The trip to Lake Sevan is, undoubtedly, one of the most exciting in Armenia. This wonder of Nature is located 60 kilometres from Yerevan up a highway which cuts northward through mountains and rocks. The altitude and mountains make travelling very pleasant in these parts for the air is pure and cool even in the hottest months in comparison with the stuffy heat of the city.
The gentle turquoise of Sevan's waters is always astonishing: the lake is so austere and majestic. It fills a gigantic depression situated at a height of almost 2,000 metres above sea level. Maxim Gorky once said of its waters that they were like a piece of sky that had descended to the earth among the mountains.
The mystery of Sevan's origin has not been fully solved. Some specialists believe that the bowl of the lake is the crater of an extinct volcano, while others think that millions of years ago volcanic lava formed a natural reservoir trapping the water inside.
There are many hypotheses of this kind. The problem which scientists are worried about today is not so much the origin of Lake Sevan as the fact that its water level has fallen almost 19 metres over the past 40 years and that, in shallow places, the water has receded several kilometres from its shores.
This has generated what is known as the "Sevan problem". Armenia is short of energy resources. It is not rich in coal, oil or gas and when the republic became industrialized, after Soviet government was established, the problem of energy resources developed into a major one. This was when engineer Sukias Manaseryan's project was taken out of moth balls. Earlier in the century he had suggested that the river Razdan, which flows out of Lake Sevan, should be used to produce electricity. This was how the Sevan-Razdan series of electric power stations was built. It provided the republic's industry with electricity and the arid Ararat Valley with water.
But nothing lasts forever. The waters of Sevan gradually receded from their shores and the lake's surface shrank by 420 square kilometres.
Its very existence was imperiled. Sevan had served the people well for many years, now the time had come for the people to show their concern for it. It was decided that a gigantic tunnel was to be cut through the powerful Vardenis Range to redirect the waters of the river Arpa, 48 kilometres away, to replenish the lake. This tunnel was built in 1981. Large reservoirs are being built, trees are being planted on the shores of the lake to scale down evaporation and the area has been proclaimed a national park. Geophysicists are also coming to the lake's rescue, and are experimenting with artificial rains to increase precipitations around the area of the lake.
But there are people for whom the receding waters of Lake Sevan revealed untold surprises and treasures. Archaeologists and historians discovered ancient rock drawings made by primitive man, household utensils, weapons, and war chariots from Urartu times. All these discoveries can be seen in the history museum in Yerevan. But to return to the lake. Its length, before it started to recede, was 75 kilometres, and its greatest width—56 kilometres. The air is pure and transparent and there are no more than 19 cloudy days a year here (the famous resorts in Kislovodsk and Yalta have, respectively, 122 and 54). The average temperature of Sevan's water in summer is +18-19° C and up to +20-22° C in the afternoon when there is no wind.
Sevan is a popular holiday resort. The pure air and sandy beaches attract holiday-makers by the thousands. Besides, Sevan has always been famous for its fish, especially trout, a fish which graced many great lords' tables in times of old. Small wonder the trout was part of the tribute Armenia paid to its conquerors. The Armenians call the trout ishkhan
which means "prince-fish" because of the little dots which make it look as though it is wearing a crown. Gourmets say the fish is especially tasty if it is cooked in water from Sevan. Like other parts of Armenia, the Sevan area has many historical sites of great interest. Among the most interesting is the monastery on the rocky peninsula jutting out into Sevan. One of the churches, named Arakelots (the Apostles) is made of rough-hewn weather-beaten slabs. The other church, Astvatsatsin, is larger and of finer workmanship. The Sevan Monastery was founded in 874 by King Ashot I, the founder of the Bagratid Dynasty, and his daughter Mariam. Before the lake began to shrink, the peninsula was an island and the water of the lake saved the monastery on many occasions from the onslaught of enemies. There is a legend saying that the Arabs once tried to capture the island, but a storm of immense ferocity arose on the lake and the boats were all destroyed, together with the warriors they carried. Even today Sevan shows its temper in bad weather. The waves beating on-shore may be as high as two metres.
There are swift comfortable hydrofoils which make regular runs on the lake. Tourists are welcome Lake Sevan, at a camping site for travellers with cars, and the Different Motel, which offer tourists all kinds of services, and also cafes and restaurants.