Given no level ground on which to build, the ancient population of Eastern Armenia did the only thing left to them and dug into the sloping hillsides, creating the cave dwellings at Old Khndzoresk which were still inhabited well into the 20th century.
The historic cave village, located on the steep slope of a gorge, is comprised of both natural and manmade caves. At the inhabiting community’s height, some estimates suggest that population grew to as many as 15,000 people. Since many of the dwellings were carved out over and around each other, a complex system of ropes and ladders were required for people to reach many corners of the community. The village even had two churches and three schools. The cave dwellings were inhabited until as late as the 1950s at which point it is said that Soviet officials deemed the caves unfit and uncivilized, forcing the remaining villagers to leave.
Today, Old Khndzoresk is frequented mostly by local livestock which graze amongst the caves, some of which have been converted to stables or storage spaces. Visitors are welcome to explore the cave system, but a trip across the gorge is not for the faint of heart. However, making the trip a bit easier if no less harrowing, is a 160-meter long suspension bridge that was built using nothing more than local funds and labor in 2012 and which shakes with every footstep. The new bridge connects Old Khndzoresk and New Khndzoresk, the modern village, bridging Armenia’s history with the present day both figuratively and literally.
Know Before You Go
From Goris take the Stepanakert Road east for approximately 6 km. You will pass under a metal gate which says Welcome to Khndzoresk in Armenian and Russian. At the other end of the village turn right down the dirt road to Old Khndzoresk cave village. Park at the top of the gorge by the shop and walk down the path to the cable bridge.