The largest city in Syunik, Kapan is wedged between high mountains and splintered by numerous valleys. The name itself is derived from the Armenian word kapel (to lock), in reference to the interlocking mountain chains that converge here.
During the 18th century Kapan was a base for Davit Bek, an Armenian freedom fighter who took on Muslim invaders encroaching Armenia’s southern border. The village grew rapidly during the Soviet era when Russian geologists, seeing the potential for mineral extraction, arrived with blueprints for a massive mining complex. There is so much unrefined metal underground that compasses won’t work in some parts of town.
Despite its industrial background, Kapan has a pleasant downtown with leafy parks, outdoor cafes and fast-flowing streams. There are banks and shops on Shahumian Poghots and an internet cafe in Hotel Lernagordz.
Mighty Mt Khustup (3210m) is visible high above the town. The approach to the peak is via the village of Verin Vachagan, about 3km southwest of Kapan. There are various routes up from here, so ask in the village. It’s about 7km to the base of the peak, where a small church has been built. You can get fine views from here; another three hours of hiking is required to reach the peak.
The main site in the immediate area is the remains of 9th-century Vahanavank, about 7km from Kapan just off the Kajaran road. The monastery was once the religious centre for Syunik’s kings. An attempt to restore the monastery in 1978 was later abandoned and what remains is a roofless structure of red limestone.