We arrived at 7:15am at the Yerevan Central Railway Station and the metro apparently doesn’t run until 8am, it didn’t matter to us so we just went to get some breakfast at a nice cafe near the station. We paid 2,000 Dram (£3.26) each and chilled out for a while.
Yerevan Central Station is beautiful and there is a fruit and vegetable market in the square outside, which is nice to wander around.
In each country, I find the easiest way to navigate and stay in touch is to buy a local SIM card so our next stop was a Beeline store. The woman serving us, Ovsanna, was absolutely lovely and hilarious. She asked how I had heard of Armenia and whether we had arrived from Georgia and then she asserted that everything about Armenia is better than Georgia – the people, the scenery and the food. I’ve now got a SIM card with 1.5GB for 1,600 Dram (£2.50) – bargain!
We caught the metro (100 Dram, £0.16) two stops to Republic Square and then walked to the hostel. It’s so simple to get around, you don’t need a metro card, you just buy these cool little tokens.
We’re staying for two nights in Envoy Hostel after my friend recommended it to me. The 10-bed dorm was full so we’re staying in a 4-bed dorm for £11 per night. There are cheaper hostels in Yerevan but this one is rated highly and has a decent common room and nice, helpful staff.
I did some more specific reading up on what there is to do in Armenia (so much) and then looked at routes to get between all the main places, getting tips on buses and hitchhiking from the hostel staff.
Then we joined the 4pm walking tour (which was actually delayed until 5pm to avoid the heat – so late!)
Yerevan Free Walking Tour with Vako
It was the most awkward start to a tour I have ever had because Vako had recently been slammed in a Trip Advisor review by somebody who didn’t realise that the guide expected tips at the end and so he gave a really long disclaimer about tipping.
But soon enough we were underway.
It was very fast-paced and even with a lot of editing, the information seems kind of incoherent.
In 782 BC Yerevan was established as a fortress.
There are 4,000 monasteries in Armenia; incredible considering how small the country is, but Armenia has more than just monasteries…
Republic Square is the main square, its construction was started in 1920s, beginning with Government House which was completed in 1926. The buildings are beautiful with lovely stones with detailed carvings. Yerevan is known as the pink city because of the pink coloured stone which is sourced locally.
The National History Museum and the National Art Museum are housed in an enormous building on the square. There are five floors of art galleries, three floors dedicated to Armenian art. The national history museum houses some impressive artefacts from Armenia’s incredibly long human history, including some stone age weapons, the world’s oldest leather shoe and a part of an early human brain.
The Armenian rivalry with Georgia over being the first place to create wine is hilarious. But the Armenians are really pleased to hear that China now has a claim to beat them both!
The oldest winery in the world was discovered in a cave in the wine region, Areni-1, which is 6,100 years old.
Pomegranates and grapes are significant in Armenian ornaments and decoration, although apricot is the national food.
The Armenian Flag
The apricot gives the flag it’s orange stripe. The red is for blood and the blue for the blue sky that they live under as a free, independent nation. Incidentally, Yerevan has 300 days of sunshine a year!
Soviet Armenian symbol is still on the Government House. It is quite interesting – the Ararat Crest sits on a pile of grapes and pomegranates.
Armenia has had a rough history with its neighbours. Mount Ararat, the national symbol, used to sit in the centre of the Armenian Highlands; now it is in Turkey, in a thin corridor next to Iran. Over the years, Armenia has lost most of its territory, taking it from over 400,000 square kilometres down to 30,000 square kilometres today.
Population of Armenia and population of Armenians is staggeringly different. There are 11 million ethnic Armenians, only 3 million in Armenia. This spread of a population is called a diaspora and the majority of Armenia diaspora is due to the 1915 Ottoman genocide of ethnic Armenians living in what was Western Armenia (now Eastern Turkey).
Yerevan is the 13th capital of the Armenian nation and it’s only been an important city for 3 or 4 hundred years.
In the 15th century the Ottomans occupied most of Armenia with the Persians occupying the rest until the Russian empire took over the region. That’s when Armenia lost most of its land.
Many properties in Yerevan are two storey with a basement and at the rear there are balconies and courtyards as in Tbilisi.
On May 28th 1918, Georgia and Armenia became independent and a new nation was carved out around the Turkic people to the East and it was called Azerbaijan.
In the agreements in Europe after the war, it was all a bit of a disaster. Armenia was supposed to get much of its land back in the same time as Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait were created. Also, Kurdistan was supposed to become a country but nothing ever happened (it is suspected) because the oil was in the south of the region and the Europeans didn’t care much for the mountain people so they were left to the Americans to deal with and they didn’t follow through with moving the border so Armenia remained well within the borders they should have had. Next, Turkey’s leader Ataturk was invading and instead of pushing him back, the Americans just cut off an extra chunk of Armenia and threw it to Turkey to make them stop advancing. The Armenians in general are extremely bitter about this.
