Yerevan Walking Tour

The best way to get acquainted with Yerevan is to do as the locals do and walk. This both saves time (parking is impossible and traffic jams are now par for the course, adding 20-30 minutes to what were once 5 minute jaunts) while allowing you to savor the sights and sounds of the city.

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Map A

Begin at Republic Square and start the walking tour by going up the first two blocks of Abovyan St., passing through the first two blocks of Old Abovyan Street (see Walking Tour 1), then turn left at the new plaza that leads into Northern Avenue (1).  The avenue has been carved from a warren of historic neighborhoods that were the heart of the old city, and is a key to the government’s plan for urban renewal.  Is high-rises and garish storefronts have become a new hub of activity, especially by the trend-setting wannabes.

First intersection is Tumanian St., with cafes, bistros and restaurants lining the sidewalks.  More expensive places are to the left, cheap eats to the right (Sharma, Khinkali).

Opera Square (2) is across the street, with the large gray Opera building (3) rung by trees and a large asphalt plaza, The building houses the Alexander Spendiarov National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet and Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall—simply called Opera by locals.  The monumental building was designed by the early Soviet city planner Alexander Tamanian and some say his best work. 

The building went through several versions before the current was settled on, the most interesting being the Palace of the Soviets, the base of a huge 50 story statue to Socialist Progress.  Alas, funds intervened and the current structure was erected beginning in the 1930s, and completed under the direction of his son after his death.  Though I would never call it beautiful (it is best at night when architectural lighting soften the harsh features) the design, inspired in part on the design of Zvartnots cathedral near Echmiadzin, won a gold medal at the Paris International Exhibition of 1936.

The building hosts performances by the State Opera and ballet companies (schedules are posted at the ticket office across from Opera at the corner of Tumanian and Mashtots), and the National Symphony (ticket booth outside the Sayat Nova/Place do France entrance), and a host of popular concerts and performances by classical, folk and pop musicians, singers and dancers, as well as special events (chess matches, celebrations, meetings, etc.).  Watch for events on the large fence billboards on the Tumanian St. and Mashtots pta sides of Opera Park. 

Opera Park (4) surrounds Opera, and is arguably the true heart of the city (Republic Square reserved for government offices and official celebrations), the meeting point for locals and visitors alike, where families gather to share news and gossip (their kids streaming by in a rented scooter or bicycle), students and couples meet at one of the outdoor cafes to visit, play billiards or listen to music in on of the large café complexes in the park, and where late-nighters dance in underground discos at Astral Club or the basement of Opera Theatre. 

Opera Square (Freedom Square or Azatutian H’raparak) (2), is the asphalt plaza in front of the Opera and Ballet Theatre, and is used for concerts, celebrations and political meetings, the latter considered a guaranteed right by locals who bitterly complain of the uneven distribution of wealth in the country.  The most famous meeting at the plaza was during the 1988 Karabakh demonstrations, when over 1 million people crowded the plaza and surrounding streets to listen to political speeches.  

Two large seated figures anchor the square.  On your right as you face Opera is a statue of the writer Hovhannes Tumanian (5) (sculptor Ara Sargsian), whose greatest fame is as writer of children’s tales, but whose epic poems Anush and Almast were the basis for two of Armenia’s most popular operas (by Armen Tigranian and Alexander Spendiarov, respectively). 

The figure on the right is Alexander Spendiarov (6) (sculptor Ara Sargsian and Gukas Chubarian), called the father of Armenia’s modern classical music movement for his compositions (combining folk and classical music, like those of his mentor Rimsky Korsakov), and his founding the Philharmonic Orchestra and the music conservatory nearby.  Spendiarian’s body lies under a tombstone (7) in the grass just NW of his statue, at the foot of the garish Egyptian style Astral Club, which pulses disco beat each night along with Opera Disco in the basement of Opera, no doubt spinning the composer in his grave. 

East of the plaza is a cement pond in a shape vaguely reminiscent of Lake Sevan.  “Swan Lake” (8) hosts live swans and energetic kids in the summer, while its southern end is frozen over in the winter for enthusiastic skaters.  South of the pond, facing Tumanian St. is an energetic statue to the composer Arno Babajanian (9) (sculptor David Bejanian), whose songs and musicals won him international fame. 

Babajanian was the most popular composer of 1970s-80s Soviet Union, especially his songs Memory, I Ask You, Song of First Love, and Yerevan, still hummed by people of a certain age.  The statue is a wonderful depiction of the composer’s personality and explosive musicality, though old-timers were horrified by the sculpture when it was first unveiled, their outcry forcing the sculptor to modify some of his more energetic details.  

In front of the Philharmonic Hall side of the building (facing Place de France) is a statue of Aram Khachaturian (10) (sculptor Yuri Petrossian), Armenia’s most famous classical composer, whose best known music is for his ballet’s Spartak (a.k.a. Spartacus) and Guyaneh (music of which was used in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey).  The latter ballet features in its final act what is probably his most famous movement, the "Saber Dance".


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