TATEV, Armenia (Combined Sources) — Armenia on Saturday launched the world’s longest cable car line, a 5.7-kilometer (3.5-mile) engineering feat that spans a spectacular gorge to the country’s ancient Tatev monastery.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, Nagorno-Karabakh leader Bako Sahakian, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, government officials and other high-ranking guests on Saturday attended a ceremony launching a 5.7-kilometer-long tramway, named “The Wings of Tatev.”
President Sarkisian, Catholicos Karekin II, other ministers were the first to take a ride along the aerial tramway connecting the village of Halidzor in Armenia’s Syunik province with the ninth-century monastery of Tatev, one of the country’s most important religious centers and a major tourist attraction.
The new tramway will function throughout the year and will allow visitors to bypass a grueling 90-minute drive in and out of the rocky Vorotan River Gorge.
At the opening ceremony, Sarkisian said the link was of “exceptional importance for Tatev and the surrounding region” and praised the project for overcoming the many difficulties involved in construction.
“This cable car line shows that even dreams that seem unrealistic can be realized with faith and purpose,” he said.
The monastery of Tatev is among the oldest and most prominent monasteries in Armenia. A UNESCO World Heritage candidate, it played an important role in the life of the region as its major spiritual, political, cultural and educational center.
Because of its architecture, its history and its spectacular natural setting, it is also an invaluable asset with the potential to catalyze tourism development in the region.
Karekin II said the launch of the link was an important step in restoring access to “a centuries-old holy shrine which was a place of pilgrimage from apostolic times.”
“Through its beauty and stunning construction the monastery at Tatev is among the exceptional creations of Armenian architecture which for centuries has been a vibrant center of Armenian spiritual life, science and culture,” the Catholicos said.
The reversible cable car line cost 18 million dollars (13 million euros) with much of the funding coming from private donations, according to the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, which oversaw the project through its Tatev Revival Project.
It runs from the village of Halidzor near a highway connecting the Armenian capital Yerevan to the village of Tatev, within walking distance of the monastery.
The cable car travels at a speed of 37 kilometers per hour (23 miles per hour) and a one-way journey takes 11 minutes. At its highest point over the gorge, the car travels 320 meters (1,056 feet) above ground level.
It has two cabins, each capable of carrying up to 25 passengers. Local residents will be able to ride the cable car for free while others will have to pay 3,000 Armenian drams (eight dollars/six euros.)
An ex-Soviet republic bordering Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Armenia is keen to develop its tourism industry, showcasing its history as the first country to have adopted Christianity.
Residents said they hoped the new link would help restore the economy of the local area, which like much of rural Armenia has suffered from deep poverty and an exodus of young people looking elsewhere for work.
“I hope the opening of this cable car will help revive tourism so that there are new hotels and new jobs and so that the young people who have been leaving for Russia or other countries will instead stay home and work here,” said Armais Minosian, an 80-year-old local villager.
The cable car is part of a 50-million-dollar (36-million-euro) public-private effort to develop tourism at Tatev and in the surrounding region, one of the traditional 15 provinces of the ancient Kingdom of Armenia.
The Tatev Revival Project will leverage the monastic and touristic significance of the complex to develop the region into an attractive destination nestled in a prospering local community.
The project consists of several components: conserving the monastery, reviving its monastic and scholarly traditions, and developing tourism in the adjacent river gorge and six local communities.
The project has also seen the government renovate 26 kilometers (16 miles) of the highway from Yerevan to Tatev and the restoration of parts of the monastery complex.
The Sandia Peak cable car in the US state of New Mexico, which runs 4.3 kilometers (2.7 miles), had previously billed itself as the world’s longest cable car line.