Armenian Stone Dragons
Probably the most famous tomb stone or monument in Armenia is the cross-stone. A rectangular piece of stone richly decorated from up to down and set in some interesting places such as near or inside a church, alongside with a tomb, or close to a place where one can find water. Of course you can learn much about khachkars, but there is something more interesting to be told you now.
In the central and northern parts of the country, in some really isolated places, in the vicinity of water springs one can find the Vishap stones or Vishapakars (Վիշապաքար – dragon stone). These are characteristic menhirs (French, from Middle Breton: men, “stone” and hir, “long”), that decorate the territory of Armenia. Vishapstones have very interesting and mystic history, because after being found out in 1909 by N. Marr and Smirnov during archeological excavations, the exact date of the establishment of these menhirs couldn’t be set. Some scientists state that the age can be set by the late carvings of crosses on them and the Armenian inscription dating back to XIII century AD. There is also another statement about a dragon or vishap stone opened in Garni on which there was early Urartian cuneiform inscription. This allows to consider vishap stones existed before Urartian period, that is, at least, the beginning of I mil BC, and most likely in II mil BC.
The early excavations helped us to know the general characteristics of the Vishapstone. Thus the stone itself represents a long piece vertically set on the ground (though sometimes also horizontally) with a form of a fish and a head of it on the top. The approximate length of Vishap stone is 5 meters, and the width is 1 meter.
Besides the dimensions, the stones have also special tops, with carvings. Some of the vishap stones have the form of a fish, more often reminding a catfish. It is usually represented by the eyes, the mouth and the trail of the fish, and the trunk is worked only partially. A part of the dragon images hoofed animal (represent a bull or a ram), possibly sacrificed. Sometimes only the skin of the animal which has been stretched on stakes is represented. Besides, many vishap stones contain other relief images cut in the central part. Skins concern such images hoofed animal (bulls, rams); the wavy lines representing streams of water, sometimes streaming from a mouth of bulls; long-legged birds less often than a snake.
Some legends state that Vishaps caused thunderstorms when being angry, so be careful if you find a vishap stone while wondering in the mountains or Armenia.