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Abovian Street

Abovian Street is probably Yerevan's most important shopping street and also has its best Tsarist-era buildings. It is named after Khatchatur Abovian (1805-48), a teacher and writer whose best-known novel, Armenia's Wounds, is based around the events of the Russo-Persian war of 1826-28. Number 2 Abovian Street, on the left-hand side as one faces Republic Square, is a red-and-black neo-Classical building constructed in 1880 as a boys' secondary school on a site where it had originally been planned lo build Yerevan's cathedral. In Soviet times the building was adapted for chamber music concerts and is now the Arno Babadjanian Concert Hall. Number 1 on the opposite side is slightly newer having been built between 1900 and 1914 to house a trading business; it is also constructed of red-and-black tuff but is in the then fashionable Art Nouveau style.

Before continuing up Abovian Street it may still be worth walking about 300m down Arami Street, opposite to the road you have walked from Vernissage, although at the time of writing most of the old houses with balconies were in various stages of demolition to make way for tall blocks of flats. Passing the Georgian embassy on the right, the object of the detour is a stone-carvers' yard on the left where khachkars and other items are still created from tuff in the traditional way. To see these carvers at work is to witness the successors to over 1,000 years of tradition and it will be sad if this workshop is, in its turn, removed. Return to Abovian Street and turn left up the hill. On the left is the start of the new Northern Avenue linking Republic Square with the Opera and Ballet Theatre, part of Tamanian's master plan of 1926 which was not then realised, but on which construction finally started amidst much controversy in 2002. Either walk up Northern Avenue at this stage or walk down later from the theatre. The eight- and nine-storey buildings on Northern Avenue built in tuff of various colours combine modernity with a definite Armenian character. Internationally known retailers occupy the ground-floor shops while overhead the screaming swifts have happily colonised the high buildings.

Formerly located in the middle of the intended path of the North Avenue, but now on the pavement of Abovian Street opposite the lower end of Northern Avenue, is a statue of an old man holding a bunch of roses. Created by the sculptor Levon Tokmajian and erected in 1991, it originally marked the exact spot where the old man it portrays used to stand in the 1930s. His real name was Karapet, but the locals gave him the name 'Kara Bala' (see box below), Turkish for 'black boy', because of his dark complexion.

Number 8 on the right-hand side of Abovian Street was built in the 1880s, again in neo-Classical style. After 1937, the building housed the Soviet Central Committee and the office of Comsomol, the Soviet youth organisation, and it was (until recently) still possible to detect where there was formerly a red star in the top arch of the masonry. It retains one of its original wooden doors. On the opposite side of the street at number 1/4 is the dark facade (at the time of writing being incorporated into a new building) of the Gabrielian mansion, built in 1910 by the architect Meghrabian and combining Classical and Art-Nouveau elements.

Continue uphill across Pushkin Street. The first building on the right, with salmon-coloured stucco and red trim, dates from the 1870s. A plaque on the wall commemorates the playwright Maxim Gorky's one-night stay in the building in 1928. Opposite it, on the left, is the red-tuff Khanzatian mansion and just above that is the Hovhannissian mansion, a large building dating from 1915-16 which incorporated a hospital on the ground floor. It now houses the Armenian Society for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. Note the windows which incorporate a Star of David in the framework. The Tbilisi Georgian restaurant is in the basement; entrance on the corner at the left.

Slightly higher up the hill, still on the left, is the Russian Stanislavski Drama Theatre built in 1937 in Constructivist style but considerably altered in 1974 when it gained a facade of yellowish tuff. Its architect Karo Alabian (1897-1959) worked on several interesting Soviet-era projects including Krasnopresnenskaya metro station in Moscow and the post-war reconstruction of Stalingrad.

Opposite the Stanislavski Theatre is the small square called, until recently, Zodiac Square because its fountain incorporates each sign of the zodiac. However, in 2001 it was renamed Charles Aznavour Square in honour of the composer, singer and actor who was born in Paris in 1924 to Armenian parents who had lied the Turkish massacres. The square was created in the 1920s by demolishing a 17th-century Persian mosque together with the Church of Sts Peter and Paul which also dated to the 17th century. The Hotel Yerevan (now the Golden Tulip Hotel), designed by Nicoghayos Buniatian (1884-1943) has its entrance on the square. It dates from 1926. At one time Yerevan's most elegant hotel, it once again boasts five-star status. Its red-tuff construction with wrought-iron balconies in traditional Armenian style contrasts oddly with the grey stonework of the entrance surmounted by white Ionic columns. Across the square is the Moscow Cinema which dates from 1933. Between the hotel and the cinema is the exhibition hall of the Painters' Union used for temporary shows. The square is host to occasionally changing statues of creatures made from bits of machinery.


Karabala (Armenian: Կարաբալա, nickname - from Turkish "black boy"; true forename Karapet, Armenian: Կարապետ, surname unknown, dates of birth and death unknown) - was a well-known Yerevan eccentric in the 1930s.Kara Bala was said to have come from a well-to-do family and was married to a beautiful wife; they had a son. Kara Bala grew roses. He would take his roses to Astafian Street (as Abovian Street was then known) where he would stand and give them to girls. In particular he was said to be passionately in love with the famous actress Arus Voskanian who used to walk along Abovian Street to the theatre, and he gave her one red rose every morning. However, she had another admirer, a Turkish man, and this made Kara Bala so jealous that he murdered his rival, for which he was subsequently tried and imprisoned.

On his eventual release he found that his wife and son had left him, that he didn't have a house and a garden any more and that his roses had been uprooted. 'I am not Kara Bala any more, I'm Dardy Bala' (dard means sorrow in Armenian), he kept saying, wandering sadly around the town with a bottle of wine. However, he didn't stop giving flowers. Whenever he came across flowers he gave them to women and many in Yerevan still remember him going up to young couples in the 1960s to present the girl with a bunch. Eventually he died and his frozen body was found one morning sitting on a rock.

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