Armenia is known all over the world as an open air museum. Tourists can enjoy over 4,000 historical monuments throughout Armenia, from various periods of the country’s history- dated from prehistoric to Hellenistic time, and from early to medieval Christian era.
For centuries, Armenians have created unique and remarkable culture in the crossroads of east and west.
In 301AD, Armenians were the first nation who officially adopted Christianity as a state religion, which influenced developing Armenian culture, and particularly architecture. Instead of pagan temples first Christian churches were built. So architectural masterpieces such as the churches of Hripsime, Gayane and the gem of 7th Century Armenian architecture, Zvartnots cathedral were created.
In the 10-13th centuries new architectural styles developed into the monastery complexes of Geghard, Sanahin, Haghpat, and Haghartsin and now we can say the traditional architecture of Armenia is reflected in architecture of churches and monasteries. The early Middle Ages architecture (5 th – 6 th centuries) is represented, basically, by basilicas. A basilica is a structure of rectangular shape divided, as a rule, into three parts by rows of columns; the central part towers over the others.
Monastery complex which consists of a number of elements – a temple, chapels, belfries, household buildings – refectory, library,is a special type of temple architecture. Each culture possesses a certain original element which becomes a symbol of entire national culture. In Armenia such symbol is “khachkar”, so-called cross-stones, which are not found anywhere in the world. The word “khachkar” is formed by two Armenian roots: “khach” (cross) and “kar” (stone).
Khachkar is a type of art – decorative-architectural sculptures based on ancient national traditions and made in a variety of shapes. Khachkars originated in the beginning of the 4 th century right after the adoption of Christianity.
Another revolutionary turning point in the history of Armenian culture occurred when the scholar and philosopher, Mesrop Mashtots, created the Armenian alphabet (5th century). This led to the development of Armenian literature and science, although the first book translated into Armenian was The Holy Bible. Thousands of illuminated manuscripts written before decoration by artists are currently stored in the largest depository of illuminated manuscripts in the world, the Matenadaran, located in the centre of Yerevan.
The Armenian language is beautiful, but difficult ,and it is a part of the larger Indo-European family.
The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts commonly known to as the Matenadaran is a repository of ancient manuscripts, research institute and museum. It holds one of the world’s richest depositories of medieval manuscripts and books which span a broad range of subjects, including history, philosophy, medicine, literature, art history and cosmography in Armenian and many other languages.
The earliest mention of the term matenadaran, which means “repository of manuscripts” in Armenian, was recorded in the writings of the fifth century A.D. historian Ghazar Parpetsi, who noted the existence of such a repository at Etchmiadzin Cathedral, where Greek and Armenian language texts were kept.
The Matenadaran is in possession of a collection of nearly 17,000 manuscripts and 30,000 other documents which cover a wide array of subjects.
When Armenian written literature began in the 5th century , monasteries became the principal centres of intellectual life. The first great Armenian poet (10th century) was St. Gregory Narekatzi, known for his mystical poems and hymns. During the 16th to 18th century, popular bards, called ashughs, arose; the most famous among them were Nahapet Kuchak and Sayat-Nova (d. 1795), whose love songs are still popular.
Art has always had its special place in Armenian culture. The works by Martiros Saryan, Minas Avetisyan, Hakob Hakobyan, Rudolf Khachatrian, Gevorg Bashinjagyan and many others can be found in Yerevan’s National Art Gallery. The National Art Gallery in Yerevan has more than 16,000 works that date back to the middle Ages. Visitors can also enjoy works of Armenian art in the Modern Art Museum, the Children’s Picture Gallery, the Martiros Saryan Museum and many other museums and exhibition halls worth visiting. Armenia also has an old established tradition of carpet weaving, and the Armenian carpets are unique with their specific ornaments and colors.
One of the most important parts of Armenian culture is Armenian music, which has developed new styles of music, while maintaining traditional ones too. Sharakans are traditional Armenian liturgical songs, which are experiencing a revival today. Distinctive musical instruments are used to play Armenian folk songs. Sayat Nova and Komitas are among Armenia’s best-known musicians and composers. Contemporary music includes jazz and pop. Sayat Nova Conservatory helps raise and develop future generations of Armenian musicians. Frequent concerts can make one’s evening delightful at the Philharmonic, Chamber Music Hall, Opera and Ballet House in Yerevan.
In 1868 Chukhadzhyan wrote the first Armenian opera “Arshak II”.The works by A. Spendiarov laid the basis of national classical symphony music. “Anush” by Armen Tigranyan is one of the most famous and popular operas, based on traditional Armenian folk songs and dances. The storyline and text is based on Tumanian’s “Anush”. Aram Khachaturyan is of course, the most well known Armenian composer for foreign audience, famous for his, “Spartacus” and “Gayaneh”. He composed the well-known “Sabre Dance” familiar to almost everyone outside of Armenia.
Armenian folk songs are still alive today in Armenia, and the Artist Djivan Gasparian has taken the unique sound of the Armenian duduk to foreign audience worldwide. Other Armenian instruments include the zoorna, dhol, tar and kanon.
Jazz is popular in Armenia, especially in summer when live performances are a regular occurrence at one of the city’s many outdoor cafés and parks.
The Armenian dance heritage has been one of the oldest, richest and most varied in the east. Armenian dance is perhaps the most representative of rich fabric of Armenian culture when accompanied by traditional or contemporary Armenian music. The choreography of Armenian dance sets it apart from other oriental forms of dance, and Armenian dance ensembles win countless awards at festivals and competitions throughout the world.
The Yerevan Vernissage is an open-air exhibition-market functioning on the weekends. It was formed during the 1980s by Armenian artists who started to display their art works in the square next to the Artists Union of Armenia.
In addition to carved wood and art works, traditional carpets, old collections of coins and medallions, books, jewellery, musical instruments, needlework, dolls, electronics and even pets are found in the market.
A visit to the market could be a full day excursion on a beautiful weekend day. The Vernissage is the right place to get little taste of Armenia and a special spot to witness the fusion between national traditions and modern taste.. This is your best place to get souvenirs. The Vernissage has certainly been one of the most essential elements of Yerevan’s cultural life.