Old and New Gyumri

Irdaniuni – Kumayri – Gyumri – Alexandropol – Leninakan – Gyumri․ These are the names of the second city of Armenia, starting from the 8th century BC.

Gyumri, the regional center of Shirak, is the second largest city of Armenia. It is located in Shirak plain, on the left bank of Akhuryan river, at 1556 m above sea level. The distance from Yerevan is about 120 km.

Gyumri is one of the unique cities in Armenia, where the spirit of the 19th century has been preserved – the unique Armenian urban architecture, historical and cultural monuments.

The unique architecture of Gyumri is based on the architectural style of Ani և Kars. Many of the historic buildings of the city are carved with ornamets, and have arched windows and entrances, the doors are decorated and unique. The buildings were mainly built of black and red tuff stone. The exterior of the houses reflected the social position of the owner.

The Style of Gyumri

The style Gyumri, while preserving the traditional national features, has been enriched with cultural elements typical of Russian and European cities.

Gyumri’s style is very unique․ While preserving the traditional national image, it has been enriched with cultural elements typical of Russian and European cities. This unique style is conditioned by the unique architecture of the city, thanks to the skills of the masters both from Gyumri and the ones migrated from Kars.

Gyumri is the bearer of the ethnic-cultural heritage of the cities of Karin, Kars, Bayazet in Western Armenia, where the Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian cultures and traditions have merged. The craftsmen and merchants who emigrated here from the Turkish oppressions brought with them the traditional Armenian urban culture. Thanks to them, Gyumri became a large crafts and trade center in Transcaucasia.

Many of the historic buildings of the city are carved with ornamets, have arched windows and entrances, the doors are decorated, unique. The buildings were mainly built of black and red tuff stone. The exterior of the houses reflected the social position of the owner.

The houses of some well-off citizens of Gyumri were very big. The landlords recided in some of them, and the other parts was rented out.
In some houses, theatrical performances wer played. The stage part of the house was separated from the living quarters by an arch, and had a piano. There was a curtain over the arch to prepare for the performance.

Gyumri

Kumayri means a village or settlement. It’s the differently-sounding form of the name of Gyumri.

The first mentions of Gyumri as a city were found not far from Marmashen, in the 8th century Urartian cuneiform inscription, in which King Argishti I declares that he conquered the land of Eriakhi and its city of Irdaniuni. It was located on the site of the current Kumayri (Gyumri) or close to it.

Later the name of Irdaniuni was forgotten, and the city was mentioned afterwards by the name of one of its suburbs of Kumayri. According to researchers, the name Kumayri means village or settlement. In historical sources, Kumayri is mentioned as a village in the 8th century, then in the 13th century AD. Starting with the 19th century, instead of Kumayri, the name of Gyumri is used, the differently-sounding form of the name of Kumayri.

Alexandropol

In 1837, Gumri was granted a status of a city, receiving the name of Alexandropol.

At the beginning of the 19th century, after the Russo-Persian war, Gyumri and its surrounding villages were annexed to Russia. As a result of the Russian-Turkish war, hundreds of families migrated to Gyumri from Western Armenia, from Kars, Erzurum, Bayazet, which contributed to the expansion of the settlement and the activation of its economic life.

At the same time, the political and military significance of Gyumri expanded. In order to resist possible Turkish attacks, Gyumri acquires a very important military significance for the Russian Empire, so it becomes a military base. For this purpose, by the order of the Russian Emperor Nicholas I, in 1836, a military base was built on one of the heights of Gyumri, a fortress named Alexandropol. The fortress, built by skilled local craftsmen, gave the city a unique splendor with its glorious appearance, and terrified the enemies. Alexandropol is a unique fortress, one of the masterpieces of military architecture of the 19th century.

In 1837 By the decision of Emperor Nicholas I, who arrived in Gumri, the St. Alexandra Orthodox Church was built here. It is interesting that in the same year, 1837, Gumri received the status of a city and took on the name of the fortress Alexandropol․ Sometimes the short, Alecpol, version was used.

The renaming of the city later had different interpretations. According to popular belief, Emperor Nicholas I named Gyumri Alexandropol Fortress after Alexandra, to honor his wife, Alexandra Fyodorovna. According to another opinion, Gyumri was named Alexandropol in honor of Emperor Alexander I, during whose rule it was annexed to Russia.

The preserved inscription of the Prime Minister of the Caucasus testifies that both the fortress and Gyumri were named Alexandropol in honor of the martyr of the Russian Church, Queen Alexandra. On a trade route, gaining political and economic importance, Alexandropol changed from a poor eastern provincial town in the early 19th century to a well-maintained center of the province in the mid-19th century with wide, well-illuminated streets.