The cross stones of Armenia are a UNESCO heritage and when the Azeris began destroying them in areas of Armenia that became Azerbaijani territory, Armenia appealed for help but nothing really changed. Originals can be found in some of the preserved monasteries.
A little bit of an attitude emanates from Vako here when he begins a rant about how the Russians gave Tbilisi everything and did nothing for Armenia at first. The opera, schools, hospitals are all Soviet built.
The Soviet circular city plan was created for 20,000 people (Yerevan was very small) but the city soon outgrew it’s infrastructure as people flocked to the city.
By the late 1970s Yerevan had significantly grown and in 1978 the city governor imported villagers to boost the population to 1 million because, in the Soviet Union, any city with 1 million inhabitants gets a metro! And on the day the inspection was done by the Soviet government every citizen with a car was told to get out on the street to exacerbate the traffic issues. Lo and behold, the metro design was begun, and 34 stations were designed. Only 10 stations were built and when the Soviet Union collapsed, the project stopped and was then unaffordable.
Around 4 months ago (in April/May 2018) there was a peaceful Velvet Revolution and now there is a more democratic government. The city mayor was kicked out a few weeks ago and elections are upcoming.
Taxi rides in the city should cost around 600 dram although if you download the app you can pay less and you don’t risk being HUGELY ripped off (the recent boom in tourism is causing some undesirable behaviour in terms of extorting tourists). Try the apps Yandex or gg for taxis.
Nightlife in Yerevan – if you want to go dancing please make sure you ask for a “club”, asking for a “nightclub” will take you to a strip club. Now that you know, it’s your call.
Where the Moscow cinema now stands used to be a mosque and a church on opposite sides of the square but in Soviet time they were both destroyed and replaced with the Moscow cinema and the Grand Hotel, the first hotel in Yerevan, built in 1928.
Armenia is big on chess and has 6 grand masters in the world top 50. There’s a huge chess board next to the cinema. The mayoral elections have campaigns at the moment and we saw one outside the cinema where there is also an awesome statue of a bear made out of old mechanical parts.
The lake in the city is cute, they call it Swan Lake. In the winter they drain most of it and freeze the centre to create an ice rink. There is a water festival every year, 3 months after Easter Sunday where everybody throws water at each other, like the purge but without the murder. It’s the only day when people are allowed to jump in Swan Lake.
Kanye threw a free concert here when him and Kim Kardashian came here. During the concert he jumped (illegally) into the lake and loads of people followed suit, followed by furious police officers. The stint ended up in a new unofficial name for the lake – Swan-ye Lake.
The opera season kicks off again on 15th September. It’s 2000 dram for a ticket so it’s one of the cheaper venues for opera. The opera house and philharmonic orchestra house share a huge building in opera square.
Alexander Tanenady was an ethnic Armenian Soviet architect that designed the circular city in 1920s, he also designed the opera. Most of the nightlife is concentrated in the northwestern slice of the city.
The 50th anniversary of Soviet Armenia was the original meaning of the 50 metre tall pillar topped with an Armenian crown and a leaf symbolising rebirth of the Armenian nation.
Now it’s known as the Armenian statehood memorial. It’s at the top of the cascade complex. Building of the cascade began in 1976 during the modernisme architectural period. The War with Azerbaijan, and then earthquake and then Soviet Union collapse meant that the cascades went unfinished.
Only 572 stairs were built out of the 1,000 in the original design which would have seen the stairs meet the foot of the monument
They were supposed to be arranged in seven layers representing different periods in Armenias history. Pro tip here: there are well concealed escalators within the left hand side of the staircase as you look up from the bottom.
Once you get to the top you can walk for about half an hour to reach the mother Armenia monument.
We decided to head to the cascade and visit the Mother Armenia monument tomorrow.
The language is an indo-European language. Greek, Armenian, and Albanian are in the same small branch of the indo-european languages. Greek is the closest.
The alphabet was created for the language in 405AD by a monk called Mesrop Mashtots. The original Armenian script had 36 characters including three R’s – like an English R, a Russian R and a French R.
Many Armenian words are Armenianised – they will literally translate every part of a word. Or they just make up a new word – coffee is Süük, which is unlike any other language which took the Arabic root for the word. Even internet has been Armenianised by adding the two Armenian words for “inter” and “net”.
Armenia was visited by two apostles in the first century. This is why the Armenian church is known as apostolic. In 303AD the first Christian cathedral in the world was built in the then capital city, Echmiadzihn.
Another important aspect of the Armenian faith are the 72 disciples of Jesus: they are important and the remains of Ananias were buried beneath this 13th century church called Zoravor Saint Astvatsatsin.
The Iranian community in Armenia is fairly large and they have the only functioning mosque in the city, the Blue Mosque was built in 1778.
There are 400 Armenian churches in the horn of northern Iran which used to be part of Armenia.