To the cathedral
Leave Republic Square along the street that runs between the post office and the government buildings. It is named Tigran Mets Avenue in honour of King Tigran II (the Great) who ruled Armenia from c95bc until 55bc. The street bends right after a few yards between buildings which mostly date from the 1920s and 1930s.
Emerging from Tigran Mets Avenue, to the left on the corner of Khanjian Street is a bronze statue dating from 1974 of Alexander Griboyedov (1795-1829), the satirical playwright whose best-known play, Woe from Wit, was only performed and published posthumously. Its hero is branded a lunatic when he arrives in Moscow full of liberal and progressive ideas - a dangerous practice in either the Tsarist or the communist era. Griboyedov was also a diplomat and instrumental in Russia's peace negotiations with Turkey following the war of 1828-29 when Russia gained control of much of Armenia. After that he was appointed Russia's ambassador to Persia but while Griboyedov was in Teheran negotiating with Persia an angry mob stormed the Russian embassy and killed him.
Just past the statue, the striking building on the right with a two-part roof is the former Russia cinema, now the Ararat clothing bazaar (sometimes marked as 'Rosia on maps): the two parts of the roof symbolise the two peaks of Mount Ararat. Underneath it is the metro station originally called Hoktemberian ('October' in honour of the October revolution of 1917), but now renamed Zoravar Andranik ('Commander Andranik') in honour of Andranik Ozanian (1865-1927). Born in western Armenia, Ozanian became head of the Armenian self-defence troops in the 1890s until in 1905 he moved west to seek assistance for the Armenian cause. He subsequently participated in the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1912-13 before organising Armenian units to fight alongside the Russian army against Turkey during World War I. Being more in sympathy with socialist ideals than the new Armenian government led by the Dashnak Party he left in 1918 for Bulgaria and then moved to the USA, dying in Fresno, California. His last expressed wish was to be buried in Armenia. Although he was originally interred in Fresno, after a few months his coffin was moved to Europe and he was reinterred among the renowned in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise in Paris. He was finally brought to Armenia in 2000 and now rests in the Yerablur Cemetery in Yerevan where the dead from the Karabagh war are buried. His statue, unveiled in 2003, can be seen at the foot of the slope leading up to the cathedral. It depicts him brandishing a sword while rather uncomfortably riding two horses at once, one of which is crushing a snake beneath its hoof.
The cathedral, straight ahead up the slope to the left, is dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator (as he is always called, although St Gregory the Enlightener would be a better translation since his achievement was converting Armenia into a Christian country). It was consecrated in September 2001 to celebrate what was officially the 1,700th anniversary of Christianity becoming the state religion and to this end symbolically has seating for 1,700 people in the main church although further 300 can be accommodated in the smaller chapels dedicated to St Trdat, the king who adopted Christianity as the state religion, and his wife St Ashken. There is also a gavit and a bell tower. The cathedral may well be the first church in Armenia which visitors see but, even apart from its modernity, it is in several respects atypical. Firstly, there are seats: it was one of the first churches in Armenia to introduce them. Traditionally there were no seats in Armenian churches as the congregation stood throughout the service. Secondly, there are no candles. It is normal on entering an Armenian church to buy candles and then to light them. Here candles are forbidden and may only be lit in a separate building on the southeast side. Thirdly, there is an organ. Fourthly, the church is well lit, having many windows as well as a large metal chandelier. Fifthly, by Armenian standards it is enormous with a total area of 3,500m2 and a height of 63m. It has been described as having more the atmosphere of a concert hall than a place of worship but it is conspicuously busy with numerous Armenians of all ages visiting and a constant succession of weddings, particularly at weekends. Rather incongruously, near the entrance is a panoply brought from the church of St Gayane at Ejmiatsin, underneath which is a casket containing some of the relics of St Gregory which were brought here from the Church of San Gregorio Armeno, Naples, where they had been kept for more than 500 years. They were a gift from Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the cathedral's dedication. Other relics of the saint have been built into the cathedrals foundations.
Leave the cathedral by the main door through which you entered and walk back down the slope. At the foot of the slope do a U-turn to the right into the part of the circular green belt in Tamanian's 1926 plan which was actually created. This part in summer now holds a children's funfair; beyond it, walk through trees and cafes until a radial road crosses the green belt. Here there is another statue of a warrior on horseback. It is Vardan Mamikonian, the leader of the Armenian forces killed at the Battle of Avarayr in ad451 when his troops were overcome by a much larger Persian force. Made of wrought copper and unveiled in 1975, it is by Ervand Kochar (1899-1979), other examples of whose work include the fine statue of David of Sassoun outside the main railway station and several paintings in the National Gallery of Armenia.
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