Do you know that the majority of the Armenians live abroad and just a third in present Armenia?
Or do you know that Kingdom of Armenia was the first state which adopted Christianity in the 4th century?
Have you heard about one of the biggest genocides in the history, the Armenian genocide?
Armenia is a small country in Caucasus region, where Christianity and Islam meet, a country between two economic and military powers: Russia and Turkey. As a result of their geographical position and religious belonging, Armenian people had been through a dozen of wars, battles and sorrow. Their relation with Turkey is still hostile, the border between the two neighboring countries is closed.
As part of our 21-day Georgian – Armenian trip, we drove through Armenia by a Toyota Yaris, rented in Tbilisi from here. Usually the prices are higher if you choose to be able to leave Georgia. Below is the map with our ~1000 km route we took after crossing Armenia’s border, in approx ten days:
In this first part we will show you Yerevan and some of the attractions nearby (route marked with yellow line over the blue one)
The capital is “one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities”, says Wikipedia. Unexpectedly though, while visiting the city center you see almost nothing which is that old as the above description tells, many buildings are younger than you. One of the main streets which offer an older view of the city is the Abovyan street, but still, back in time just with ~100 years. However, you can still find even older buildings on the adjacent streets, see the mix of architectures during centuries of different influences in inner courts and inhabited houses. But those are not in the spotlight and the best way to find them is to ask your guide or roam deeper on the streets of Yerevan.
We definitely recommend you to visit the city with a guide, Yerevan is a place with a lot of history and stories: Yerevan Free Walking Tour
The capital is also named “The Pink City” because of the volcanic pink bricks they used for the reconstruction of the city in the Soviet era. This reconstruction of the city with a “western” image in mind, is also one of the main reasons there isn’t really an old town existing anymore. Heritage old houses were destroyed to make place to new, megalomaniac communist architecture.
The Government’s building in the Republic Square:
The Northern Avenue, the biggest pedestrian street, has a Western-European shopping oriented style.
However, there is a positive/fun fact in the urban planning during soviet era. While driving through villages near Yerevan we’ve noticed many abandoned houses. Reasons could be plenty, but turns out a lot of Armenians moved to Yerevan for a little cost or for free so Yerevan could reach a population of 1 million. Can you guess why? Well, “the Soviet City Engineering Planning Department stated that a Metro system would only be awarded to cities with more than a population of one million”.
95% of the population is Christian and members of Armenia’s own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is one of the oldest Christian churches.
Armenia, where the chess is popular for centuries, has “one of the highest numbers of grandmasters per capita in the world” and they are winning continuously championships at every level. The children learn chess home and at school as well, starting at an early age, 5-6 years.
The Armenian Genocide memorial complex, as known as Tsitsernakaberd, is maybe the most important place to see in Yerevan. The Armenian genocide is much less known compared to The Holocaust, even though it happened just around one hundred years ago. The number of Armenian deaths was around 1.5 million people, but many countries, including the Ottoman Empire (present Turkey), the nation which committed the genocide, do not recognize it.
Thousands of Armenians come from all over the world to visit the memorial, the places their parents or grandparents emigrated from during or after the genocide. Around six million live now abroad, expelled mainly from present Turkey, compared to just three million that live in Armenia.
Ararat, the Armenian’s sacred mountain, used to be in the heart of the country. Ironically, it is Turkey’s territory nowadays.
The best place to see Ararat in Yerevan is from here, the Cascade complex:
Dancing fountain in the Republic Square, starting every day at 21.
Garni is a village 30km away from Yerevan and it’s well known for its Ionic temple, most iconic symbol of pre-Christian Armenia.
Near the village, another tourist attraction is the Garni Gorge with well preserved basalt columns, carved out by the Goght River.
The basalt columns are named “Symphony of the Stones”.
Nuts all the way 🙂
Geghard medieval monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is partially carved out from the neighboring mountain and has a sacred spring right inside. We have seen a lot of monasteries in Armenia, but this one was the most spectacular.
It’s just 40km far from Yerevan and 10km from Garni, so pretty suitable to include in the same day trip with Garni.
Suddenly we observed some priests entering one of the carved halls of the monastery, but didn’t expect to be part of this impressive experience:
We decided to sleep outdoors that night and this is the car-camp-site we have found, right next to the Azat reservoir.
Even the skillful and reliable Lada Nivas can be stucked in the mud 🙂
Food and coffee
If you ask us what we liked the most in Armenia then … we would definitely say: the food. I remember that we were waiting all the time for lunch time, every time choosing an another type of dish.
If I remember well, this is Kyalagyosh, yoghurt soup with lavash bread and lentils. Might not look that exquisit, but the best part was that the waiter brought us all the separate ingredients to the table and we mixed them together under guidance and precise order. Five star experience 🙂
Good dish with forgotten name.
Kind of Tabbouleh, but way better than any other we ate before.
This is “just” a standard chickpeas / potato/ meat soup, but its “hat” makes it special.
Pomegranate lamb soup. Love at first spoon.
Some kind of yoghurt and rice based soup.
Delicious fish soup in Garni gorge, similar to the Hungarian one.
Armenian baklava, way better than the one you know: full of nuts, a balanced flavour and less sweet than the Turkish one.
The coffee beans are grinded very fine, like for the Turkish coffee, but, as a suggestion of courtesy, better not to ask for “Turkish coffee” while in Armenia.
If you have any observation or questions feel free to contact us! 🙂 Part II is here
Of course, with a backpack.