After having spent a few days in Tbilisi, Georgia arranging our Iranian visas (more about Georgia coming), our circuit through Armenia was also, unfortunately, very short. However, we did manage to get just over a day in Yerevan – the capital of the country.
I have to say – I really liked Yerevan – where areas of interest to tourists (Republic Square is really quite amazing!) are just part of the normal functioning of the city. This is quite the contrast to the old cities of Tbilisi (Georgia) in particular, and Baku (Azerbaijan), where the regular city is removed from the part that is popular with tourists.
About an hour after I arrived, I did the Free Walking tour of Yerevan which provided a great introduction to the city. I try to do this with most cities when I arrive, as these tours generally provide a great orientation, lots of interesting information, and the opportunity to ask questions of the guide about traditional foods to try, what traditional jewelry is like, etc.
Some of the key things we were introduced to on the tour:
Traditional Armenian construction. Lots of balconies hidden behind stern Soviet facades in inner courtyards.
Armenian Chachkar – Armenian cross-stones that, not surprisingly, feature a cross standing on a disk, and often elaborate engravings of leaves, grapes and pomegranates. When Azerbaijan took possession of large chunks of Armenia during the Russian years, they systematically destroyed many of the Chachkars, which is partially why the Armenians hate the Azerbaijanis so much, though genocide also has a tendency to cause friction. For this reason too, the remaining Chachkars were added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010.
The Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church – this is the oldest surviving church in Yerevan, and the burial place of Ananias the apostle (you can visit his tomb). It is a little tricky to find, as it is surrounded by high Soviet apartment blocks – a very deliberate move by the Soviets in their efforts to suppress all religion in the USSR.
The metro. As I learned in Almaty, if a city in the old USSR had a population of more than a million people, the Soviets would build a metro system for them. As in Almaty, Yerevan’s population was less than this, and so the Armenians bused in loads of people from the surrounding areas to raise the population to the required number. The Yerevan metro has 1 more station than Almaty, but is nowhere near as beautiful. It also operates with tokens and seems to be more used than Almaty’s metro.
Other highlights of my time in Yerevan:
The Yerevan Train Station is really gorgeous, though empty when I went there.
Lots of cool statues. Particularly loved this one of Alexander Tamanian, the Russian-born, Armenian architect behind the plan for the modern city of Yerevan (among much else).
And this lion. Made from tyres – he looks like a fire lion to me 😊
The Yerevan Cascade (still not quite finished 46 years after it was started) is really amazing with some very beautiful features
And the perfect place to hang out and watch the sunset over Yerevan and Mt Ararat.
I also managed to catch part of the dancing fountains show that happens in front of the History Museum in Republic Square every night – it’s kind of kitch, but also kind of nice just sitting there 😊
Would have loved to have spent at least a week in Yerevan exploring actually, and was really disappointed that I didn’t get to see a show at the puppet theatre (especially having missed it as well in Tbilisi)! I went to buy tickets, but it turned out (if I interpreted correctly the miming of the lady at the ticket office who only spoke Russian and Armenian) that what was on that night was actually an audience participation event. One thing I was certain of – there were no puppets involved. When I Google translated that question into Russian on my phone and showed the lady, the answer was a definitive “nyet” ☹