Levon Aronian, 2017 Chess World Cup winner, got married yesterday. The Armenian grandmaster and his Filipina-Australian bride, also a chess champion, had their wedding photos taken at Zvartnots cathedral. I know, because I was there.
Chess is Premier League combined with the NBA here, and so the new Mr. and Mrs. Aronian arrived in a vintage Russian car, complete with police escort (lights flashing) and bridesmaids bundled into a pristine white Rolls Royce. Nonetheless, they did not have the 6th century ruins to themselves. They were one of four couples (three real, and one fake) whose union I celebrated in just one hour yesterday evening.
Sadly not many people get married in order to score Armenian working papers, and so there is no need to call immigration about the sham wedding: this ceremony was an event staged by the Ministry of Culture, to illustrate traditional Armenian wedding practices.
Armenians are very clear about what they want from a marriage: the groom gives the bride’s family an apple studded with coins, symbolizing wealth–and, I suppose, dowry. The couple stamp on plates symbolizing a breaking of their ties with their birth families–they belong to each other for ever now. The bride is adorned with a sturdy belt by her bridesmaid, so she will have a strong back for childbearing–oh, and a life of hard labor. The mother of the groom provides the couple with epaulettes of lavash, demonstrating her desire that they should always have plenty to eat. The symbolism of fertility is rife: fruit and wheat are everywhere.
Jim and I joined the dancing (thanks Anahit for the pictures), but opted out before things got too strenuous. There was singing, there was drumming, there were general good times. All of this took place against the magnificent backdrop of the cathedral constructed by Nerses the Builder to honor Gregory the Illuminator back in the 6th century. Originally, the cathedral is thought to have been three stories high–quite a feat of engineering. Jim is an architect so he knows his apse from his apex but while he talked cupola and tetraconch, I contented myself with enjoying the sunlight through the pillars, and sneaking shots of brides I’ll never know.
The cathedral was intended to stand until the second coming, but was in ruins by the 10th century–noone knows if it was the victim of war or earthquake. It lay buried until the early 1900s. Now it is a UNESCO world heritage site, and a popular venue for wedding pics. You can see why. Just a 2500 dram ($3), 30 minute taxi ride outside Yerevan, a visit to Zvartnots (close to the airport of the same name), should be on every visitor’s list of must-sees in Armenia. Even if you are there when the happy loving couples are not, the pillars, the circle and the sunlight will bring joy to your heart, and peace to your soul.