Armenia is one of the oldest countries in the world, located on the edge of Eastern Europe.
“Our fatherland, free, independent,
That has for centuries lived,
Is now summoning its sons
to the free, independent Armenia.”
The powerful opening lines of the Armenian National Anthem speak volumes of the small republic that embodies one of the oldest cultures and countries in the world.
An incredible 3500 years of recorded history chronicle Armenia as a great power just before the 1st century A.D.
It became one of the oldest, strongest and most culturally advanced civilizations in the known world, whose borders stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.
Yerevan is Armenia’s capital, and Republic Square is the heart of the city, home to the History Museum and National Art Gallery, and the office of the Prime Minister that has a clock tower commonly known as Yerevan’s “Big Ben”. And just like London, this Big Ben isn’t the clock…it’s the bell!
Today’s Yerevan is the perfect place to base yourself for exploring in town as well as for day trips & excursions.
Yerevan was originally founded as the fortress Erebuni in 782 BC, and it’s been Armenia’s capital since 1918. It’s artistic, cultural, industrial, and a city of constant growth, with new modern architecture blending with the old. Here, what’s “new” is state of the art, and what’s “old” is cherished and restored.
It’s an awesome city to explore, with discoveries that will constantly surprise you.
- Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex: The Genocide museum and Eternal Flame Memorial
- Republic Square with its beautiful architecture and dancing fountains
- The “Matenadaran “– the research institute and museum of ancient manuscripts, where Armenia’s treasured manuscripts are archived
- The Yerevan Cascade– a giant stairway that links downtown with the monument neighborhood
Other sites include:
- Megerian Carpet Museum:
9 Madoyan Street, Yerevan 0006
- Designer shopping on Northern Avenue
- Yerevan’s Children’s Art Gallery – “The World through the Eyes of Children”
Located in Matenadaran, 53 Mashtots Avenue, Yerevan 0009
- Skating rink at Swan Lake: Downtown Yerevan near the Opera
- Blue Mosque (Persian Mosque)
12 Mesrop Mashtots Ave, Yerevan 0015
- Tsaghkadzor: Ski Resort
50 minute drive (59 km) northeast of Yerevan
- Yerevan Vernissage (Market): open-air market open on the weekends selling carved wood, art, carpets, old collections of coins and medallions, books, jewelry, musical instruments, electronics. Located in downtown Yerevan between Hanrapetutyun and the Khanjyan Sts.
- Central Bazaar (also called Pak Shuka): famous food market located near Blue Mosque
- Erebuni Fortress: built in 782 A.D.
7 kilometers southeast of Yerevan
- Khor Virap Monastery: construction began in 642 AD. You can see Mt. Ararat from here and the best photos are in the morning. Located 42 kilometers south of Yerevan.
- Victory Park: mid-size ferris wheel, great views, Monument to Mother Armenia statue
Azatutyan Ave , Yerevan
You’ll be fascinated with the museums, monuments, and markets, but take time to walk and meet some of the locals, (who often speak English,) and who’ll happily share the cultural experience of Armenia with you!
International conductor, and Yerevan resident George Pehlivanian says, “Armenians love sitting outside, eating, drinking, enjoying life. Hospitality is the number one agenda in every Armenian family, they love to receive people and make you feel at home it’s a beautiful country, what can I say!”
Maestro Pehlivanian knows Yerevan well… his roots are right here in Armenia, and as an international conductor who performs on a global scale. “There’s still nothing quite like coming home,” he adds.
Pride is woven into the fabric of Armenia but there is a grisly episode in this country’s history that’s too often unrecognized- the Armenian Genocide. Under constant threat of foreign domination, historically, Armenia suffered at the hands of many, the most brutal of which was the Ottoman Turks.
Thousands of Armenians were massacred in 1894 and 1896, but by far the most horrific massacre took place in 1915 during the first world war, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees who have relocated all over the world.
The Armenian Genocide Memorial complex, built in 1967, is the official memorial dedicated to the victims of the genocide and a “must visit” while in Yerevan.
And still, the anthem continues…
“Here is a flag for you, my brother,
That I have sewn
Over the sleepless nights,
And bathed in my tears.”
The flag, long an important symbol of Armenia, is another powerful reminder of what Armenia stands for and it’s colors have a deep meaning. The red stripe red is for the blood that has been shed through the centuries; the blue stripe is for the sky, and the orange represents the fruit of the land, the abundant agriculture that Armenians work so hard to cultivate.
After seven decades of Soviet rule, the Republic of Armenia gained its independence in 1991…
And today’s Armenia welcomes visitors with open arms! Of most importance to the foundation on which Armenia was built, is its religion. Armenia was the first declared Christian state in the world in 301 A.D.
Armenia was once home to Mount Ararat, (where it’s believed that Noah’s ark rested after the great flood,) a holy mountain that can still be seen on the horizon from Yerevan.
A must-see near the capital of Yerevan is the mother cathedral of the entire Armenian church. The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, known as the oldest Christian cathedral in the world dates back to the 4th century. According to it’s name, this is ‘where the only begotten descended’.
Stepping within the church is an inspiring, solemn and holy experience. It’s beautiful and of utmost importance to its members and followers of the Christian faith.
While you’re sightseeing, you’ll certainly want to leave time for one of my favorite global pastimes: shopping!
When you see the “Key of Yerevan” sculpture, you know you’re at Northern Avenue, the super modern contemporary pedestrian mall that goes from here all the way down to the opera house. It’s new architecture is very modern and all the international stores are here including Polo Ralph Lauren and Emporio Armani.
