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This huge mountain lake which takes up 5% of Armenia's surface area and is about 2,000 meters above sea level. On a clear and sunny day, the water is often a deep turquoise color. Maxim Gorky once said about the waters that they were like a piece of the sky that had descended to the earth among the mountains. The shores are white sand and most beaches are uncrowded. The monastery peninsula (called the island in Armenian) is the most popular spot, and is the closest place to visit as well. The water is about 18-22 Celsius in the summer, a very refreshing swim after a hot week in Yerevan. It is a freshwater lake, so you do not have any salt residue after swimming. There are fish in the lake, however there has been a ban on commercial fishing (without authorization) in recent years. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see men standing along the main road signaling cars by hand the supposed length of the fish they sell. To put these fish on display would mean calling the attention of unwanted authorities.

Locals have told visitors that the name Sevan comes from many centuries ago during a cold winter when one of the frequent invasions by Arabs was imminent. The villagers warned one another and proceeded across the ice of Sevan to the (then) island on which Sevanavank was located. Once everyone was across they barracaded themselves in the church and prayed that their lives be spared. As the Arabs approached the ice they too crossed, but once they were well on their way across it, the ice gave and the invaders drown in the icy waters. The villagers viewed this as an act of God, sparing them from sure death. The lake was black with bodies of the dead soldiers so they named it Sevan (Sev meaning "black" in Armenian).
On the peninsula there is the monastery of Sevanavank, consisting of two rather rough churches. It is worthwhile to climb up the many stairs for the view and the green khatchkars. They were carved from a plentiful local green stone and stood out from the others which are all made of tuff. All over the West and North shores are places to stay. On of the nicer (normal) ones is the Sevan Hotel at the very north end, just past the massive remains of an unfinished Soviet construction. The Harsna Kar luxury resort is located a few hundred meters from the Peninsula as well. On the East shore is the painters house at the tip of the opposite penninsula near Shorjha, and just south of that is probably the nicest beach on the lake. Kilometers long, nice waters, and some pine trees for shade behind them. It is perfect for camping or getting away from the crowd on the West shores. (About 40 minutes of extra driving down from the north, very bad road if you drive up from the south) If you go down the western shore you will reach Hayravank Monastery, a nicer monastery which very few visit. A bit further lays Noratus with a nice old church, and old basilica ruins, and more importantly the largest khachkar cemetery in Armenia. Continuing south towards Vardenis you will hit the nice sites of Ddmashen Church, Vanevan Monastery and Makenyats Monastery.
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About 70 miles north of Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan sits Lake Sevan, the largest alpine lake in the world.
At over 6200 feet above sea level, the lake’s water temperature is brisk – between 60F and 72F degrees. In the summer months when temperatures in Yerevan reach into the 90’s, Armenians travel to the lake’s white sand beaches for what they think of as a refreshing dip in the lake’s cool water…
Lake Sevan is the home of Armenia’s only national park: Lake Sevan National Park. The lake itself covers between 5% and 10% of Armenia’s surface (depending on how you calculate it) and the large park, which includes the lake’s watershed and some nearby nature reserves, takes in about one-sixth of Armenia. It is a beautiful area.
The park includes an industrial zone because Lake Sevan is an important source of fish and electricity for the region. But the majority of the park is set aside either as nature reserve (the park’s core area) or for recreational use.
Among the most striking areas within the park’s reserve is the Artanish Peninsula. Isolated and largely undisturbed, the peninsula boasts three separate bioregions: a shoreline environment, a mid-altitude temperate zone, and a high altitude zone. The peninsula provides shelter from many of the parks 267 species of birds, including coots mallards, Greylag geese, the Armenian gull, the glossy ibis, storks, pelicans and flamingos. The park also is home to some 34 mammals, including leopards, wild goats, otters and wolves.
The natural attractions of Lake Sevan alone would be worth the trip from Yerevan. But it is the developed areas of the lake within the recreation zone that attract most of its visitors. A number of locations alone the northwest shore of Lake Sevan provide free access to white sand beaches. Some of the better beaches are hidden, not visible by road. So it pays to have a guide. A few of the beaches near the town of Sevan charge a nominal fee for parking. But there are also facilities and services here that the less developed beaches lack. You can rent anything from a paddle boat or row boat through a catamaran (complete with pilot).
The lake area offers a handful of options to visitors seeking overnight accommodations:
Blue Sevan on the lake’s north shore is perhaps the best established of the hotels. Technically it is a budget class hotel. It is park campground, part cottages, and includes a regular hotel with about 40 rooms. For $20US or less a night you get hot water and a private bath in the hotel’s main building. Guests who stay in the cottages share a shower room. And there is a restaurant of sorts on the premises. Their web site’s not in English, but the pictures are informative.
Also on the north shore is a no name hotel from the Soviet era. It is slightly more comfortable and somewhat more expensive than Blue Sevan. Rooms go for about $30US and suites for about $40. While the hotel itself has hot water and TV in all the rooms, the property is surrounded by abandoned construction projects that appear to date back 10 or 15 years.
Hotel Hasnaqar is another north shore facility, two miles from the Sevan Peninsula. It includes a collection of cottages and a water park. The main building has 30 rooms. The hotel is close to the more developed tourist beaches of the Sevan town area. During the summer rooms start at about $80.
Sevan Two Motel, located on the lake near Sevanavank Monastery, has over 100 rooms in two buildings. It is a budget facility.
