The Caucasus consists of three countries, speaking three different languages, and offering a fascinating vacation at the cultural crossroads of Europe and Asia. While each country borders on the other, they could not be more different, but each offers a delicious cuisine, interesting history and a friendly welcome.
This area has been considered a cultural crossroads for a long time and the Caucasus has been influenced by many nations and religions over the years. The results of this influence can be seen in the many religious sites throughout the Caucasus, as well as the extensive history of the region.
The three Transcaucasian countries occupy a strip of mountainous land, situated between the Black and the Caspian Seas, and with the Caucasus Mountains offering stunningly beautiful (and often snow-capped) views. All of Armenia is located in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan and Georgia (excluding their northern regions) are both located in the same region.
A brief tour of Armenia must include a visit to the cosmopolitan capital, Yerevan. While this land-locked country might still have touches from the previous Soviet era, the capital city offers an almost Mediterranean feel, but with a café culture, shopping and dining experience quite unlike anywhere else. For those in a shopping mood, Yerevan offers a weekend flea market, with many beautiful objects on sale, including carpets, art work, obsidian chess sets and hand-made jewelry.
Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as the state religion, and the cities and countryside offer many fine examples of temples, monasteries and churches, nestled in the spectacular landscape, including the beautiful Monastery of Tatev, pictured below.
The second of the three countries, located at a cultural crossroads in the Caucasus mountains, is Azerbaijan. A fascinating vacation destination, Azerbaijan is situated right at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. The country is bounded by Russia to the north, Iran to the South, the Caspian Sea to the east and Armenia to the west.
A country of historic and ancient cultural heritage, Azerbaijan offers much in the fields of architecture, literature, music and the visual arts. The country has the distinction of being the first Muslim-majority country to offer modern universities, operas and theaters.
There is evidence that human settlement in Azerbaijan dates back to the late Stone Age with ancient structures and carvings dating back to the distant past, including the caves of Damcılı, Tağılar, Zar, Yataq-yeri and the necropolises of Leylatepe and Saraytepe.
Other fascinating and ancient rock carvings can be seen in the National Park Gobustan, where the petroglyphs pictured below date back to 10,000 BC. This area of the country has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be of “outstanding universal value”.
The capital of Azerbaijan is Baku, a mixture of both historic and modern and a fascinating city to visit. In Icheri Sheher, one the older areas of the city, winding alleyways take a visitor through the medieval walled city and its historic palace, mosques and the 12th century Maiden’s Tower. The newer part of Baku offers a stroll past the impressive mansions, built by the oil barons during a boom between 1870 and 1914 and the impressive Martyr’s Alley, a memory to the fallen heroes of Azerbaijan, rising up over the Bay of Baku.
The third Caucasian country is Georgia, bounded to the north by Russia, to the south by Armenia and Turkey, to the southeast by Azerbaijan and to the west by the Black Sea. The photo included at the top of this article is taken in the Georgian mountains.
Highlights of this fascinating country include its capital, Tbilisi, set in the Mntkvari Valley and nestled within several mountain ranges.
The city offers many interesting sites, including the cathedral, the Anchiskhati Basilica and the Narikala Fortress. Close by, the ancient city of Mtskheta, the birthplace of Christianity in Georgia, is worth a visit.
Another fascinating site is Vardzia, the 12th century cave monastery, carved into the solid rock on the slopes of Mt. Erusheli. The complex is accessed by a series of hidden tunnels and many intricate frescoes can be seen.
At the peak of its existence, this monastery is said to have housed around 6,000 monks.
In later years, the excellent and strategic position of the monastery provided the perfect defense against the invading Mongols. Today, Vardzia continues to be a fascinating and unusual place to visit.
While not on the compass point of the average traveler, the Caucasus is a fascinating combination of three different countries, living at a cultural crossroads between Europe and Asia. These three countries, while so different, form a great potential vacation destination for the trip of a lifetime.
By Anne Sewell
Caucasus Mountain view in Georgia CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 David Fielke
View of the 9th century Armenian Monastery of Tatev in southern Armenia Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 by Alexander Naumov
A view of Yerevan, Armenia, from the Cafesjian Museum of Art with Mount Ararat in the background CC by-SA Serouj of Ourfa
Petroglyphs in the National Park Gobustan in Azerbaijan CC by-SA Azeri
Laundry drying in Xinaliq, Azerbaijan CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Pierre
Vardzia cave monastery CC by-SA Doron