At breakfast we met two lovely Romanian orthodentists called Oliver and Cassiana who are travelling in Georgia and Armenia for a couple of weeks. Cassiana in particular is keen to know more about long term travel and we had a lovely chat about Romania too. Hopefully we can hang out later.
Seb and I walked to the cascades, finding a rather unorthodox route involving scrambling down into a gulley and then up a ladder.
But the main thing is that we made it. We took a variety of escalators and stairs up to the top, stopping at each of the levels to explore the outdoor exhibits and then the modern art gallery inside the left-hand side of the stairs.
The stairs are unfinished, which we already knew, but I think that the mess at the top is really surprising! We took the alternative route to reach the Armenian Statehood Monument and I was surprised to see the way the stairs were going to be joined to the cascade.
From the top there is an amazing viewpoint over the city with the two peaks of Mount Ararat on the skyline. The mist made the mountain hard to make out so perhaps it’s best before the heat of the day.
From the monument we crossed under the busy road and into Victory Park to pay Mother Armenia a visit. She is a stern lady! The sword she holds seems very ready to stab anyone on the approach.
The foot of the statue is ringed with military equipment from the war with Azerbaijan over the Artsakh region. It was quite surprising to see and just made the place feel even more Soviet.
The pedestal of the monument contains a museum about the War of Liberation of Artsakh (the war with Azerbaijan). I’m not making judgements on what really happened but I just find it interesting how different the stories can be from each side. This museum is full of signs containing extremely emotive language, one example being the claim that, in trying to reclaim territory from Azerbaijan, the “Armenians chose the democratic and civilized way” and that “In response to this, Azerbaijan undertook everything for drowning the Armenian movement in blood”. The museum then goes in to great detail (in Armenian and either English or Russian) to talk about the war heroes including the Specialist Unit which it seems were practically sent to die a hero’s death.
We walked back through the park and found that most of it is taken up by a huge run-down fairground. On the plus side though, they had ice creams and I bought one called USSR which was vanilla coated with chocolate.
We walked back down the cascades and then into the centre down the pedestrianised North Street and went to the Armenian National History Museum on Republic Square.
Armenia National History Museum
We each paid 2,000 dram for entry and headed to the third floor to start the exhibition in the stone age.
Tools, mainly hand axes, from 500,000 BC were found in a few settlements in Armenia and are displayed in a case.
In the next display are tools from the Neolithic period, 6000 BC, mainly sickles, hammers and knives of bone and then axes from stone and incredibly sharp blades from obsidian. From the 5th millennium BC there are also examples of pottery and rock carvings.
One of the most famous pieces in the museum is the oldest leather shoe in the world. It was found at the Areni-1 cave complex where we hope to visit later this week. The shoe was made in 3600-3500 BC and is so very clearly a shoe, it takes no interpretation. It was only discovered in 2008 with excavation beginning in 2007.
Chalcolithic Period settlements in the Ararat valley have yielded evidence of early metalwork in the 5th and 4th millenia BC.
The next room is dedicated to the early bronze age (second half of 4th millennium to first half of 3rd Millennium BC) and one of my favourite pieces was a cauldron made from clay in the 3rd Millennium BC. The collection is absolutely excellent! There are some amazing arrowheads and axe heads. The next room has dozens of perfectly preserved pots from 2300-1500 BC.
The room has lots of information about burial in the bronze age and there is even one of the full-sized chariots that was uncovered in one of the excavations.
There are bronze sculptures in different shapes and sizes, some representing the solar system and others are very accurately represented animals. There is a statuette of a tapir which confused me as I thought they were exclusively South American.
There are stunning Cuneiform inscribed stone tablets discovered at the Citadel of the Teishebaini Fortress which existed 685-645 BC. I thought this would be one of the oldest recorded messages but the signs just talks about the translation.
The Armenian claim to the world’s oldest wine is here! An enormous wine jar used for making wine that, according to the cuneiform inscription, can hold 1200 litres of wine and is thousands of years old. There are displays dedicated to the ancient military of the region and a photograph of Van, the Urartian Citadel, showing hundreds of steps cut into the steep stone cliff leading up to the caves. This site is now in Eastern Turkey.
Next is a set of displays that cover pagan, Greek and Roman times in Armenia. Coins from all over Europe have been found in Armenian excavations, from as far away as modern day France and Spain.
The adoption of Christianity in Armenia in 301 is credited to the preachers Thaddeus and Bartholomew. The king of the time forbade the religion and severely punished Gregory the Illuminator for about 14 years for trying to perpetuate the religion. Two Christian nuns who had fled to Armenia from Rome, Gayane and Hripsime, were martyred in this period and now have cathedrals named after them near to the first cathedral which was built in AD 303. The style of churches in Armenia crystallised in the 4th-7th Centuries.
On the second floor is a display of medieval Armenia and in particular to the settlement and many, many churches of Ani, which was the capital of Armenia in the medieval period. It was known as the City of 1001 Churches.
The glazes developed during the period gave rise to an impressive pottery style, with lots of colour, in particular blues and turquoise, pots and dishes.
The last area we walked through was dedicated to telling the Armenian story of the genocide. It talks of the trial which sentenced the perpetrators in absentia to death and how all of those individuals had already be absconded to other nations. It talks very highly of the vigilantes who carried out the death sentences of the individuals.
There were two more areas, one dedicated to the Soviet times and the last one about the Armenian Republic. Both would have been interesting but I was a little tired of trying to find the very tiny amount of information on English during the latter exhibits. If I end up with some time left over in Yerevan then I would pay to go in again and just visit the three last rooms with the genocide, Soviet era and then the republic.
We were both pretty knackered from being on our feet for hours so next stop was lunch. We are at Karas, an Armenian chain restaurant just off Republic Square, and the food was good and reasonably priced too. For lunch and drinks we paid 3,800 dram (£6).
Then we wanted to head to the Erebuni fortress ruins but got off one stop early on the metro but it was a really happy accident as we stumbled across a gorgeous grand church and there was a wedding ceremony going on when we walked in.
We got back onto the metro and then hopped off at the correct stop – next to the Yerevan Train Station where we began the long walk to the Erebuni fortress museum. We both figured that it was going to be closed when we arrived because it took us so long! Totally worth every step as the views of Mount Ararat just got better and better.
It certainly looked closed when we arrived at 6:20pm but the woman sitting on the front steps showed us around to a side gate and sold us tickets for 1000 dram each.
There was quite a climb up to the fortress on the hilltop but I can’t imagine better views over the city and the valley. The clouds lifted off Ararat and it was just a phenomenal view.
Then a storm hit part of the city and the sky was super dramatic.
We climbed up onto the crumbling walls and stayed until the sun had almost set.
Then we walked back to the road hoping to hitch back but then we saw a nice bar… So we went for a beer instead and then got a taxi for 700 dram (negotiated down from 1000, don’t be afraid to barter as I think even 700 is a bit much).
There are two Uber equivalents in the city, GG and Yandex. Annoyingly GG hasn’t loaded a map properly thus far so I haven’t been able to hail a taxi on the app.
We took the metro the rest of the way into the centre and had dinner at a nice restaurant in time to watch the water and light show at Republic Square which kicks off at 9pm.