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Frederic Dubois's Pioneering Expedition to Armenia

Explore the captivating journey of Frederic Dubois de Montperreux (1798-1850), a Swiss-French archaeologist, traveler, and naturalist. Dubois's prolific sketches, including ancient geography, landscapes, architecture, archaeology, and geology, offer a vivid tapestry of Armenia's heritage. Today, his rare books, guarded treasures, are a testament to his extraordinary legacy. Dubois's enchanting descriptions of Yerevan, Etchmiadzin, and Geghard Monastery, with relics guarded by hermit monks, add a unique touch to the exploration of Armenia's rich history.

Frederic Dubois de Montperreux (May 28, 1798 - May 7, 1850) was a Swiss of French origin, archaeologist, traveler, ethnographer, and naturalist. He is mainly known for the journey he undertook from 1831 to 1834 to the Crimea and the Caucasus. The results of his expedition were outlined in the six-volume work "Travels around the Caucasus among the Circassians and Abkhazians, in Colchis, Georgia, Armenia, and the Crimea," accompanied by an attached atlas containing numerous drawings, sketches, and diagrams made by the author during his research.


Frederic Dubois de Montpereux

Little is known about most of Dubois's life. However, during the three years he spent traveling the Caucasus—sometimes accused of being a spy—he was so prolific with his pencil and sketch pads that he returned to Europe with enough material for a travelogue that filled 11 volumes. This collection included five giant "atlases" full of illustrations.


The atlas consists of five series of maps, plans, sketches, and tables arranged by topic:

Series I - Ancient and modern geography, containing detailed maps of various parts of the Caucasus, including plans of attractions on 24 sheets depicting the ancient geography of the region.


Series II - Landscapes and views, consisting of 75 drawings, published in 1843 in Paris.

Series III - Architecture, illustrating the stylistic diversity of monuments in the Caucasus and Crimea.

Series IV - Archaeology, containing detailed sketches of artifacts, tombs, bas-reliefs, and signatures.

Series V - Geology, presenting maps, diagrams, sections, views, panoramas of the most geologically interesting places, and sketches of fossils.

Dubois's books today are extremely rare and closely guarded. In 2017, a complete collection of his Caucasus travelogue sold at auction for more than $154,000. Three volumes of the atlases are reported to be held in Russian museums (one in the State Library of Russia, one in the Russian Geographical Society of St. Petersburg, and one in the Gelendzhik Historical-Geological Museum). Additionally, one volume, with a mysterious backstory, is held in a small library in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia.


Returning to his travels in the Caucasus, in Eastern Armenia, he visited Artsakh, Yerevan, Etchmiadzin, and Nakhichevan, providing descriptions of the historical and architectural monuments preserved in these places. He made references to Etchmiadzin Cathedral, whose image was created in 1832.

In the same year, he painted the landscape "Mount Ararat, view from Yerevan Fortress." The painting depicts the still-standing walls of the Yerevan fortress on the left side, the medieval Red Bridge of Yerevan in the lower right corner (rebuilt after the 1679 earthquake and currently being rebuilt), and the famous Dalma gardens of Yerevan in the center. Dubois spoke admirably about these gardens in his book, noting that each plot of land there has its own wine cellar where wine is prepared and stored.


Geghard Monastery in Armenia.

Dubois described the site as "one of the wildest valleys of greater Armenia," mentioning that the solitary monastery "appealed to hermit monks who have renounced the world." Dubois claimed that the monks at the site guarded both the tip of the Roman spear used to prod Jesus and a piece of Noah’s ark.

A bridge over Debed river in Armenia, Lori region. He noted, "Before, there was a village set up there by the king so travelers could find food. Today, nothing stands—no village, no caravanserai. The bridge alone remains. Its length is 400 feet, its width 14 feet."


Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia is considered by many historians to be the oldest cathedral in the world.

 Armenian church in Akhaltsikhe! A closer look reveals inscriptions in Armenian.

“I conclude the series of Armenian-style monuments with the Armenian church, which was built at the top of the city of Akhaltsikhe, on the point that was most strongly defended by the Turks during the capture of the city in 1828," Dubois wrote. "The holes that can be seen in the cornices and walls were made by cannonballs during the siege of the city.”


Dubois returned to Europe in 1834. After the publication of his books on the region, he received a gold medal from the French Geographical Society and the Order of St. Stanislaus. He was also gifted a large sum of money from the Russian tsar. His final years were dedicated to archaeological research in Europe, and he passed away in 1850 at the age of 51.


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