In 2016, Armenia was included in National Geographic ‘s list of ten places that deserve more travelers. First on the list was Armenia, and amongst the locations they recommended travelers visit was the Old Khndzoresk cave village. Once home to thousands of residents, this was at one point the largest village in eastern Armenia, created by building homes within the volcanic rock and caves of the steep Khor Dzor gorge. Today these abandoned homes are fascinating to explore.
Looking out of one of the abandoned cave dwellings at Old Khndzoresk cave village. ( Արարատ Թրվանց / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
The History of Old Khndzoresk Cave Village
While it may seem strange, no one is quite sure when the Old Khndzoresk cave village in Armenia was founded. Nevertheless, the first written record to mention it dates back to the 13th century. Archaeological evidence points to the caves having been inhabited for at least 1,000 years.
In 1730, villagers from the Old Khndzoresk cave village murdered the famed Armenian military commander Mkhitar Sparapet, who played an important role in Armenia’s struggle for liberation against the Ottomans. Legend has it that they were afraid that the Ottomans would attack the village if they were to discover him hiding there. Visitors can still visit his stone tomb which is located to the south of the cave village.
Exploring the Old Khndzoresk Cave Village
Some of the cave dwellings have been carved out of the volcanic rock, while other houses have been built into naturally formed caves. In a census from the 1900s, there were as many as 1,800 homes in the Old Khndzoresk cave village, housing more than 8,000 people. The houses were built one on top of another, and each residence had several rooms.
The houses were connected by tunnels and locals claim that people would use ropes and ladders to travel up and down the different levels of habitation. The village also included churches, schools, leather workshops, dyeworks and stores. There was also a sacred fountain known as the nine children, due to a local legend about nine children orphaned when their mother was killed in battle.
A lonely table remains in one of the caves within the Old Khndzoresk cave village. ( StockAleksey / Adobe Stock)
Why Was the Old Khndzoresk Cave Village Abandoned?
It was only in the 1950s, 1958 to be precise, that residents moved from the ancient caves to a newer village built above, appropriately named New Khndzoresk. This move turned the once bustling village into a ghost town . There appear, however, to be different explanations for why the cave dwellings were deserted.
“Some say an earthquake in the 1930s devastated the village and left the cave dwellings unsafe, leading to a gradual departure,” explains Smithsonian Magazine . “Others suggest the residents were forced to move by Soviet leaders, who deemed the caves uncivilized and wanted to source the rock as building material.” Nowadays the two villages, New Khndzoresk and Old Khndzoresk, are connected by a 160 meter (525 ft) cable bridge which was built in 2012.
Suspension bridge which connects the Old Khndzoresk cave village with New Khndzoresk. ( Arty Om / Adobe Stock)
Visiting Old Khndzoresk Cave Village
Located about 4 hours from Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, and just 6 kilometers (3.73 mi) from the town of Goris in southeastern Armenia, is New Khndzoresk. From here its just a walk across a vaguely terrifying cable bridge to an entire abandoned world at the Old Khndzoresk cave village . Before crossing the bridge there is a lookout and a café (open from May to October). This is a great place for hiking and exploring for hours, moving in and out of the various caves and dwellings.
Top image: View of the Old Khndzoresk cave village. Source: EdNurg / Adobe Stock
By Cecilia Bogaard