Sights of Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan does not have a lot to offer visitors but does make a pleasant short visit on a longer trip to Armenia. The city center around Republic Squares has wide, tree-lined avenues with modern buildings and lots of foot traffic mixed with quieter residential neighborhoods of brownstone buildings. A number of city parks also dot the inner city. The sights, the few that there are, are a bit of a walk, with the Genocide Memorial a long walk or a taxi ride. Be especially sure to confirm the price of a taxi ride from a driver waiting at tourist sights. See my advice on taxis below.

Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum

The Armenian Genocide of the late 1800s and early 1900s is an incredible tragedy. As such I think it important for visitors to pay their respects at the memorial when traveling in the country. That said, I found the quantity of detailed information in the museum overwhelming. Display after display of long explanations that don’t seem to gel to tell a cohesive story. For me it drains the emotion and importance of the tragic events out of the story. For those more in tune with Armenian history it may be a fascinating museum. Outside is a grove of blue spruce trees planted by foreign leaders and a wall of the names of destroyed communities leading to an impressive memorial where 12 massive slabs surround an eternal flame.

Cafesjian Center for the Arts

Cafesjian Center for the Art is an imposing structure that cascades down the hillside followed by a long esplanade down to the opera house. The structure, known as the Cascade, was completed in 2009 but was designed in the 1920s by the Soviet architect, Alexander Tamanian. The outside of the building has levels of fountains and gardens. Unfortunately the fountains were not functioning at the time of our visit and from reading other reviews I don’t think they have been working for some time. Inside along an escalator (you don’t have to climb all those stairs) is Cafesjian’s funky collection of 20th Century furniture and other oddities. At the top was a Swarovski crystal exhibit with an unusual yet beautiful take on the chandelier.

Sergei Parajanov Museum

This delightful small museum was recommended by the owner of the guest house where we were staying. It’s the former residence of Sergei Parajanov (1924-1990), a soviet era experimental film maker. The two story house is filled with his creative and playful creations, mostly collages using various materials. His playfulness reminded me somewhat of the Paublo Nerudo homes in Chile. Parajanov, a highly respected film maker, was frequently persecuted and imprisoned by the soviet regime. You can read more about this on Wikipedia.

History Museum of Armenia

The History Museum of Armenia was a big disappointment as they currently, mid-July 2022, do not have any of their permanent collection on display. I was particularly looking forward to their bronzes. Instead they have 4 temporary exhibits; a photography exhibit of Herman Noordermmer, a collection of Armenian jewelry, and one of Armenian arms and artefacts from ancient Artashat, the Armenian capital from 185BC to 120AD. We had time to kill so we visited the museum anyway but I wouldn’t go out of my way to make a stop for a visit until they reopen the permanent collection.

Dancing Fountain

If you happen to be in Yerevan in the summer it is worthwhile to stop by Republic Square in the evening to catch part of the Dancing Fountain show. Spouting water, illuminated by colored lights, dances to various pieces of music – classical, popular themes, more contemporary rock, etc. It’s also a great people watching event with locals of all ages hanging out by the fountains, some focused on their phones and others filming the show. I highly recommend stopping at an ice cream shop to get a cone or cup before heading to the square. I’ve read and heard conflicting information on the hours of the show, some say 8-10 but I’ve seen later hours posted as well. We were there between 9:30 and 10pm.

Taxis

Using taxis in Yerevan is not easy for those who don’t speak Armenian or Russian. Most drivers do not speak English and don’t recognize the English names for tourist sights. The few that do want to charge you 3 times the going rate. A good alternative is the gg ride share app. You can download this app on your phone and find taxis and prices very much like on Uber or Lyft. It also gives you an option to pay the driver in cash so you don’t have to enter your credit card information.

Day Trip

About an hour’s drive from Yerevan are two popular sights, the Geghard Monastery and Garni Temple.

Geghard Monastery

A Saturday afternoon visit to Geghard Monestary in July is not the best idea if you want to avoid crowds, but this was the time we had. Despite all the families out enjoying a sunny day the chapels are worth exploring, the oldest one dating from the 12th century. Of special note is the burial chamber of Prince Papaq Proshian and his wife with a coat of arms, two lions and an eagle, and on the upper level, reachable by an exquisitely carved tunnel, a second burial chamber with amazing acoustics. If you can’t sing there may be someone there presenting a demonstration. Outside behind the church is a stairway leading to more stone carvings.

Garni Temple

About a 15 minute drive from the Geghard Monastery is a Roman/Greek style temple dating from the 1st century. It is more spectacular for the setting and history than for the structure. The temple overlooks an impressive valley in two directions. The temple itself has a plain interior with minimal decoration on the outside. Near the temple is the base of a former palace and remnants of a bathhouse with a couple of mosaics in poor condition. The site is also popular with Armenian families on pretty afternoons.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Southern Caucasus – Georgia/Armenia page.

Mid-July, 2022