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The Cascade

A visit to the Matenadaran can conveniently be made from here by turning right up Mesrop Mashtots Avenue, formerly Lenin Prospekt but renamed in honour of the inventor of the Armenian alphabet; the museum faces down the street with a statue of Mesrop Mashtots outside. At the bottom of the slope leading up to the Matenadaran, to the left as one faces the museum, is a group of pastry shops selling mouth-watering Armenian cakes and pastries. Also, for those with a sweet tooth, on the opposite corner is the shop of Grand Candy, Armenia's best-known brand of sweets, plus the adjacent doughnut cafe. The walk continues straight on across Mesrop Mashtots Avenue as far as the park at the foot of the Cascade.

A vast flight of stone steps and flower beds, the Cascade (Kaskad) leads up to a monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of Soviet Armenia. It completes one end of Tumanyan’s north–south axis through the city, in line with Tigran Mets Poghota and the Hyusisayin Poghota (Northern Ave) project. There are five recessed fountains along the Cascade, some with sculpted panels and post-modern khatchkars.

The Cascade was designed to be a large artificial waterfall tumbling down from the monument commemorating 50 years of Soviet rule but it was left uncompleted at the demise of the Soviet Union, until 2001 when diasporan philanthropist and art collector Gerald L Cafesjian took over the project. Since then the vast concrete structure has been cleaned, the escalators through its core repaired and hundreds of flower beds planted. Take the escalators up through the belly of the building, which looks like a skyscraper resting on its side, and walk onto the ‘roof’ to take in the panorama surrounded by flowers.

At the top is a rather bleak plaza with the 50th Anniversary of Soviet Armenia Monument at its centre (though the views are great).

The plaza can be reached by steps alongside the Cascade or by road from the city centre. There is also an escalator under the steps and this started to operate again in November 2002 after being out of use since 1997, thus saving the residents living at the top of the hill a climb up around 500 steps. It operates from 07.00 until 23.00.

The occasion of the escalator's reinstatement was the unveiling of a statue of a fat cat. The self-satisfied-looking, well-fed (and to my mind rather ugly) cat, 2.5m high in bronze covered in black, is the work of the Colombian artist, Fernando Botero (born 1932), and one of several of his cats located in capital cities. It was a gift from Gerard Cafesjian and was the first exhibit of the arts centre to arrive. It was reported in the local press that while the cat was greeted with smiles by the local residents, accustomed to statuary of Soviet dimensions, the loudest cheers were for the reactivation of the much-missed escalator. Another Botero statue, of a fat, naked, stunted gladiator wearing a helmet, has joined the collection of statues in the Tamanian Sculpture Park at the foot of the Cascade after originally being placed at the top when it arrived in 2005.

Much more appealing are some sculptures by British artists. There are three works by Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) the one entitled Stairs is particularly appropriately located - and two by Barry Flanagan (b1941) including an especially attractive Hare on Bell. Other sculptures are Shadows by Jaume Plensa (b1955) and A Surprise for Fabricius Luscinus by Jim Unsworth (b1958).

The new Cafesjian Museum is being integrated into the Cascade to house a vast collection of art and glassware. Cafesjian is spending $30 million to complete the structure and add galleries – final plans include a new arts centre at the top of the Cascade.

On the plaza above the Cascade, as well as the tall monument commemorating 50 years of Soviet rule, there is also a low square grey building, a monument to Stalin's victims. This has now acquired a pink tuff tambour-like hat. Across Azatutian Avenue is the entrance to Victory (Haghtanak) Park, at the east end of which stands Mother Armenia. In the centre of the park is a statue inscribed 'No to war'. Within the park are various fairground amusements and a boating lake.

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