example of Soviet modernism, much like most of the architecture in Armenia. During the soviet era, the architectural style was original and imaginative. Designers used a combination of interesting shapes and geometric patterns to create modular structures not seen before. The history encompassing the Sevan Writers House is as interesting as the building itself. This hotel of the 1930s, consists of two separate structures. The duo built the boxy four-tier functional space overlooking the lake, which opened for business the following years.
For years, the building continued to operate as a hotel. Throughout its time, it welcomed several renowned intellectuals and artists to space. Yet, as the years passed, Sevan Writers House started to decay. The hotel morphed from its former glory into a sad and shabby version of its previous self. In 2016, the Getty Foundation announced it would be awarding a grant to a team of architects in Yerevan to transform the space back to its former grandeur. However, the hotel stands entirely abandoned today.
Still, for anyone traveling to Armenia, and this province, the Sevan Writers House is worth a visit, since the unbeatable views of Sevan Lake are something, you shouldn’t miss.
However, worth to mention, that beside the cultural, historic and religious things to do in the Gegharkunik province, there are a lot of recreation sites across the lake. The recreation points are greatly welcomed by both locals and tourists.
The Gegharkunik province has a lot to offer its visitors, so make sure to add it on your travel bucket list, when you are in Armenia.
The Kotayk Province.
Kotayk is the central province of Armenia. it is the only one that has no borders with foreign countries. Kotayk province is probably one of the only provinces in Armenia that has a lot of historical sites within it. The province is home to many ancient landmarks and tourist attractions, including the 1st-century Hellenic Temple of Garni, the medieval Bjni Fortress, 11th-century Kecharis Monastery and the 13th-century monastery of Geghard. Kotayk is also home to the popular winter sports resort and the spa-town of Tsaghkadzor and the mountain resort of Aghveran.
Catch some of the best attractions and sights worth to visit in Kotayk:
The Monastery of Geghard is probably one of the gems of the province. It has become a favorite tourist attraction for both locals and tourists over the years. This stunning monastic complex surrounded by rocky and lush mountainous landscapes, was founded back in the 4th century; however, it was reconstructed and re-established in 13th century, since the monastery, with historic ups and downs, has been trough a lot.  Geghard Monastery is one of the most fascinating monasteries in Armenia, so fascinating that it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.  Noteworthy to say that the monastery has a lot of artefacts; however, the most important and special artifact was the spear (Holy Lance) brought by Apostle Thaddeus, a Roman legionary who nailed Jesus Christ on a cross. The word Geghard means spear and the Geghard Monastery means “Monastery of the Spear”. Today, the spear is kept in the Holy Etchmiadzin Church museum and it’s available for everyone who wants to see it.
No tours to Geghard monastery are completed without a visit to the temple of Garni. It is an amazing combined route where you can see two remarkable Armenian sights in one day. The Temple of Garni is one of the most iconic sights in Armenia. The temple of Garni was built during the era when Armenia practiced belief of many gods and paganism. It was built in the 1st century by Tiridates I, as a king’s summer holiday residence, right on the edge of the breath taking Azat Gorge (UNESCO World Heritage Site). The temple is the only survival of the Hellenic epoch in the whole territory of the Caucasus. The architecture of the Temple of Garni is an ancient, classical Greek style that is often associated with the 7th-century BC. Next to the pagan temple of Garni you can find ruins of a Christian church from the 7th-century. In addition, the construction is recognized by UNESCO.
There is another mesmerizing natural monument all the way down to the village of Garni and Garni gorge, where the temple is located. It is the Symphony of the Stones.  It attracts its visitors with its unique resemblance of his natural monument is the result of the collapse of the volcanic rocks. It considered to be one of the must-visit places in Armenia.
All the way down to Yerevan there is another stop. It is the Miracle Cave, a miraculous subterranean cave of 21 meters’ depth. After descending 80 stairs you find yourself in a round hall, in a pavilion decorated with candles. Each person should enter here individually and making a wish they should light a candle. As the master used to say, a candle lit here by all means serves its purpose and the wish comes true. It took more than two decades to the Master to build this cave-shrine. This cave is often compared with the Noah’s Ark and considered to be the second ark which is to save the humanity not from flood but from fire.
Beside the cultural things, the Kotayk province offers wide range of recreation facilities. The province has its mineral-rich springs, called Arzakan Hot Springs, which is one of the favorite places for locals and tourists to visit.
If you ever wonder where do people go for skiing in Armenia, here is the answer. It is impossible to imagine the Kotayk Province without the popular spa town of Tsaghkadzor, which is a home to the most popular ski resort in Armenia. It is Tsaghkadzor, home of skiing, snowboarding, and other winter activities. Tsaghkadzor is worthwhile to visit, because it has so much to offer, then just winter activities. The town is one of the most famous health resorts in all of Armenia along with Jermuk, Arzni, Bjni, and Aghveran. Tsaghkadzor is surrounded by mind-blowing mountains and gorges with lush green forests, and of course, full of flowers during the shoulder season, since the town’s name literally means ’Gorge of flowers’’.  When you’re in Tsaghkadzor, make sure to visit the Kecharis monastic complex, which Is a 11th century stunning monastery, located all the way down from the Tsaghkadzor city centre. Kecharis Monastery is a great place to get in touch with another side of Tsaghkadzor. Beside it, it is noteworthy to say, that Tsaghkadzor is a home to Open International Chess Tournament, which is an annual tournament where the players are chosen from hundreds and span across 20 different countries. So if you are a chess lover, Tsaghkadzor is happy to host you during this period; however, make sure the dates of the tournament is quite changeable, and the only thing here left to do, is to follow up the official website (tsaghkadzoropen.chessacademy.am), to see the different dates.
The Kotayk province is a home to one of the stunning manmade reservoirs in Armenia, the Azat Reservoir. It is located in a picturesque area where colourful range of mountains surround the reservoir, turning it into a glowing mirror between the rocks. The Azat Reservoir can be reached from Garni Gorge by following the Azat River.
Another local water body in the province is the Lake Akna, which is a crystal-clear lake, located in the Kotayk province in the range of the Geghama mountains and it is one of favourite places for hikers, campers, and nature lovers. The Akna Lake is located in an altitude of 3032 meters.
Noteworthy to mention that the Kotayk province has become one of the most favorite destinations both for locals and tourists.
The Kotayk province has a lot to offer its visitors, so make sure to add it on your travel bucket list, when you are in Armenia.
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