Yesterday I took a trip to Gyumri with two fellow Americans. We first visited the marvelous monastery Marmashen before driving around town and then wandering in the historic district. Although we were only in the area for a few hours, I was fairly impressed with the second largest city of Armenia.
Gyumri is in some ways still in a rebound since the 1988 earthquake and the country’s independence. Several construction projects are ongoing, including housing for struggling homeless earthquake victims. There are people still living in trailers believe it or not after all these years. But I noticed a lot of new two-story buildings going up to support businesses in various areas of town. The new, sprawling City Hall is erected on Central Square, a reincarnation of the grand structures built in the era of Imperial Russia, but it is not yet open for business.
I am happy to say that no matter what is going up, there is some effort made to retain the facade of the late 19th century architectural design in some way. Several buildings are more plain looking than others, but there is a noticeable attempt to make structures look as much like they were once built, without much deviation from the norm.
The historic district is quite charming — it was the first time that I explored the central area on foot. There are noticeably quite a few green areas and certainly more trees lining the streets than you can find in Yerevan. The All Saints Church (which was I believe damaged during the earthquake) is also being faithfully restored.
Gyumri has come a long way since I visited it in the spring of last year, and the overall look of the city can’t be compared to the grimness that I surmised when I first visited in 2002. It’s more eye appealing for one thing, and there are businesses abound, so the socio-economic situation–at least on the surface without looking at any figures–seems to be on the upswing. Though you will find the same industrial wastelands that you see in pretty much most inhabited areas of Armenia.
By comparison to Yerevan, Gyumri is a very pleasant place to be. I’ll go ever farther by saying that it’s the most attractive city of Armenia that I’ve seen. Things are only looking up.
Unfortunately, due to server-related problems regrettably beyond my control, I can no longer upload images to this blog. See Notes From Hairenik for photos.