Tsapatagh Hotel is part of Armenia’s Tufenkian Heritage Hotels group. The facility opened in the 2003 and is sometimes referred to as a “tourism complex.” It is on the east shore of the lake and is not close to any of the lake’s main attractions. So if all you’re looking for is a place to relax, this is it. Facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, restaurant, and a bar. Rooms start at about $50 and there is an option for full board.
If the beauty of nature and the idea of warming yourself on a nice beach aren’t enough to justify a trip to the lake, you can add history to the list of area attractions at lake Sevan. Sevan Monastery was established in an island on the lake in the Ninth Century. The last monk left in the 1930’s. Since then the lake’s water level has been lower somewhat through industrial uses and the monastery now sits on a peninsula. The monastery is still used, but as a retreat site for seminary students.
Hairavank Monastery is also worth a side trip. It rests on a cliff top overlooking the lake. The monastery dates from about the same time as the Sevan Monastery.
With its history and scenery, Lake Sevan is among the most inviting destinations in central and western Asia.
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Sevan Rising:

Lake Sevan’s recovery quicker than expected
The data of the Gegharkunik region local administration says the level of Lake Sevan has increased up to 2.44 meters in the last 6 years, to its present mark is of 1,898.95 meters. During the last year the level has grown 37 centimeters – almost twice more than expected.
“The state at least now pays attention to the lake and takes measures to restore its balance. Before, water and fauna resources of the lake were exploited mercilessly,” says researcher at the institute of hydro-ecology and ichthyology, National Academy of Sciences Armenuhi Nikoghosyan. “A lake is a living organism: until it appears in a critical condition, it can resist and restore. But then a moment comes when no medicine is helpful any more. The moment came now and nature makes attempts to treat the lake that is important for the whole South Caucasus and to force proper bodies to finally sober up.”
Sevan’s level is also conditioned both by efficient management of 29 rivers flowing into the lake, and favorable climate conditions.
The ministry’s annual report says the level of the lake its volume dropped from the initial 58.5 billion cubic meters to 33, between 1933-2000, due to industrial exploitation.
Within the period of intense water emission in 1949-1962 the level of water in Sevan dropped for 1 meter per year. In the decade following 1991 more than 6.1 billion cubic meters of water was let out of the lake for energy and agricultural purposes.
“The level of Sevan dropped for 13 meters in those years: high class plants that used to thicken and enrich the lake in the littoral areas and species of fauna were exterminated,” Rafayel Hovhannisyan, director of the institute for hydro-ecology and ichthyology says. “The quality of water in the lake dropped consequently causing the water cover with unicellular algae. That could lead to making the water useless also for agricultural purposes.”
The ministry’s report says the biomass of high class plants dropped drastically within the mentioned period (from 9 million tons to 8,000). The result was that in 1970s the lake became covered with green-blue algae.
Since 2002, though, the level in Lake Sevan has been rising.
Hovhannisyan says the amount of water emitted from the lake in the last 5-6 years has dropped thrice – to 120-150 cubic meters, against the 500 billion cubic meters in previous years.
“Besides, it seems like our suggestion to build additional reservoirs to accumulate thaw waters to use them in addition to the one from Sevan has also been activated,” Hovhannisyan continues.
Representatives of the ministry of environmental protection mention the increase of the recent years is connected with the comprehensive program “Restoration of the ecological balance of Lake Sevan” developed in 2001 within the framework of the Law on Lake Sevan adopted by the National Assembly.
Beginning that year the amount of emitted water from Sevan was limited twice to 150 million cubic meters per year.
According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s natural resource management agency’s head of the dendropark management department Siranuish Muradyan.beginning 2003 Global Ecological Fund and World Bank have been financing Natural Resource Management and Poverty Reduction program that includes also plans for solution of the Sevan problem.
The restoration program provides for an increase in the lake water level by 6 meters within a 30 year period (20 cm annually) bringing it to its highest point since 1957.
“The increase of Sevan’s level can not be anything but useful. Having additional water [resource] is a necessity for having strategic reserve, because 80 percent of drinking and irrigation water in Armenia is provided by Sevan. And no one can predict the degree of air temperature increase in the future causing vaporization of the water in Sevan,” Hovhannisyan says.
Presumably, the increase in Sevan’s level will also cause problems of flooding numerous settlements. However, state bodies are more optimistic about the problems with the increase rather than decrease of the water.
As a result of the increased water level about 450 hectares of land have already gone underwater, 215 out of which is forestland. By the 2005-2006 RA Government Decree, 147 million drams were allocated to underwater cleaning-up of the vegetated and forest areas of the Sevan basin. As a result, 215 hectares have been cleaned.
“The water level wasn’t expected to rise so rapidly. The lakeside cleaning works were planned to start in 2007. However climatic conditions and wise water management contributed to a quick rise of the lake’s water level, and cleaning works started in 2005 in extreme conditions,” Muradyan says.
According to her, organic materials, in case of appearing underwater, will damage the waters of Sevan.
An ecologist of Sevan National Park Vahe Gulanyan says that the land layer is thicker in Vardenis area, consequently great difficulties are encountered while cleaning.
“Area cleaning is implemented by various organizations participating and winning tenders. So far we have received 1,500 square meters of timber as a result of cleanings, to be legally given to Sevan National Park,” says Gulanyan, adding that they are unable to clean some areas because of the rapid increase in water level as well as lack of sufficient means.
By some preliminary calculations in case of water increase to the point of 1,900 meters high, 1,797 hectares of land will be left under it, 1,037 of which are forestland.
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