Must See Yerevan – Huffington Post

Must See Yerevan – Huffington Post

YEREVAN, May 16. /Novosti-Armenia/. Yerevan is a surprising city. While it's history dates back to the 8th century B.C., the total population of Yerevan was still under 70,000 at the start of the Soviet era. With this nearly blank canvas to work with, Soviet architect Alexander Tamanyan went to work on the new capital of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, hoping to create a Neoclassical jewel modeled after the great capitals of Western Europe.

A good way to start your cultural immersion into Armenia, is to head outside the city to the Monastery of Geghard, which is a UNESCO heritage site. The Geghard complex, which dates back to the 4th century A.D., is also known as "the Monastery of the Cave," and is cut into the cliffs in the Azat River gorge.

Ninety-seven percent of Armenians are Christian, and Geghard has been an important religious site dating back at least as far as the 13th century, when it was purported to have held many important relics, including the spear that wounded Christ on the cross.

A short 15-minute drive from Geghard, is the town of Garni. Here you can reach back even further into history, with a visit to the eponymous temple. Work on the Garni temple began in the first century A.D. This Hellenic structure, which was funded by Emperor Nero, has been restored after being partially destroyed by invasions and earthquakes over the centuries. It is the only surviving pagan temple in the entirety of the former Soviet Union.

With a look into Armenian antiquity complete, your next stop on the way back to Yerevan should be Victory Park. Perched in the hills above Yerevan, Victory Park features a very dated Soviet style amusement park complete with a Pripyat-esque 1980's ferris wheel, old Soviet military hardware (tanks, SAM's and even a MiG), as well as a brilliant lookout point providing great views of the city, and on a clear day, Mt. Ararat. The highlight of Victory Park however, is the 21-meter tall hammered copper Mother Armenia Statue, set atop a 30-meter high basalt base.

Back in "Kentron," the city center, Republic Square is not to be missed. Formerly known as Lenin Square, this "square" is actually an oval that was designed by Tamanyan to resemble a traditional Armenian rug when viewed from above. The square is ringed by the National Gallery, National History Museum and several government buildings. If you visit Armenia in the summer months, be sure to return to Republic Square after dark to see the "dancing fountains," a choreographed water show synched with lights and music.

Tamanyan envisioned Yerevan as a city with two centers, the main center being Republic Square, and the second, smaller center located around the Opera House. Northern Avenue is the pedestrian way linking these two focal points, and while strolling between them, you can find high end shopping, cafes and some of Yerevan's finest restaurants.

Perhaps the most impressive tourist attraction in the city center is the Cascade. Construction on this massive undertaking began in 1971, and it was not completed until 2009. The Cascade is a Soviet-sized stairway that links the city center to the hilltop neighborhood of Monument, where Victory Park is located.

The Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex houses both the Armenian Genocide Museum, and the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial. The museum, which is less than ten minutes taxi ride from Republic Square offers an account of the 1915 genocide in which as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished while Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire.

The final stop is the Khor Virap Monastery, located 20 miles South of Yerevan, and less than 500 yards from the Armenian-Turkish border. Construction of the still functioning church began in 642 A.D. and aside from viewing the Monastery, it's vantage point on a hilltop in Pokr Vedi affords unparalleled views of nearby Mt. Ararat just across the Turkish border. –0--

14:04 16.05.2014

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