Alexandropol in the 50s of the 19th century had two squares, 75 districts, 52 drinking fountains, 186 wells, 10 bridges. The buildings were made of local tuff. There was an Orthodox church in the city, two Armenian churches, St. Astvatsatsin և Catholic Church, two markets, seven caravanserais, 850 kiosks, three baths.

According to official data in 1865, Alexandropol had a population of 16,337. There were 2870 houses, 1460 kiosks, 17 caravanserais, six mills, 36 factories in the city. Of these, 25 houses, 145 kiosks, 5 caravanserais, 5 soap factories belonged to the aristocracy, 37 houses, 74 kiosks to the clergy, 700 houses to the merchants, 40 mills, kiosks and factories. The rest of the real estate belonged to the poor.

The Dowry Building

The famous “Dowry Building” in Alexandropol was built in the 1890s. The rich man from Alexandropol, benefactor Leon Drampyan donated this building to his daughter Javahir on the occasion of her marriage. That is why the eloquently humorous people of Gyumri called it a “Dowry Building”.

Javahir’s husband was Gegham Ter-Petrosyan, the first mayor of Alexandropol and a member of the First State Duma of the Russian Empire. For some time this building served as a city hall. Gegham Ter-Petrosyan temporarily relocated the municipality to this building to save money of the city budget.

In 1918, General Andranik appealed to the people from the balcony of this building to form a strike regiment to organize the defense of Alexandropol against the Turks. In 1920, the Treaty of Alexandropol was signed in this building. After the establishment of Soviet rule in Armenia in 1920, the building was nationalized and given to various state, public and cultural institutions.

The “Good Morning Building”

At the end of the 19th century, one of the buildings built by the order of the rich benefactor of Alexandropol, philanthropist Grigor Drampyan, was called “Bari Luys” (good morning in Armenian) by the eloquently humorous people of Alekpol. This beautiful building made of tuff was an apartment building to be reneted out.

The locals called it a “Good morning building” because the ornaments on its northern façade resemble the items used after waking up – a mirror, a towel. The building has a wooden balcony with beautiful ornaments from the internal yard side. During the Soviet years, the “Good morning building” served as a restaurant, and during the Stalinist repressions it was a prison.

The economic development of the city entered a new phase in 1897 with the construction of a railway station. It connects Alexandropol with Tbilisi, Kars and Nakhichevan.

The first bi-weekly fair in Transcaucasia was held in Alexandropol. One of the largest railway depots in Transcaucasia was built in Alexandropol. Alexandropol had trade relations with Russia, Ukraine, the countries of Western and Eastern Europe, Turkey, Persia, and Georgia. The merchants of Alexandropol had trade representations in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Marseilles. In Alexandropol, from the middle of the 19th century, there was a printing house, commercial, religious, girls’ schools, colleges, city colleges, and a girls’ gymnasium.

Alexandropol Fortress

According to contemporaries, there was no such structure as Alexandropol Fortress in the whole Transcaucasia. It was considered the masterpiece of the century, and the fortress church – a perfection.

The newly built fortress complex included garrisons (for up to 10,000 soldiers, although 4,000 troops were deployed), ammunition and food depots, a hospital with three-storey stone walls, and auxiliary buildings. The fortress had 36 gunpowder rooms, 200 cannons, barns filled with wheat and barley, a 30-meter-deep well and an underground passage.

The fortress, built by skilled local craftsmen, gave the city a unique splendor with its glorious appearance, and terrified the enemies. Alexandropol is a unique fortress, one of the masterpieces of military architecture of the 19th century. In 1850s on the South-Northern sides of Alexandropol Fortress, two large towers were built of black and red tuff stone, which is why they were called Black Fortress and Red Fortress, respectively.

The fortress was a defense structure, it served as a military prison. The “Mother Armenia” memorial was built on the hill in 1975 as a symbol of the victories of the Armenian people. Tombs belonging to different periods were found in the area of Alexandropol Fortress, in particular, in 1875.

During the construction works, a tomb was found, where weapons were buried, which is why it was named “Soldier’s Tomb”. Further excavations from the early 1900s are kept in Hermitage in St. Petersburg. During the excavations around the fortress, three late seven Bronze Age tombs were discovered, which provide rich information about the burial rituals of that period. And the clay floor of the dwelling preserved in the land layers – the hearth, the conical well, the household items, the jewelry, the unique bull statue made of clay show the level of development of the people of that period.

Gyumri Was Named a “City of Orphans”

Thousands of orphans were brought to Gyumri from the 20th century Genocide. There were 10 orphanages in Gyumri in the 1920s, the largest being the American Orphanage. The names of 22,000 children are preserved in the archives, although their number was more than 30,000. The city was named a “city of orphans”.

