Presentation of the destination
Once known as Alexandrapol, Gyumri is renowned for its beer, arts and its old centre with more than a thousand historic eighteenth and nineteenth century Russian style buildings. Some of these were lost in an earthquake that struck the town in 1988 and have been lovingly rebuilt from salvaged and local materials. Built in the Shirak Valley, the city is surrounded by the natural beauty of the snowy mountain of Aragats, and the Akhurian River. The city is dotted with charming green parks and impressive stone churches. In Gyumri you will find a great pride in arts and culture. Discover the houses of Armenian writers actors and poets, orchestras, art schools and museums, and Armenian opera. Puppetry and theatre performances are peppered with the characteristic local humour. Arts and crafts, choral, jazz and cultural festivals are held throughout the year. The city is also renowned for its crafts people, from jewellers and ceramicists to rug makers, brewers and masons. Take a tour to the blacksmiths to see the skills smiths have used to hand tool iron and wood for generations. Restaurants are very good here, with warm hospitality and specialties of trout and sturgeon dishes. However Gyumri is most famous for its khash, a rich winter soup made of boiled cows feet eaten with lavosh and ample amounts of vodka. Truly a gastronomic adventure!
Points of interests / things to see
This museum was once the house of the wealthy Dzitoghtsyan family, and is dedicated to exhibiting the richness of culture and life in Gyumri town in the nineteenth century. Wander rooms beautifully appointed with wallpaper, stone arches and cornices, filled with period furniture and rugs, musical instruments and art,. Items of daily life throughout Gyumri’s history are on display: a horse carriage and blacksmiths tools, pots and pans, sewing and leatherworking equipment. Attached to the museum is another gallery exhibiting the sculptural works of Sergey Merkurov, a Greek Armenian artist of the Soviet era. Merkurov is perhaps best known for his ‘death-masks’ of Lenin and other Soviet politicians, and writers Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky. Over 50 death masks are displayed in this gallery. Rather than simply creating casts, Merkurov often incorporated the mask into a full scale sculpture. In this display in the house in which he was born, visitors can see The museum’s restaurant is a fantastic place to enjoy traditional Armenian food and enjoy the ambiance. There is a small entry fee to the mansion, and guided tours are available for a little extra in English, French, Russian and Armenian. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 5pm and Sunday 11am to 4pm.
Armenia is known for the striking architectural style of its medieval churches, with their octagonal towers, ornate carvings, and stone construction. This one, completed in 1873, was inspired by the gothic style Cathedral of Ani completed in the year 1001. Ani, in what is now Turkey, was destroyed by earthquakes in 1913, and the sad fate of Ani’s Cathedral was mirrored in the damage to Surp Amenaprkich in Gyumri’s more recent 1988 earthquake. Rebuilding began only ten years later, and has used recovered pieces of the old church along with newly quarried local stone. The undertaking is rather extraordinary for its stone craftsmanship, from the carved features of angels and interlocking leaves around windows and arches, to the sundials and replica Djulfa khachkars, ornately carved stones featuring Christian crosses. Photographs of the church before and just following the earthquake can be seen on a nearby sign, and give perspective on the scale of reconstruction that has occurred in the intervening years. Visit this incredible symbol of local pride and craftsmanship on the south side of Gyumri’s main square. Take a walk around the square for a view of the City Hall, the St.Astvatsatsin Church, and bronze statues commemorating those whose lives were taken by the earthquake. At night these beautiful historic buildings are softly lit from below.
A short drive from the city is the collection of churches from the first, seventh and eleventh centuries that make up the Marmashen monastery. The site of the monastery is incredibly beautiful, surrounded by orchard and located near the rocky gorge of the Akhuryan River. The monastery consists of four churches, intricately carved ‘cross stones’, and tombs, and was once the centre of a powerful medieval settlement. The churches are built from a volcanic red stone called tuff, which can be seen all around Armenia. The high domed Catoghike church features some similar traits to the Cathedral of Ani, a medieval settlement known for its architecture. Prince Vahram, under whose regency the Catoghike church was built late in the first century is thought to be buried in the adjacent mausoleum. Vahram was a military tactitian known best for driving back the army of Byzantine Emperor who had designs on Armenia. The Catoghike church underwent rebuilding in the thirteenth century after battles with invading Seljuk Turks. This is a piece of Armenian history not to be missed. Hire a taxi from Gyumri city, or join a tour to get the full history of this area, which is littered with archaeological treasures, from the nearby bronze age cemetery to the ruined bridge over the river Akhuryan.
