Yerevan or Erevan is the capital of Armenia and was found by king Argishti I in the year 782 BC. How do we know? Yerevan has a ‘birth certificate’ or more appropriately a ‘birth tablet’. Unbelievable, but true. In the year of 1950, archaeologists found a basalt stone slab with inscriptions from Erebuni Fortress, the birthplace of Yerevan. It translated,
By the greatness of the God Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, built this mighty stronghold and proclaimed it Erebuni for the glory of Biainili [Urartu] and to instill fear among the king’s enemies. Argishti says, “The land was a desert, before the great works I accomplished upon it. By the greatness of Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, is a mighty king, king of Biainili, and ruler of Tushpa.”
It is also mentioned in the inscription that he brought 6,600 prisoners to populate the city. Yerevan is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world (older than Rome). Though designed to be a great administrative centre, Yerevan was rarely the capital of ancient Armenia. In fact, it became the capital city only after WW I. Today, it is home to 1.06 million people and pushing towards becoming a major city.
Republic Square is the heart of the city. Built during the Soviet Union regime, it was previously called Lenin Square and sported a Lenin statue. When Armenia got independence, the statue was removed, and the square rechristened. This pride of Armenia has five huge buildings around it housing government offices, luxury hotels, the National Gallery and the History Museum. We missed the much talked about musical fountain in the square because it was winter.
There are several and maybe the best restaurants along the roads (especially Amiryan St) adjacent to the Square. Note that its difficult to get tables in these restaurants and they will ask if you have a reservation. Almost every pub and eateries in Yerevan are in the basement or are extended to the basement. My husband and I would mark out a couple of pubs on our maps for each day and it wasn’t an easy task finding them. On one occasion, our maps told us that we had reached our destination, but we couldn’t find the place. After spending a good amount of time looking up and down, left and right, we found the pub’s name behind a board, written in the un-flashiest manner. We then realized that some places we had failed to find must had existed.
Just like the signboards, the entrances weren’t the most welcoming. We weren’t sure whether a place was still operating or what to expect until we pushed open the door (some were actually closed). But once we went in, we had nothing to complain. Every place had its own charm. The décor wasn’t over the top but simply done and very cozy.
Armenians’ love for art is manifested all over Yerevan. There are admirable sculptures on the streets and in parks and art museums. The National Gallery has a historic collection of Armenian art and foreign art. A more modern art centre is the Cafesjian Centre for the Arts located in the Cascade complex. The museum has a collection of more than 5,000, mostly from the private collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian. Some contemporary sculptures are on display in the garden at the foot of the stairway.
The Cascade complex itself is an architectural beauty delivering the best unhindered views of the capital from the top. This giant stairway has five levels that houses the museum and galleries for exhibitions. There are restaurants, pubs and cafes on either side of the Cascade and the atmosphere of this place is quite nice. Not very far from the stairway is Freedom Square or Liberty Square where the Yerevan Opera Theatre stands grandly.
A few steps away from the Opera is Painter’s Vernissage, open-air market where local artists display their works for sale. This market is just a tease to the main vernissage which is about 15 minutes away. The Yerevan Vernissage is a weekend market where varieties of Armenian goods from wood crafts, art, textiles, silverware, jewelries, carpets, etc., can be found alongside used items. The venders seemed to be enjoying being there in each other’s company. It’s a happy place, not to be missed.
The must-visit local food market is called Gumi Shuka or the G.U.M market. The lower level of this double-story building sells vegetables and fruits, meat, spices and lavash (bread), while in the upper level, clothes and shoes take the space. Lavash is a large and very thin flatbread, oven in a clay oven. It doesn’t have to be prepared before serving and can be bought from the market where the sellers timely spray water on them to keep them soft.
Armenians pride themselves with the variations of fruits they produce. Pomegranate is the national fruit and is very sacred to them. It symbolizes fertility and good fortune and you will find pomegranates just anywhere, from fridge magnets to pendants, art to candle holders and even clothes. It was advisable to try the candied dried fruits or even carry them home as souvenirs.
In the end, most things will be forgotten but the memory and the impression of the people remain. We were highly impressed when on New Year’s Eve, we had to return to our hotel for dinner because we couldn’t find any restaurants. It wasn’t that they were all full. They were closed for the evening because what better to do on NYE than spend with family and friends? In this highly greedy time, I cannot think of any business giving off to their staff on the most profitable night of the year. At around 11:30, we walked out to Republic Square where the municipality had organized a mass celebration with concerts by local artists. The Square was packed with residents and visitors dancing and cheering. 2018 was welcomed with massive firework show and strangers exchanging warm wishes.
It was indeed a wonderful way to begin the New Year.