Leninakan

After the Soviet state was establish in Armenia, Alexandropol became an industrial center. The city was renamed Leninakan.

A new stage of development begins for Alexandropol after the sovietization of Armenia in 1920. After the death in 1924 of Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, Alexandropol was renamed Leninakan, in 1990-1992 – Kumayri, now Gyumri. Industry, science and culture are developing at a new pace.

Leninakan becomes an industrial center. In 1924 the textile factory was built, then – paint, cotton yarn, machine building, construction materials, food, shoes, sewing, woodworking, glass, bicycles, mining machines, electrical equipment, galvanometers, refrigerators and other factories.

Gyumri was an important machine-building center. There were 13 machine-building factories. The leading branches were electrical engineering, machine building, instrument making. The leading branch of the economy was the light industry, especially the production of cotton fabrics. This branch included 11 enterprises. 

The food industry was developed. There were meat, tinning preserving, confectionery, beer, non-alcoholic beverages, milk, bread factories and other enterprises. 40 industrial products were exported to 35 foreign countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Germany, Finland and Czechoslovakia.

An airport was built in the city in 1931, and in 1960 public transport was supplemented by trolleybuses. After the catastrophic earthquake in Spitak in 1988, many factories in Gyumri collapsed, along with about 60% of the housing stock. The economy was in decline. In 1991, after the independence of Armenia, almost all the factories were closed.

Gyumri Today

Vardanants Square

In the center of Gyumri is Vardanants Square, which is decorated with beautiful fountains. In 2008, a bronze statue dedicated to the heroes of the Battle of Avarayr was erected in the square, the central rider of which is the great 5th century commander Vardan Mamikonyan.

Theater

The Vardan Achemyan Drama Theater is located on Sayat-Nova Avenue in Gyumri.

The first theater in Alexandropol was opened in 1865 by the initiative of Russian army officer Alexander Melik-Haykazyants. “The 125-seat hall of the club was full of spectators of both sexes,” the press wrote after the first performance. H. Karinyan’s “Shushanik” historical tragedy was presented on that day.

The staging of Armen Tigranyan’s opera “Anush” in 1912 was a big event in the theatrical life of Alekpol. The Leninakan Theater opens a new page in its history in 1928, being renamed the Second State Theater, then A. Mravyan State Drama Theater. And in 1992 the theater was renamed after Vardan Achemyan. The new theater building was built in 1972.

Mother Armenia

The “Mother Armenia” monument was built in 1975. It symbolizes the victories of the Armenian people. The victorious image of Mother Armenia is embodied by the woman who proudly stands with ears of wheat in her hands. The bronze statue is the tallest in Gyumri.

“October” Cinema Theatre

“October” cinema theatre is one of the favorite places of entertainment for the Gyumri people. It used to be one of the favorite place for dating for the young. As the older generation of Gyumri residents say, “the walls of the cinema have heard many confessions of love.” The cinema opened in 1926 and was named in honor of the October Socialist Revolution.

Even now this cultural structure continues to bear that name, since everyone has long forgotten about the revolution, and the building is well know to everyone with this very name. The people of Gyumri liked to go to the cinema dressed in new, smart clothes and well-groomed. The first screenings of the movies shot in Leninakan were shown here, turning into a cultural celebration. Before the 1988 earthquake, there were 4 cinemas in Gyumri: “October”, “Armenia”, “Yerevan”, “Shirak”, but the new films were shown first in “October”.

The First Pharmacy in Gyumri:

The first pharmacy in Gyumri was built in 1868 and still operates today. The pharmacy is located on the former Alexandrovsky Street (now Abovyan), where the most famous and rich people of Gyumri lived. According to the legend, the people of Gyumri were so happy with the construction of the pharmacy that they said ․ “Finally, we have our own pharmacy, we won’t have to order medicine from Tbilisi any more.”

Gyumri Railway

Gyumri railway station is the oldest in Armenia. It was built in 1897 in three years, in a very short time for that period. Alexander II allocated 320 million rubles for the construction of the railway. The railway connected Alexandropol with Kars and Tbilissi. Later new railway routes were added, and the station became a railway junction.

In 1899 the area of the station was improved, many trees were planted, one of which is still growing. Currently, there are regular rail communication from Gyumri to Yerevan, Tbilisi and Batumi. The Gyumri-Yerevan train runs every day.

Khachkar Park


A Khachkar Park has been established in Gyumri, where about 20 khachkars are placed. They are the copies of the khachkars destroyed by the Turks in Jugha in recent years. The talented Armenian masters imitated the highly artistic works created by God-given khachkar makers centuries ago, giving them a second life.

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