Gyumri has a series of house-museums devoted to its famous artists, actors, writers and poets. This one features close to seven hundred works of these talented sisters who were artists of the Soviet era. Paintings of Armenian political and cultural life, still lifes, ceramics and pottery showcase the rich cultural life that continued in Armenia even during Soviet era. Mariam was the People’s Artist of the Armenian USSR of 1965, and painted several works with patriotic themes such as ‘Mother Heroine’, the honorific title given by the Russian state to mothers of large families to encourage nationalistic child-bearing. Her ‘Return of the Hero’ is featured on an Armenian stamp. Some of her works still feature in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Contemporary art shows are also staged here. The benefit of having so many house-museums is that visitors can get an idea of Armenian architecture from the inside and out. This two storey building was originally constructed in the late 1880s from black tuff, and rebuilt and renovated after damage in the 1988 earthquake. It’s best to visit in the spring and summer when the full bloom of the flowering gardens can be appreciated from the house’s wood-latticed balcony. It is open Tuesday to Sunday between 10am to 5pm. Entry is free.
An enormous circular hilltop fortress stands guard over the Shirak Valley, while the Mother Armenia statue stands triumphant on an adjacent hill. This fort was built by the Russians in the 1830s after Tsar Nicholas the First had driven the Ottoman Empire out of Gyumri and the Shirak Valley in the Russo-Turkish war in 1829, driving the Turks from Gyumri. This fort was one of many constructed during the nineteenth century by the Russians across Eastern Europe as defensive measures against the Turks and rebellious subjects. On the fort’s completion, Tsar Nicholas the First visited Gyumri, renaming it Alexandropol after his wife Tsarina Alexandra. The impressive structure of the fort, also known as Sev Ghul or Black Sentry, allows for 15,000 soldiers to garrison within. Stairs rise to the top level from which sentries would have been able to see enemies coming for miles, but which now provides visitors with a beautiful view over Gyumri and the Shirak Valley. Gaze over to the Mother Armenia statue, erected in the 1970s to commemorate the victory of World War II and the locals lost in battle. She represents strength and peace, and is built atop a long flight of stairs.
Armenia’s most celebrated poet was born in Gyumri in the midst of the Armenian Genocide, when the Ottoman Empire began the extermination of able bodied men and the removal of women and children from their homes in Turkish territory. Many were left destitute and orphaned, and Hovhannes Shiraz experienced extreme poverty throughout his youth. Such experiences give extraordinary poignancy to his poetry. Shiraz’s books, photographs and furniture in this lovely black and red stone mansion give an insight into the poet and his equally creative family. A framed letter from the author of Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck who visited with Shiraz in Yerevan hangs on one wall.
Visit Gyumri’s brewery for a taste of delicious Armenian beer. Historical evidence of beer brewing in Armenia since the Urarturian era (the ninth to sixth centuries before Christ) shows just how long they’ve had to get the recipe just right! Take a tour through the factory, learn the tricks of the Gyumri brewing trade, and sample Gyumri Brewery’s Gold, Lager and Classic beers throughout the stages of fermentation. The factory itself, located a short walk from the centre of Gyumri, is a historic building of black tuff, which underwent repairs after the 1988 earthquake. Poloz Mukuch pub across the street is a great place for a bite to eat and more beer!
This seventeenth century church in Gyumri’s main square sustained less damage than the Church of the Holy Saviour during the earthquake, and was quickly restored. It gets its nickname of ‘seven wounds’ from the picture kept there of the Holy Mother Mary who was wounded by the seven words spoken by Christ as he was crucified. It is said to have been made by Luke the Evangelist, and has travelled to places in need in the hope that it will produce a miracle. It was one of the few churches that continued to function under Soviet rule. At night the church comes alive as all of its faceted domes, columns and towers are lit from below.
Even if you aren’t staying in this luxurious hotel near Gyumri’s main square, it is definitely worth stopping in for a cocktail at the bar just to enjoy the jaw dropping opulence of its interior. Though it is a modern building its décor features grand staircases, frescoes, marble columns, gilded ceilings and chandeliers – it’s hard to know where to look! Enjoy dinner in the restaurant, where photographs of the city in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries form part of the décor. The hotel’s fantastic location puts it within walking distance of many of Gyumri’s main sights.
Vacation rentals in Gyumri (Shirak Province)
How to get there ?
Gyumri is a wonderful place to explore on foot. The concentration of historic buildings and museums in the city centre, the friendly nature of the locals and the cosy restaurants to rest your feet mean that while you’re in Gyumri you really don’t need a car! However, to get to some of the sights further out, such as the Marmashen Monastery and the Black Fortress you’ll need to hire a taxi or a minibus to take you around. Taxis, buses and minibuses are a very cheap way to travel to some of the nearby small villages and sights and around the city. Minibuses leave from the transport hub on Shahumyan Street, and taxis can be hailed from almost anywhere in the city. There is no car rental in Gyumri, so if you’re planning to self-drive it’s best to rent in Armenia’s capital Yerevan. Getting to Gyumri from Yerevan is easy by public transport. Minibuses take around two hours and are inexpensive, and there is also a train that runs daily for those wanting to take the longer (three to four hours) route to enjoy the scenery. Flights to Russia from Shirak airport in Gyumri are a little cheaper than Yerevan, although the airlines fly only to Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi and St Petersburg from this airport.
Gyumri city hall
Hotels in Gyumri (Shirak Province)