The Armenian alphabet was invented some 1,616 years ago, but it’s no ordinary collection of letters. Kerry van der Jagt takes a walk through Armenia’s ‘alphabet forest’, and finds a window into a rich, diverse and proudly literary culture.

There are two surprising things about the Armenian alphabet—aside from the fact it is one of the world’s oldest.

The first is that it acts as a nifty numbering system used for complex calculations. The second is that its 39 letters have been carved into giant statues and planted in a field of wildflowers.

The sun is out and the weather is warm as I weave my way between the rose-colored symbols, each hued from volcanic rock (tuff) and etched with flowers, scrolls and knots. While some gather in grammatical groups, others stand alone, their curly-whorls silhouetted against a brilliant blue sky. In the distance, the snow-capped slopes of Mount Aragats spreads like meringue across the Armenian Highlands.