- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
June 18, 2004

Ship of State: Re-creation of ancient Armenia sea days set to sail

Next week the sailing ship Cilicia will start its long-expected voyage. The ship that took 11 years to build will be launched in the Georgian port of Poti, some 650 kilometers from where it was first tested two years ago in Lake Sevan.

Its voyage will take Cilicia and a crew of 14 through the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, onto the Atlantic Ocean toward a final destination, Amsterdam.

Rehearsing for the big voyage.

The ambitious idea of constructing an Armenian vessel (in a country that is land locked) came to life through members of the Ayas Nautical Reasearch Club. To begin, the sailing enthusiasts constructed a model of a 13 th century Armenian ship. Ancient Armenia had a seaport in Cilicia, and had a military ship called Ayas. Thus, the two names.

Ayas ( has been around since 1985 and its members collected information from medieval Armenian navigation manuscripts and documents found at the Institute of Manuscripts (Matenadaran).

The research yielded the notion to build a reproduction of an Armenian trade sailing ship.

"madness and a dream"

Six years after the club formed, the first beam of Cilicia was placed, in 1991. Those were independent Armenia hardest days, and hardly a time for indulging fanciful dreams, but Ayas carried on with its dream of the sea.

Eleven years later, the 20-meter long and 5-meter wide oak and pine Cilicia was ready.

“This is a result of our madness and dream which we have achieved by our hands and sweat,” says club member Areg Nazaryan.

The ship is constructed in accordance with medieval shipbuilding technologies. Carpenters and designers shunned modern methods and conveniences. The ship’s wood is covered in a tar, the ingredients for which were found in Matenadaran manuscripts: tree sap, animal fat, sulfur, ashes.

To complete the authenticity, crew will wear period uniforms and even the ships menu will correspond to the times. Club member Karen Danielyan says they are not going to take even tomatoes and potatoes with them as in Cilicia’s years those vegetables hadn’t been discovered yet.

Sailing the Mediterranean will be a different challenge.

Since joining the club, the ship’s cook Hovhannes Ohanyan has been studying and collecting information on sea food of ancient Armenians and Mediterranean nations and important methods of food preservation. The crew will take fish, grains, sujukh, basturma and wine.

“For instance, one dish that has been forgotten about is selo, which was very popular paste among Armenians, Assyrians and Arabs in Middle Ages. It is made of nuts, figs, honey, oil and flour,” says Ohanyan.

Cilicia ’s voyage will be navigated by equipment of its times: compass, chronometer, astrolabe, with the help of which sailors orientate themselves by stars.

Nazaryan says that while the ship is medieval, it is obliged to be provided with equipment corresponding to international safety regulations.

“Yes, we experiment,” he says. “However, in case of danger we will necessarily use modern methods.”

The dates of the voyage also correspond with medieval times. The first leg of the journey will end no later than the end of September, as in ancient times, sailors did not sail during winter. The ship will spend winter in Venice and sailors will return to Armenia. In May, 2005 they will continue their voyage to Amsterdam.

The ship took 11 years to build

Participants of the historical experiment are of different professions: musician, engineer, doctor, signaler, film director, cameraman. Age of the crew also varies: from 20 to 60. All members are sailors, except for writer and publicist Zori Balayan, who will be joining the ship at various points.

At ports, the Cilicia crew will also become unofficial diplomats, meeting with local authorities and Diasapora communities to whom they will present gifts from Armenia.

“Now we are so tired and busy that we haven’t got time even for thinking that soon we will finally start our voyage,” says Nazaryan. “But as soon as we set sails and start breathing fresh sea air only then we will enjoy our crazy dream that came to life as a result of 12 years of hard work.”

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