It’s within walking distance of Republic Square and next to the National Gallery and History Museum. Northern Avenue is definitely the place for high-end fashion… Who knew?
Exploring Yerevan is an eye-opening experience and a general understanding of Armenian history will definitely enhance several daytrips you can take from Yerevan.
The Temple of Garni is about an hour outside the city. A Hellenistic, pagan temple built in the 1st century, it was dedicated to the sun god, Mithra, and designed to face the rising sun in the east. Perfect to the last laid stone, it’s one of the most well known pre-Christian symbols of Armenia. Look close to discover the graffiti – first century Aramaic, 17th century Arabic and 18th century Farsi!
Carvings represent several things as well. Many carvings show the pomegranate, which means eternity. It’s commonly known the symbol of Armenia. Mysteriously, each pomegranate has 365 seeds inside, but on a leap year, there are 366!
Near the Temple of Garni, you can take the long and winding road past near the village of Goght, to its literal end. Just past the towering cliffs of the upper Azat valley, you’ll discover the medieval Monastery of Geghard, a complex of churches and tombs.
What’s special about Geghard is the 13th century monastery, there’s a church carved into the mountain. It was carved from ceiling to floor, digging down and carving the columns from top to bottom. You actually walk into the rocks, to see where ceremonies are held. It has perfect acoustics and choirs often perform in this carved out cave, to resonate and echo throughout the church
A world heritage site, the complex was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator, and is said to have once held the holy lance used in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; thus the name ‘Geghard’, which is Armenian for “lance” or “spear”.
Geographically if you look at Armenia, it’s between Europe and Asia, so all the big civilizations of the world passed through here- the Greeks, the Romans, the Mesopotamians, the Syrians, the Persians. What’s special is that non-Christian countries always surrounded Armenia, and it’s always kept its identity, its religion and its language. It’s one of the oldest languages in the world.”
While you’re here, make sure to look for the Khatchkars, the finely carved stone crosses that are symbols of early Christianity in Armenia.
After spending a few days exploring the capital of Yerevan, seeing the sites, and taking day trips into the mountains, you can extend your vacation with an excursion to the village of Tatev, and getting there is an adventure in itself.
The Tatev funicular, also known as the “Wings of Tatev”, holds the Guinness world record for the longest non-stop double track cable car, which means incredible views that will literally take your breath away. This amazing aerial tram takes you on the trip of a lifetime, traveling at 23 miles an hour, for an unforgettable 10 minutes.
At one point, you’ll be a thousand feet above the Vorotan River gorge and it’s rural village below. When you reach the top, you’ll be on the edge of an ancient rocky cliff surrounded by gorgeous green mountains.
Perched on the edge of the gorge, is the 10th century medieval Monestary of Tatev. It’s centuries-old stone block walls stand tall, a necessary feature of the past, but not so formidable to present day tourist invasions.
In Armenian, Tatev means wings, as in “Get me up to God with my wings”.
The story behind the name is from when they were constructing the church, a worker fell down into the canyon. He prayed, “God, give me wings so I can fly back up the cliff. Legend says God replied by giving him wings to return to the Monestary.
Remarkably, the monastery has been standing for more than a thousand years, surviving invasions, attacks and earthquakes. Not simply a monastery, this was also the biggest and most advanced university in Armenia during medieval times. In the 14th century, it not only taught math and religion, it contributed to the advancement of philosophy, music, astronomy, and science.
As you’re exploring, definitely look into the original oil mill, now fully restored as an interactive museum. Under the huge stone wheel, sesame, linseed and hemp seeds were ground into oil to be used for food, candles and defense. When enemies came, they would boil it and pour it over the wall, just like in the movies.
The oil mill was one of the most important of its time, and it was actually built outside the wall of the monastery so that private clients could use it without interrupting the serenity of life inside the Monastery.
If you think Republic Square is beautiful in the daytime, make sure to see it at night. After dark, the fountain really comes alive, choreographed to music ranging from rock to classical for an hour of uninterrupted magic. It’s the oldest “dancing fountain” in Eastern Europe.
Afterwards, the night is young, with time for another traditional Armenian experience! You can go out to one of the folkloric dinner shows. And surprisingly, the food is really good because local families enjoy it more than visitors!
When deciding where to stay, remember that location is your key to a dynamic home away from home while vacationing in Yerevan.
The Armenia Marriott Hotel, has the coveted spot on republic square, convenient to everything you’ll want to see and do.
Inside you’ll discover a restorative spa, a trendy bar, spacious rooms & suites and excellent dining inside or out on the patio.
Armenia and it’s gorgeous capital city of Yerevan have earned my respect, my trust, and my admiration. It’s been a discovery of a new destination and lifelong friendship.
Armenia Travel Tips:
– Flights to Yerevan easily connect from major cities like Vienna and Moscow.
– Armenian restaurants often include an acceptable 10% gratuity.
– Carry a card with your hotel address in case your taxi driver doesn’t speak English.
– Currency in Armenia is the dram. 1 dollar is just under 500 Dram. An easy dram to dollar conversion trick: cover 3 zeros and double what’s left: 10,000 Dram = about $20.
– Water in Yerevan is clean and safe to drink, however bottled water is recommended in the countryside as it come from wells.
– SAS supermarkets in Yerevan are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, selling food, alcohol & beauty products. There’s also a bank and ATM.
– Yerevan is a safe city to walk in, day and night.
For more information about Armenia visit http://armeniatouristboard.org/
When you’re in Armenia stay at the Marriott Yerevan