Armenia's capital sits in a valley edged on three sides by hills with the little Hrazdan River cutting a serpentine gorge west of the city centre. Hrazdan River flows south from Lake Sevan to join the Arax south of the city. The river in its deep gorge skirts the centre of the city on its western side and consequently many visitors only ever see it as they cross Victory Bridge (so called because it was built in 1945) on the drive into the city from Zvartnots Airport.
Yerevan's lower parts are at an altitude of around 900m above sea level but the higher parts up on the plateau are around 1,200m. Precipitation is light at 277mm per annum with May being the wettest month (43mm) and August the driest (8mm). The average temperature (measured over 24 hours) varies from -3°C in January to 26 °C in July though these averages mask considerable diurnal variation: night-time lows in January are around -15°C while daytime highs in July reach 44 °C. Yerevan is a very sunny place with an average of 2,579 hours of sunshine annually (there are 8,760 hours in a year) and only 37 days classed as non-sunny.
Yerevan's centre, Republic Square, boasts some of the finest Soviet-era buildings in the whole of the former USSR and there is a surprising range of architectural styles within the whole central area owing largely to the fusion of Armenian and Russian styles. Outside the central core of the city, Soviet influence is rampant owing to the rapid expansion of the city during that epoch when its population increased 30-fold.
Central streets in the city are laid out on a grid with several ring roads, intersected by the redeveloped Hyusisayin Poghota (Northern Ave). In the centre is Hanrapetutyan Hraparak (Republic Sq), while the Opera House a few blocks north is another focal point. Mesrop Mashtots Poghota (avenue) is one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. The main bus station is the Kilikya Avtokayan west of town on the Echmiadzin Hwy, which also leads to Zvartnots Airport. Marshrutkas to various parts of the country leave from all over the city centre, with a concentration around the Rossiya Mall on Tigran Mets Poghota. The main train station is above Sasuntsi Davit metro station. Yerevan’s metro has four stations in the city centre with the last stop at Barekamutyun.
Although Yerevan has just 1.1 million people, the city has all the amenities and sights you would expect in the capital of any country. And, because it is relatively small, all these things are within a three-quarter-mile radius from the center of the city. Whether you want to visit a puppet theater, a major medical center, an ancient church, or the sports complex, a short bus ride would take you there. In the early 1920s, at the request of Soviet rulers, a completely new city was built over most of the old one, which had some sections more than 2,000 years old. The new design was more geometric than the previous hodge-podge that had been built up haphazardly for more than two and a half millennia.
It contained preplanned recreation areas and specific areas designated for industry and housing. All the roads radiate from a central town square that also provides easy access to the bus and train. Yerevan also is a study in contrasts between old Armenia and the new world economy. On one street, you might find a Yum Yum Donut shop and a Pizza di Roma restaurant nestled between an 11th-century church and an Internet cafe. Nearly all the buildings are built from off-white volcanic rock. The city has about a dozen hotels and nearly 50 museums of every size and subject matter. It also is home to the country’s opera house and every kind of shopping, from open-air markets to expensive Parisian boutiques. Yerevan is home to most of the country’s large industrial complexes, only a few of which are in the central part of the city. For the most part, the industry is set up in areas on the northwest and southwest edges of the town to take advantage of the Hrazdan River for dumping waste products. Many of the factories, most of which were built under Soviet rule, are vacant today.
While it’s the undeniable cultural, economic and political heart of the nation, Yerevan can at times feel like a city on permanent holiday. All summer long Yerevanites saunter up and down the main boulevards, preening in high fashion and fast cars while occasionally popping into a parkside cafe to schmooze over a drink or two. It’s the most laid-back capital in the Caucasus and it’s easy to slide into a torpor for a day or two. The city has some lovely 19th-century Russian edifices in its central core plus rings of parkland and handsome brick squares. Outer areas maintain an air of Soviet sprawl but these are limited by steep hills and gorges.
Yerevan’s museums and monuments could keep you busy for a few days but the best thing about the place is the people. Expressive black eyebrows, proud noses and classical Greek and Persian profiles appear everywhere, in a street culture somewhere between Marseilles, village Armenia and old Beirut. Yerevan is a relaxed and safe place where people live at one pace while the traffic goes at another. The cultural life is intense for a city of its size, including dozens of theatres, concert halls, galleries and live music clubs. At the geographic heart of the country, the city also makes a perfect base to explore other areas. You could even make day trips as far afield as Lake Sevan, Mountain Aragats and Vayots Dzor.
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