A tour through the history of the pink capital on the Ararat Plain
Armenian capital belongs to the oldest continuously inhabited cities. Even though it is 29 years older than Rome, the remains of its former glory don’t shape Yerevan’s urban landscape as prominently as Parthenon in Athens or Colosseum in Rome. You have to look for the clues in a tangle of open-air art galleries, abandoned construction sites, and green parks. Let us take you on a tour of Yerevan throughout centuries.
Although the Book of Genesis doesn’t explicitly say so, Mount Ararat has been accepted among Christians as the landing place of Noah’s Arch. Legend has it that the first patriarch of Armenians, Noah’s great-great-grandson, founded his nation on Ararat Plains. The impressive mountain is a symbol of Armenian identity, although it nowadays geographically belongs to Turkey.
The volcano guards above (almost) every street in Yerevan. If the weather is clear, you can enjoy an unobstructed view of Ararat from the top of Yerevan Cascade. Or find a rooftop from where you can observe the sunset painting the mountain in pink shades.
Tip: The terrace of Paris Hotel Yerevan in the city center and the rooftop café Roof close to Sankt-Sarkis-Cathedral on the western edge of the city are great viewpoints where you can also enjoy a sip of Armenian Brandy while watching the sunset.
Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion in 301 AD. Just 20 kilometers outside Yerevan there are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites that bore witness to the religious transmission.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church dates back to the 4th century, the very beginning of Christianity in the country. It is considered to be the oldest cathedral on Earth.
The complex, also known as the Armenian Vatican, welcomes pilgrims of the Armenian Apostolic Church from all over the world. During the time of our visit (May 2019), there were extensive reconstruction works taking place, so we couldn’t explore outside reliefs and interior frescoes.
The second site, the ruins of the Zvartnots Cathedral, will take you back to the 7th century. The church housed relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first Catholicos of Armenians.
The cathedral disappeared in the 10th century and was lost until the excavation at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the partially reconstructed columns give visitors an impression of the former dimensions. With good visibility, you should be able to spot Mount Ararat in the background.
Good to know: The Zvartnots complex opens at 10 am. There is a parking lot adjacent to the site. The entrance looks like a cemetery, so we missed it on the first attempt. Foreigners have to pay admission and parking fee (800 AMD as of May 2019).
During the 17th century, the Armenian population of Yerevan shrank to 20%. Back then, Armenians formed a neighborhood on the city’s south-western hills called Kond. You can walk through the narrow streets and admire derelict structures bound to inhabited houses, some of which are 300 years old.
Kond even survived the Soviets. However, today’s building boom is affecting the historic district. You should visit before concrete skyscrapers take over the Noah’s Arch of Yerevan’s urban landscape.
How to get there: Take a cab to Simeon Yerevantsi Street and walk your way up on Kond Street.
Within a 15-minute walking distance from Kond, you’ll find a whiteness of Muslim influence in Armenia, the Blue Mosque. Dating back to the 18th century, it used to be the main congregational mosque in the city. During the Soviet era, religious services were halted. Carefully reconstructed in the 1990s, it now serves as the only operating mosque in Armenia. Its park is a peaceful green oasis in the city’s hustle.
Getting around in Yerevan: Taxis are cheap and comfortable. At least compared to the full busses we saw in the streets. In Yerevan, you can use the Yandex taxi app, similar to Uber. It also gives you an estimated fare for the ride.
During the late 19th century, Yerevan grew rapidly. Schools were built, streets redeveloped and parks landscaped. Old houses had to make room for European style apartment buildings. To this day, you can find some pink facades and secession balconies around Abovyan Street.
Under Soviet rule, Yerevan quickly became an industrial metropolis. Historic buildings were replaced by wide streets and megalomaniac projects.
Also, military monuments, such as the one in the Victory Park, were erected. Today, the park is used as an amusement park, where you can ride some retro carousels while the monumental statue of Mother Armenia watches you.
How to get there: To get to the Victory Park, take the escalator to the top of Yerevan Cascade and continue to the left until you reach a slightly unfinished platform with a massive monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Sovietization of Armenia. A pedestrian underpass under Azatutyan Ave will take you to the park’s entrance.
Originally an unfinished eyesore of Soviet architecture, today the Yerevan Cascade houses the Cafesjian Centre for the Arts.
The massive limestone staircase underwent a reconstruction in the early 2000s. Outside, each cascade offers a unique view of the city in front of Mount Ararat.
Inside, escalators bring you to the very top of the staircase. During the ride, you can admire some pieces of modern art.
Good to know: The staircase and the escalators are accessible every day while the museums inside are only open 3 days a week, usually on weekends and Armenian public holidays. If you are interested in the store, just ask at the reception.
In some areas, the city resembles a large construction site. Nonetheless, projects like the Northern Avenue built based on the original plans from the 1920s shape modern Yerevan and give you an impression of the downtown in a few years.
Many formerly Soviet buildings such as Moscow Cinema on Charles Aznavour Square or the Government Building on the Republic Square were reconstructed and now contribute to the Yerevan’s unique charm.
Don’t miss: Dining in Yerevan is a wonderful experience. New places combining traditional Armenian and modern European cuisine sprung up like mushrooms. If you’re a fan of stuffed dumplings, you must visit Tumanyan Khinkali. If you like fine dining accompanied by live music, Sherep Restaurant close to Republic Square is the place to be.
Yerevan has it all. History, culture, architecture, and delicious restaurants. Don’t skip the capital while touring through Armenia.
Traveling in Armenia
Check out more information about Armenia
– Yerevan: The Pink Capital
– Garni and Geghard: Medival beauties close to Yerevan
– Sevan Lake and Armenian Stonehenge: Traveling to the South
– Tatev: Monastery on the edge of a deep gorge
– Noravank, Areni, and Khor Virap: History and wine
– Practical tips for traveling