Erebuni, on a hilltop in the southern part of the city, is the original site of Yerevan. It can be reached by marshrutkas 11 and 85. Visitors can see the partially excavated remains of the site of the city together with interesting objects found there which are now housed in a worthwhile museum at the bottom of the hill. Erebuni was discovered by chance in 1950 during exploration of Arin Berd Monastery which had later been built on the site. A cuneiform inscription was uncovered which can be dated to 782bc. It states: 'By the greatness of [god] Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua the powerful king of Biaini and ruler of Tushpa city built this splendid fortress and named it Erebuni, strength to Biaini.' (Biaini was the Urartian name for their country. Urartu is the Assyrian name.) Argishti was the Urartian King Argishti I (ruled c785-c762bc) who established a garrison here of 6,600 troops, the first Urartian settlement on this side of the Arax. Its heyday lasted for only about a century until the Urartian King Rusa II (ruled c685-c645bc) chose a different site, Teishebai Uru (literally City of [the God] Teisheba), overlooking the Hrazdan River which he believed would be less vulnerable to attack by the Scythians. However, Erebuni remained occupied as is testified by archaeological finds from later periods.
When visiting the site go to the museum (38 Erebuni Av; 458207; 10.30-16.30 Tue-Sun) first as the model of Erebuni there gives a good idea of the general layout. An English-speaking guide is available, as well as a booklet giving a brief description in five languages. Particularly interesting are three silver rythons (drinking horns in the form of animals), one of which is shaped like a horse, one like a bull's head and one like a man on horseback. The helmet of King Sarduri II (ruled c763-c734bc) is on display together with a large jug, possibly a funerary urn, with bulls' heads. There is also a good selection of jewellery, ceramics and weapons found on the site. The central courtyard of the museum is a reconstruction of the palace courtyard. Of particular interest is the stone, actually found at Tanahat Monastery, Syunik (not the better-known Tanahat Monastery, Vayots Dzor). It has a cuneiform inscription dedicated to the Urartian King Argishti II (ruled 714-685bc) but the stone was made into a khachkar in the 11th century by which time no-one of course could read the inscription. A tuff statue of Argishti I on his chariot, by Levon Tokmajian, stands on the street outside the museum.
The shape of the hill on which Erebuni is built necessitated a triangular shape for the citadel. It had walls around 12m high, the lower 6m being formed of two parallel walls of large stone blocks with rubble filling the space in between the rows and large buttresses providing additional strength. Above the stone blocks clay bricks were used which were then covered with plaster. Within the citadel was the royal palace, temples and service premises, everything being connected by stairways because the slope of the hill necessitated the buildings being constructed at different levels. A good view of the walls can be had from below and it is worthwhile walking along the path which follows them right round the outside. It can be accessed from near the vehicle entrance to the site or from steps which lead up from the left side of the museum.
Entering the site from the access road and car park the first building on the left is the reconstructed Hall of Columns used to greet dignitaries. It has a blue wall with a frieze and the present roof is supported by six wooden columns. Continuing up the main entrance slope and steps, near the top of the steps is a copy of the Argishti stone (the original is kept in the museum) erected in 782bc and referred to above. Just after going through the entrance way a narrow alley goes off right to the necropolis. To the southwest of the central square was the temple of Khaldi, the chief god. It was crowned by a tower with a flat top that was probably used for sending smoke signals which would have been visible from far across the plain. Following the collapse of the Urartian kingdom and the installation of a Persian viceregent at Erebuni, the temple was converted for use as a 30-column apadana (reception hall). Part of this has been reconstructed and the design of frescoes can be seen generally with figures of gods between horizontal bands in contrasting colours.
Northwest of the Khaldi temple was a pillared courtyard, probably used by the king for important meetings, together with a small temple devoted to Sushi, another of Urartu's 69 gods (of whom 55 were male) and used by the royal family. At its entrance is another cuneiform inscription. The palaces main reception hall was northeast of the central square. Surrounding the main buildings were living quarters for the garrison and for servants, together with buildings for storing produce such as meat, fruit, wine, sesame seed oil, and milk products in pithoi (large urns) sunk into the ground to keep them cool. Different parts of the site are stated to have had different functions but this is not obvious when walking round the ruins.
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