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 B

Place de France (11) was recently named in honor of one of Armenia’s key Diaspora communities, a busy traffic circle where three of Yerevan’s major throughways meet; Mashtots, Baghramian and Sayat Nova Avenues (poghotas).  The circle is rung by parks; Opera Square on the south, Saryan Park (12) (Artist Vernissage) to the west, Tamanian Park (19) to the north and Sayat Nova or Conservatory Park (15) to the east. 

Saryan Park/Art Vernissage (12) is anchored by a large sculpture of the “father of modern Armenian art” Martiros Saryan (13) (sculptor Levon Tokmachian), its sidewalks taken over each weekend by local painters who display their wares, all on sale.  Browsing is encouraged, and artists will stroke up a conversation, hoping to make a sale, but none expect you to buy.  Open Saturdays-Sundays 9-dusk. 

There are two cafes in the park worth considering stopping at to grab a cup of java and people watch.  The one at the far S corner, unpretentious as all get out, is one of the most famous in Yerevan, Kazirok, a spot where Armenia’s actors and artists gather to debate life and love of art.  Gawking is allowed.  The next on Mashtots, nearest the Sarian statue, is also unpretentious and pleasant, built around the Erebuni-Sevan Tree of Life Monument (14) (1970, sculptor H. Peliposian). 

Across Sayat Nova to the east is the small Conservatory or Sayat Nova Park (15) facing the Music Conservatory, with a large statue to Komitas (16) (sculptor Ara Harutunian) sitting on a bent tree, and on the far end, a fountain monument with a bust of the 18th c troubadour Sayat Nova (17) (sculptor Ara Harutunian, architect Y. Sarapian).  Both men are credited with forever changing the music tradition in Armenia, Sayat Nova for his mournful, romantic ballads that infused a heretofore religious art form with secular themes, especially that of love; and Komitas, for combining spiritual music with folk traditions collected from villagers, where he recorded folk songs and ballads handed down orally. 

Perhaps Armenia’s greatest musical genius, Komitas went mad after witnessing the atrocities of the genocide, and died in a mental hospital in Paris.  The conservatory (18) on the east side of the park has churned out famous musicians from its inception in the 1920s, including opera stars, vocalists, instrumentalists and composes.  Student recitals are given in the conservatory’s concert hall.  Feel free to step in for a sample of what the next generation offers.

Nestled between Sarian and Conservatory parks is the lower end of Tamanian park (19) that has been taken over by Santa Fe Café, which has actually created a delightful garden for passersby, replete with one of the only lawns in Yerevan (the others are also at outdoor cafés).  The park links Opera Square with one of Yerevan’s most amazing views, the Cascade Park and Monument.

Tamanian /Cascade Park (20), north of Opera, is an oasis in the middle of an urban jungle, an immaculately maintained park without any café to interrupt the greenery or prevent passersby from strolling or sitting along the manicured lawns and flower beds.  A series of fountains center the park as its leads towards the equally beautiful Cascade monument, rising 60 meters from its base to Monument.  At the base of the park is the large Alexander Tamanian Statue (21) (1974, sculptor A. Hovsepian, architect S. Petrossian), the park’s namesake.  Tamanian is credited with creating Yerevan’s first Soviet master plan, reshaping a provincial village into a major metropolis.  The architect is stylistically shown hunched over the original plans, details of which  are etched on the polished base.  Other than marking the spot, the statue has become a favorite hangout for toddlers, who love running between the architect’s legs.

Cascade (23) (architects J. Torossian, S. Gurzadian, A. Mkhitarian, engineers E. Hakopian, B. Geghamian) is the large series of steps and platforms at the north end of the park.  The massive monument remained unfinished for many years before being taken under the wing of a wealthy donor, who is completing construction as part of a new center for the arts (read on).

As originally designed, the monument stretches 200 meters from Tamanian Statue to top, with absolute height of 100 meters and a surface length of 500 meters, width 50 meters.  Escalators (enter left as you face the monument) take visitors to each of five levels,  escalators inside, surface length is 500 meters, 50 each with its own distinct outer courtyard fountain and flower beds, and an interior gallery space, the fifth with a rotunda made from 15 columns.  Each fountain wall has 15 jars or “springs”, symbols from Armenian history.  The second level outer wall has a sun dial,  symbolizing eternal life.

The park also includes the large statue Cat (22), by the Latin American sculptor Fernando Botero,  at the bottom of the cascade, a second Botero sculpture Roman Warrior (30) on Monument platform at the top, and several pieces on cascade platforms, including Lynn Chadwick's Stairs (24) (1991) and Sitting Forms (25) (1980) and Barry Flannagan's  Hare on Bell (26) (1983).  Indoor escalator platforms display Barry Flanagan's Acrobats (1998), Lynn Chadwick's Two Watchers (1960), and Open Window by Stanislav Libensky & Jaroslava Brychtova (1992).

The park’s preservation is a gift from Gerard L. Cafesjian, a wealthy American-Armenian whose private modern collection will be housed in the large Gerard L. Cafesjian Museum (27) complex under construction at the top of Cascade, due to open summer of 2009. 

The collection is so important no less than the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern and the Pompidou Center/Louvre attempted to obtain it, Cafesjian choosing to build a world-class museum in Yerevan instead.  The Museum will be the first part of new the Gerard L. Cafesjian Center for the Arts, at the top of cascade.  The site of the Cafesjian Center has sweeping views of Yerevan  and will include a public plaza, ornamental pool, sculpture courts, a café and an exterior cinema all accessible to passers-by as well as museum visitors.  A prominent glass tower, housing the Cafesjian glass collection, will be most striking part of the design, a modernist design balancing Cascade, Monument and the large outdoor cinema screen, as well as becoming anew emblem for the city.  Other facilities will include an auditorium for educational programming and performance art, sales shop, restaurant, reception areas, administrative offices, exhibition department and collection storage.

True to its mission to foster community involvement, the museum foundation is already presenting cultural events, including a series of open-air free concerts at Cascade, one of the most popular entertainment venues in the city.  Concerts include classical, folk, jazz and pop music by local and international artists.  Upcoming performances are announced on large billboard at cascade and are available at the museum foundation office, 2 Tumanian St., suite 48, tel. 54-19-32, 54-19-34, URL: www.cmf.am.

Climb the steps (or take the escalators) to one of the upper terraces of Cascade, for panoramic views of the city and Mt. Ararat (clear days).  By hiking up to the top (temporary steps lead from upper cascade to the space under Monument, where more steps trudge up to the top platform and a spectacular view).

The 50th Anniversary of Soviet Armenia Monument (28) (architects Jim Torossian, Sarkis Gurzadian) is a tall slender stele topped by a golden staff of wheat.  The symbolism (Vishap stone ersatz Christian stele and wheat) come from Armenia’s earliest periods, primeval symbols of what and bread, or life.  Under the square platform next to the tower, a lower courtyard (29) has a monolith in the center (looking vaguely pre-Christian) surrounded by thick façades of Armenian motif carvings, some khachkar in style, others Pagan.  This is a rarely visited part of the monument, but well worth investigating.  The monument marks the spot where the May revolution in Yerevan began.

Nearby are Botero’s Roman Warrior (30), and the nearby cartoon sculpture, Boat (31).

End Northern Ave-Opera-Cascade Walking Tour.


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