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Population - Vanadzor is the third-largest town in Armenia, with a population of about 170,000. Its name means “The Beauty of Lori,” referring to the region of the country in which it is located. The town was greatly damaged in the 1988 earthquake. Although the area is being rebuilt, most of the old churches have been lost.

Vanadzor is situated on the River Debed at 1,350m above sea level between the Pambak mountain range to the south and the Bazum range to the north; both ranges exceed 3,000m in height. Prior to 1935 Vanadzor was called Kharaklisa. In 1935, it was renamed Kirovakan after Sergei Kirov (1886-1934), the head of the Communist Party in Leningrad, whom Stalin arranged to have assassinated because his popularity in the party made him a potential rival. In 1993, the city acquired its present name from the local Vanadzor River.

Vanadzor is a typical postindustrial Soviet city and administrative centre for the Lori region. An important industrial centre in Soviet times, most of the former chemical plants making products as diverse as glue and nail polish remover are now closed. The continued closure of most of the huge factories means that the city no longer lives under a dense pall of acrid smoke and the atmosphere is now clean and pleasant.

The main street, Tigran Mets Poghota, bustles with shops, cafes and the swishest clothes outside Yerevan. The young folk attending the teachers’ college add a bit of nightlife to the city. The huge chemical works at the eastern end of town are mostly moribund, but some factories are reopening and some new industries are starting to appear.

Although there is little to tempt visitors to stay except as a transit stop on the way to Georgia or the monasteries further north, Vanadzor could also provide a suitable base for hiking in the surrounding hills. The city is a useful base for visiting the classic churches of Debed Canyon, with good transport links to other cities.

Sights - There’s not a whole lot to see, but there are parks and some interesting neighbourhoods to explore. A regional museum (working hours 11am-6pm Mon-Sat) at the western end of Tigran Mets is housed in an unattractive looking building, diagonally opposite the cinema. At the other end of town the Vanadzor Art Gallery (Tumanyan Hraparak; working hours 10am-5pm Tue-Sun) shows off local talent across widely divergent styles of painting and sculpture. Vanadzor’s shuka on Myasnikyan Poghots is one of Armenia’s busiest regional markets. The old village neighbourhoods of Dimats and Bazum are east of the town centre, over the Tandzut River. The centre of town has the usual Soviet look, but south along Myasnikyan Poghots there are some elegant stone villas and country houses.

There’s a little Russian Orthodox Church, in the park by the train station, and the Armenian Apostolic church called the Ghara Kilise (Black Church), built from suitably black stone and surrounded by an elaborate cemetery. The Armenian church stands near the lower bridge on Tumanyan Poghots. There’s an interesting walk up Abovyan Poghots along the little valley of the Vanadzor River, past boating ponds, tall trees and shuttered sanatoriums to an overgrown Dendropark (Forest Reserve).

Getting There & Around - Vanadzor’s avtokayan and train station are at the bottom of Khorenatsi Poghots. Marshrutkas to Yerevan (two hours, every 20 minutes from 7.30am to 8pm) take a 132km route via Spitak and Aparan to Yerevan. There’s also transport to Dilijan (marshrutka or bus up to one hour, 10am and 1pm) continuing to Ijevan, Stepanavan (45 minutes, 8.30am, 10am, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4.30pm), Gyumri (9am, 10am, 11am, 1pm and 2pm) and Alaverdi (up to one hour, 8am, 10am, 1.30pm, 3pm and 4.30pm). A bus to Tbilisi departs around 8am. Trains heading to either Yerevan or Tbilisi will come and go in the middle of the night, making them of little use to travellers. A marshrutka to Tbilisi leaves at 8.30am. The churches of the Debed Canyon and Lori Berd can be visited on a day trip by taxi for seven or eight hours, or to Lori Berd, or you can negotiate with drivers based at the avtokayan.

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