At last, we were bound for the Aragatsotn region, but unsure of the exact road we should take to our destination, none other than Amberd Fortress on the expansive slopes of Mt. Aragats. Several phone calls later, we were on a road that would approach the Amberd from above, a road I had not taken before despite numerous trips to the fortress and to the nearby Nor Amberd cosmic ray station. We’d left a Yerevan baking in cloudless skies, and arrived at a parched and dry Amberd, equally bereft of clouds.
It had been nine years since I’d been at Amberd, and though the renovations of the S. Astvatsatsin or Vahramashen church and the addition of a viewing deck had been completed long ago, the restaurant that had sprung up next to the parking area was a new addition for me. Sunset was more than an hour away, and Amberd was enjoying its share of mostly local visitors. One group immediately caught my eye as the two gentlemen standing on the viewing platform were at least twice the age of the boisterous ladies accompanying them. The latter, dressed too colorfully for the location, now descended along the trail to the fortress, were momentarily lost from view, and emerged atop the ruined battlements of the fortress next to the flagpole upon which the Armenian tricolor rippled in the strong breeze. Next, the two began screaming at the men like harpies perched atop a crag, and I realized that one of them had been given an iPhone to capture the moment. He had no idea what he was doing, or how to even take a picture with a phone, and so I was asked to help. I happily obliged, half convinced that I’d be recording the fall of one or both of them off the ramparts, and knowing that one way or another this would remove the ladies from atop the fortress I was trying to photograph.
Amberd is a fortress of two faces. From the deck where I stood, looking downslope toward the Ararat plain, its façade is comprised of a series of robust towers, their tops in ruin, as one would expect from a medieval fortress. As one passes the citadel on the trail eventually leading to the church, the fortress presents what remains of a single ruined wall that could be part of any ancient structure and isn’t easily identifiable as a fortress at all. My photography tonight would begin at the deck, looking southward into the heart of the Milky Way, and end below, looking northward toward Polaris, the focal point of the nightly cartwheels of the stars.