The fortress of Smbataberd or Tsaxac Kari Berd is one of the oldest and largest defensive structures in Syunik province, historical part of Armenia, which now includes regions of Vayoc Dzor and Syunik.
The relief of Vayoc Dzor, where Smbataberd is situated, is characterized with mountain ranges, highlands and deep gorges. Exactly on one of that heights, on the isolated south-western branch of Vartenis mountain range, at an altitude of 2000 m, the fortress was built. From all sides, except northern, almost vertical cliffs descend into the gorge of two rivers, making the fortress impregnable. From the fortress amazing and unique views to the mountain peaks, swift rivers in deep gorges, to the mountain villages and to the medieval monasteries hiding in the mountains are opened.
The natural inaccessibility of the area is completed by powerful, 2-3 meter walls, preserved height of which gets to 8-10 meters now. The fortress is built for protective purposes. It was built according to the all rules of medieval fortress construction. The fortress' total area is approximately 6.5 ha. The walls are built by big pieces of wedge-shaped basalt stones. Inside the walls, along the entire length numerous living rooms were built. The main entrace to the fortess is from the northern side. Also, there are entrances from east and west. On the rooftops of north and east entrances there were outposts, which are destroyed now. With the help of the wall, the fortress is divided into north and south sides. On both sides there were citadels, pools for water and living houses. Water got to the fortress from the sources situated near the monastery of Tsaxac Kar, which is on a highland, 2 km west from the fortress.
Although the walls' structure is typical for the X century, possiblly it was built on a more ancient fortress, most likely in the V century or in earlier period. It isn't excluded that the preserved fortress was built in the X-XI centuries by King Smbat II Bagratuni. And exactly from here comes the name of the fortress. Though many researchers don't exclude the fact that this is the fortress of Symbace, which Strabo mentioned in his work " Atropatene ".
Until the VII century Smbataberd belonged to the Princely House of Vasakyans, and then in the X century the fortress passed to Bagratuni dynasty, and only in the XII century to the Princely House of Orbelyan. In 1605, despite its menace and inaccessibility, the fortress was destroyed during invasions of Shah Abbas.
According to some sources, because of its inaccessibility it wasn't possible to seize the fortress and enemy forces who besieged it, had great losses. Then, one of the sly warlords remembered an ancient way to get out from this situation. The horses weren't given to water for several days, then they were fed with salt and let out in the fortress' area. The unhappy animals, having great thirst, found earthen pipes under the ground, from which water got to the fortress. Cutting off water defenders, the enemies could seize the fortress. But till now, on Smbataberd territory, you can feel the heroic spirit of Armenian soldiers.