The city of Gyumri (officially 120,641 voters, briefly Kumayri, before that Leninakan, before that Alexandropol) is conspicuous for the large cemeteries, some full of the victims of the 1988 earthquake. Despite many well-intentioned efforts, the economy of the city remains a shambles ten years after the event. There is still a substantial international presence from various assistance projects. The past few years have seen noticeable progress in housing, as well as business, infrastructural and beautification efforts. As Armenia's largest old town, much of it showing earthquake damage, Gyumri provides the opportunity for very interesting walks. Gyumri's people had a great deal of pride in their city before the earthquake, which is today in large part replaced with despair at the lack of job opportunities.
The city is built on a north-south axis, with the center being very pedestrian friendly. The main square in fact has a couple of pedestrians-only streets leading away from it, two large churches anchoring the two ends, and fountains in the center. This used to be the big partly covered shuka (market) which was leveled by the Soviet government.
Until the Soviet expansion of Armenia's new capital of Yerevan, it was Gyumri, or Alexandropol as it was known as at the time that was the largest city of the republic. The older city architecture therefore is very nice. One of Armenia's more interesting characters was born here, George Gurdjieff. He was a spiritual leader who is virtually unknown in Armenia, but has a worldwide following. In 1926, League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Fridtjof Nansen, accompanied by his secretary, fellow Norwegian Vidkun Quisling of later dark repute, visited Gyumri and its huge complex of schools and orphanages sheltering 11,000 Armenian orphans under the auspices of the American Near East Relief.
The main square has a pair of churches, one standing, one a distinguished ruin awaiting reconstruction. There is a reputable European-style hotel, a well-reputed regional museum plus a city museum, the Russian Alexandropol fortress of 1834 on the W side of town, and probably more for the curious urban explorer, though Gyumri was battered in 1926 by a previous earthquake as well. Inside the city limits are several important archaeological sites. By the fortress is the Sev Ghul Chalcolithic through Iron Age settlement. Near the meat factory (by the train tracks) was excavated an Early Iron Age settlement/cemetery. Near the stadium, another Iron Age site had stone molds and a smelter for metal casting. In the NE part of Gyumri, on a hill in the area known as Vardbach, excavations revealed a Roman-period cemetery lying over a Bronze Age settlement. There is a medieval settlement with ruined 7th c. church that has been excavated in the Botanical Gardens. The city was site of a major Russian Army garrison and fortress since its conquest in 1804, a role it continues to play even today. The few thousand Russian troops still based in Armenia serve as a reminder that Russia would intervene militarily were Turkey to invade Armenia. Pending the unlikely event of an invasion, the Russian troops grow potatoes and find other ways to stay alive.
The only real attraction very nearby is Marmashen Monastery. Much further south, on the old highway to Yerevan (which is not in good shape) you can pre-arrange for a viewing of the ruins of Ani, from the Armenian side of the border, and a bit further south is the very nice Yereruyk Basilica, perched on the Armenian border with Turkey. The area surrounding the not so far town of Artik has its own set of attractions, including the impressive Harichavank Monastery, plus other sites such as Lmbatavank Church, Garnahovit Church, and others. If you can get permission to go behind the military line and visit Ani Overlook, where the extensive ruins of a Medieval Armenian capital across the river in Turkey are clearly visible, it is well worth the terrible road.
At an even higher elevation than Yerevan, Gyumri is a nice and cool change of pace in the summer, but the winter is longer and colder. The area is dry, much like the Ararat Valley.
Both the Berlin  and the Isuz are very comfortable, new, western hotels. My personal favorite is the Berlin though for its lower price and its proximity to the main square. In recent years many new hotel options have become available in addition to these two.
There are many excellent choices for food in Gyumri, all at very reasonable prices. Both the Berlin and Isuz Hotels have great food. The Berlin has more traditional choices, while the Isuz has great pizza in the complex, as well as other dishes. The city museum also has good food at good prices, in an incredible atmosphere. Another good food place that looks like it turns into some kind of disco at night is the Millenium.
Robinson's is a tree house restaurant that closes for the winter, but is a great place to get horovotz during the summer. There is a good pizza place called Kilinka on Kirov Street. For Georgian food, Vanator is never a bad choice.
Main Square overhaul
Ani Hakobyan, 05/23/2008
ArmeniaNow Gyumri reporter
The Gyumri Central Square will soon have a new look with the new monuments, fountains and children's game zone.
The municipality has provided 100 million drams ($333,000) for the project, which to be finished by September.
Monument "Vardanants" by Gyumri sculptor Artush Papoyan will be one of the most interesting elements of the square. Papoyan was the only sculptor who managed to submit a design project to the mayor and the urban-planning council of Gyumri in time and get their approval.
The monument fully cast of bronze will be composed of several figures and Papoyan says such multi-elements monument will be the first of its kind in Armenia.
"Vardan Mamikonyan (Armenian legendary commander) is on top of a 5.5 meter high platform in the clouds with cross and a banner in one hand, and a sword in the other. This is a character of Vardan who calls to arms," says Papoyan
"In the other platform is the Catholicos of all Armenians of those times Hovsep Vayotsdzortsi, Ghevond Yerets, Vardan's mother and Kamsarakan. This is my sixth monumental work but the first composed of many figures."
Lilit Aghekyan, press secretary of the Gyumri municipality says that in the middle of the central square there will be a stone carpet on 3,600 square meters made of 3-4 sorts of stones and proper coloring to fit the look of the square. The working regime of the square fountains will also be changed to have them work in 6 various ways.
"The future look of the square is still not seen but I like the idea. When the construction of the houses around is over, we will have a proper square. If only the colorful stones do not come off their place in a year or two," says Gyumri resident Ashot Manukyan.
No major reconstruction works were done in the central square of Gyumri for the last 20 years. Partial repair of pits is done every year because underground water channels cross the square. Aghekyan says the part of the square planned for the stone carpet has no water or sewage pipelines beneath, except for those old channels.
The square reconstruction works are planned to be finished by September before the start of the Town Day celebrations. After the installation of the monument, the central square of Gyumri will be renamed to Vardanants Square.
Meanwhile on the territory of the square the new building of the Gyumri municipality is yet under construction.
Armenians from Gyumri
These are Armenians who were born or who have lived in Gyumri:
It is easy and cheap to get to Gyumri from Yerevan. From the Kino Rosia/Zoravor Antranig Metro are the Marshrutnis (mini-buses) and shared taxis to Gyumri, taking about an hour and a half, and costing a few dollars. You can also take a bus from the bus station, or hire your own private cab from anywhere in town.
<googlemap lat="40.796658" lon="43.850212" zoom="13"></googlemap>
Videos/DVDs about Gyumri
- Gyumri: (1987) Armenifilm, dokumentary film,35mm color, Director Levon Mkrtchyan, narrator Azat Gasparyan
- 1991: Pilgrimage To Gyumri Ayk Studio Armenia 52min Maestro Loris Tjeknavorian