The Guardian | Yerevan is one of the easiest places in the world to meet people and make connections. It’s a small town in many ways, and Armenians are extremely hospitable by nature, so the degrees of separation are more like two instead of six.
"Water fights, buildings that look like Soviet spaceships and the clacking of backgammon boards give life to the inner courtyards of Armenia’s capital."
In five words
Café glacé at Opera Park.
Sound of the city
In almost every courtyard alleyway, a gaggle of grandfathers can be found playing a daily game of backgammon while rubbing rosaries and partaking in local gossip. The echoing sound of dice amid laundry lines and fruit and vegetable stalls is perhaps part of what prompted Russian writer Vasily Grossman to call the inner courtyards the heart and soul of Yerevan in his 1962 non-fiction book, An Armenian Sketchbook, where you can find the city as a “living organism, stripped of its outer skin”.
How green is your city?
Over the decades, park spaces in this walkable city have been lost to cafes and shopping centres. In 2012, residents came head to head with authorities to protest the destruction (for boutiques) of one of the city’s last remaining public parks – and, controversially, won. While there’s news of the city opening up a recycling plant, and a countrywide reforestation initiative called the Armenia Tree Project, the greening of Yerevan hasn’t exactly taken off as some civil activists have hoped it would. Advertisement
Though bike lanes don’t exist in the city, bike ownership is definitely increasing. But taxis are so common that most people rely on them, as well as a Soviet-era metro system that covers a decent portion of the city.
Opened in 1983, the architectural jewel of Yerevan is the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Music Complex (also known as the Hamalir in Armenian). It looks as I would imagine a very glamorous Soviet spaceship to look like. Designed by a group of Armenian architects, the complex includes a unique feature – a turning stage where over 1,000 seats can connect two halls and provide additional seating.
It was for this concept that the architects were awarded the USSR State Prize in 1987, the highest of its kind. Named after the former first secretary of Soviet Armenia, the hall has hosted both Armenian and international singers, including Deep Purple who performed there in 2010 and the classic French-Armenian singer, Charles Aznavour.
And the worst
Just off the main Republic Square sits the Yerevan Elite Plaza, which opened in 2013 and is said to be the biggest business centre in the Caucasus. Its gaudy green finish and overbearing, odd shape, however, make it symbolic of rapid architectural changes the city is going through, losing its historical buildings to a flashy attempt at a contemporary “elite” style.
The city is 29 years older than Rome and was subject to centuries of foreign rule, but because of the never-ending construction boom, you’d never be able to tell.
What Yerevan does better than anywhere else
Yerevan is one of the easiest places in the world to meet people and make connections. It’s a small town in many ways, and Armenians are extremely hospitable by nature, so the degrees of separation are more like two instead of six. It often takes a just few minutes at a bar for strangers to become friends and the endless drinking toasts to commence.
Tumo Centre for Creative Technologies has become the most exciting hub Yerevan has seen since it opened in 2011. A slick, modern space with 450 computer workstations and technology equipped labs, the centre hosts thousands of teenagers and gives them the opportunity to acquire skills in design, robotics, animation, film, web development and photography.
The centre, which does not charge membership fees, has opened locations in other resource-deprived Armenian cities still reeling from the fall of the Soviet Union, and has recently teamed up with the Smithsonian to develop cultural tourism in the country.