An enchanting country in the heart of Caucasus
Armenia is an ancient country bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran to the south. With an around five thousand year history, Armenia is considered one of the world’s oldest cradles of civilization.
The Armenian culture and traditions range from literature, folk dances and music, to vibrant art and delicious cuisine. The Armenian nation was the first to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD. Tradition has it that the Armenian Church was founded by two of Jesus' twelve apostles – Thaddaeus and Bartholomew. Thus, its official name is Armenian Apostolic Church. The religion and the unique Armenian language have been the bonds uniting the nation within the territory of the country and beyond its physical borders through centuries.
Armenia is considered to be a museum under the open sky. Old monasteries and historical monuments are great site-seeing locations from north to south and from west to east.
Armenians are fond of feasts and celebrations – the time for socializing and enjoying tasty food. Traditional Armenian dishes include khorovats (BBQ), dolma (stuffed grape leaves, cabbage leaves, or vegetables), khash (boiled cow or sheep parts), ghapama (pumpkin dish stuffed with boiled rice, dried fruits, and honey), and harissa (Armenian porridge made from coarsely-ground wheat and meat). These dishes are usually accompanied by Armenian wine and brandy. However, the two irreplaceable components of the Armenian cuisine are lavash (the traditional Armenian flatbread, which was included on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014), and one of the most beloved Armenian desserts, gata, also called sweet bread.
Education in Armenia has its roots back to medieval times. The first universities were founded in Ani, Tatev, and Gladzor, thereby becoming important centers of enlightenment and development of science and arts. Today, Armenia is recognized as the world’s next tech hub, not only for the growing tech sector and the rapidly evolving startup industry, but also for the country’s efforts to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education. To train the minds of youth, Armenia became the first country in the world to make chess a compulsory subject in all secondary schools.
Armenia is one of the world’s safest countries. According to Gallup International’s 2019 Global Law and Order report, Armenia is the 7th among the world’s safest countries; suffice it to say that 89% of adult Armenians claim that they feel safe and secure.
In 2018 the Economist recognized Armenia as “Country of the Year.” The magazine called Armenia an “Ovation nation” celebrating the progress it had made with its peaceful “Velvet Revolution” in the spring of 2018.
THINGS TO DO
WHAT TO DO IN YEREVAN
- A walking tour is the best way to become immersed in Yerevan’s culture, history and cuisine. The city center is, of course, the place to do this, as it is home to landmarks like the grand Republic Square, the impressive Opera House, the 18th century Blue Mosque and the famous Cascade complex. Walking around the city center is a phenomenal way to experience Yerevan’s history, from the Persian times to the Soviet periods, and get a glimpse of Yerevan’s modern side, with contemporary architecture, coffee shops, and trendy restaurants along the alleyways and the main streets.
- Visit the Cascade, a giant stairwell that sits right in the city center and is one of its key landmarks. It was built during the Soviet period in 1971 and was completely renovated in 2009. The Cascade connects the Kentron area with the Monument neighborhood and has eight levels, all of which are accessible by climbing up the stairwell—though those who would rather not walk can take an elevator or escalator. The views over the city while climbing the stairs are absolutely breathtaking, especially at night when the city lights up. It is certainly not to be missed.
- Northern Avenue is home to 11 buildings and four small squares. It also features an underground mall and car park. Some of Yerevan’s most upscale shops can be found along the pedestrian avenue, including Armani, Steve Madden, Desigual, and Burberry. There are also a number of fast food restaurants and trendy coffee shops that are great for resting and people watching.
- The Yerevan Vernissage is a large open-air weekend market that sits along Aram and Buzand streets, near the Republic Square metro. The market was opened in the 1980s by a group of local artists to display and sell their work, and is a great place to snatch up a variety of traditional Armenian art work, such as rugs, wood carvings, paintings, musical instruments, and jewelry. Another great place to purchase paintings is Saryan Park.
- Ararat is the oldest brandy company in the country, opened in 1887 by merchant Nerses Tairyants. It later became the supplier of His Imperial Majesty’s court, and since then the world-renowned brandy and has been admired by many, including Frank Sinatra, Agatha Christie, and Winston Churchill. The distillery is open for tours, which include a tasting.
WHAT TO DO IN ARMENIA
The following landmarks are all a short drive outside of Yerevan:
- Visit Garni Temple, the only remaining Pagan Temple. When Christianity was introduced to Armenia, all of the Pagan temples were destroyed and replaced with churches, except for Garni Temple, which was apparently too beautiful to be destroyed.
- Enjoy the majestic view of Lake Sevan (“black lake” in Armenian) and its surroundings. This enormous lake covers 5% of the country and is the most important lake for Armenians. At 2,000 meters above sea level, Lake Sevan is also the second largest freshwater high-altitude lake in the world.
- Also known as the “temple of ruins” and listed as a UNESCO heritage site, Zvartnots Ruins was the first circular three-story church. Built in the 6th century, it lasted for three centuries before it was destroyed by an earthquake. Some of the pillars and the altar of the church were relatively well preserved and you can still see its exterior circular architecture.
- Tatev Monastery is a 9th century historical monument and one of the oldest and most famous monastery complexes in Armenia. During medieval times Tatev Monastery was a vital scholastic, enlightenment, and spiritual center and played a singular role in the country’s history.