A Symphony in Stone*


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A Russian's perspective of historical Armenia, particularly during the time of the Soviet Union.

Part of this book is online here.  Enjoy the reading.  The complete book will be available soon, in addition to a library of other online books.  Click here to send us your comments and questions.



There have been many towns in Armenia. And many capitals too. But there has never been and never will be another town or another capital like Yerevan. The people have put their soul into it, their genius. After their interminable sequence of misfortunes and trials, the people created Yerevan for the present and coming generations with faith in the security of the future. The city made more progress in the fifty Soviet years than in the foregoing twenty-seven centuries. There is a stone which may be called the birth certificate of Yerevan. A mere twenty years ago, a basalt stone was found on Arin-Berd, a hill in the southeastern part of the modern city, bearing a cuneiform Urartu inscription, made in 782 B.C. announcing that: "By the majesty of God Khaldi, Argishti the son of Menua built this mighty fortress and called the city Erebuni..."

This makes Yerevan 2750 years old, and one of the oldest cities in the world.

Look down upon it from the height of the Kanaker plateau. The city is brilliantly sunlit. The snow-clad peak of Mt. Ararat seems to enhance this brilliance, unusual even for the south, acting like an enormous reflector. The air is pink, yellow , red, white, orange and silver. These are the basic colours, and then there are the countless, elusive shades of the tufa, basalt, granite and marble, raised from the bowels of the earth and turned into houses, schools, libraries, theatres, hospitals, museums, stadiums, bridges and factories. Yerevan is probably the only city in the world where the facades of the houses are never painted Nature itself has painted the stones as required with the help of the super-high temperatures of prehistoric volcanic activity.

There are houses in Yerevan built from the stone on which they stand. At the end of Lenin Prospekt, where once there rose a bare rock, there now stands the monumental building of Matenadara - a depository of rare manuscripts and miniatures. Matenadaran is built from silvery basalt, which the basement rooms have in which the basement rooms have been hacked out. The statues of great Armenian scholars, erected at the entrance of Matenadaran, are made of basalt.

The Academy of Sciences in Barekamutyn Prospekt is built from Byurakan tufa of rare colour - dark-red with an ashen shade and shot with black. The Byurakan Observatory on the Aragats spurs--the largest centre of astrophysics in our country--is faced with the same stone. A better site for an observatory could hardly be found. The air is clean dry and transparent--never a whiff of mist. There are many clear nights here, both in summer and winter. The horizon is all but infinite. It was here , in the Byurakan Observatory, that Academician Victor Ambartsumyan and his colleagues made the discoveries which caused a veritable revolution in astronomy.

It has long been the favorite spot with painters too, for it affords a marvelous view of Mt. Ararat. Little wonder that one of Martiros Saryan's best pictures was painted here and called: "A View of Mt. Ararat from Byurakan."

But let us return to the city. The streets here are wide and straight, and the squares are generous in size. There are numerous parks and gardens, and trees are planted along the streets. Spots of greenery are everywhere: even the nearby hills, which had once looked grim and lifeless, are now covered with a thick wood. Yerevan is famous for its magnificent monuments. In the centre of the city you will find one of the country's best memorials to Lenin. The figure is mounted on a granite pedestal adorned with exquisite carving. Not far away stands a pink granite monument to Stepan Shaumyan, a staunch Bolshevik and one of Lenin's comrades-in-arms. In different parts of the city there are statues carved of stone or cast in bronze immortalizing Armenia's glorious sons--the revolutionary democrat Mikael Nalbandyan; the founder of the new Armenian literature. Khachatur Abovyan; the classics of Armenian poetry, Ovanes Tumanyan and Avetik Isaakyan; the great poet Sayat-Nova, and the legendary hero David of Sasun.

There are numerous pools and fountains in the city. And there is a lovely spot on the southern outskirts of Yerevan where, framed in orchards, lies the Yerevan sea, generously fed by the blue waters of Lake Sevan.

How to describe this beautiful city in words? All its colours keep changing in the play of light and shadow, as do the colours of the mountains, valleys, forests and lakes everywhere in Armenia.

Let us come down from the Kanaker plateau and take a closer look at the streets, houses, memorials and fountains. None of the houses are alike. Nor are the streets and the squares . But they do not clash, for excellent taste prevails. Traits of national classical architecture are present in practically all the buildings, and they are well attuned to the requirements of modern construction. The new, many-storeyed houses form an ensemble with their older brothers, even though the latter look a bit squat sometimes.

National Armenian ornaments adorn the newly built schools, theatres and hospitals, and are also carved on stones in the parks. There are a great number of fountains sprouting cool spring water in the streets of Yerevan, and practically all of them are ornamented with a pattern depicting a vine, a pomegranate or a doe. There are also fountains which make people remember their countrymen who were killed in the war. The idea of building these memorial-fountains belongs to the old stone-masons who began to erect them on their own initiative in wartime to commemorate their fellow villagers. The idea was soon picked up and developed on a large scale. Nowadays, you will find these unique memorials everywhere-in towns, villages, highways and mountain passes.

Yerevan has a very formal look and yet it is very cosy sort of town. Everything, or almost everything, is done here in good taste, and this applies equally to the development of large new residential areas and small architectural forms. Street lamps run along the middle of the main thoroughfare down its entire length, which is both convenient and elegant. Tiny standard lamps, placed on the ground, very prettily illumine the trees and grass along the curbs. There are handsome benches at the bus and tramcar stops where people can sit and rest, hanging their shopping bags on the carved bar specially provided for the purpose. Painted clay pitchers and large stylised vases are placed at intervals along the pavement tiles. The interior decoration of most of the cafes and restaurants is also extremely attractive.


Two mountains are seen to either side of Yerevan--the majestic biblical Ararat and and the four peaked Aragts, once a ferocious volcano.  While Mt. Ararat is Armenia's symbol of beauty and the fertility of its valley, Mt. Aragats is an important economic potential, being the chief source of the republic's building material.  The spurs of Aragats contain enormous reserves of pink tufa.  It is indeed an amazing rock--it is light and stron, it will not crumble when nails are hammered into it, and it can be sawn into pieces.  Being a porous rock, it absorbs moisture and never grows damp.  It retains warmth and is soundproof.  It can be melted down.  And it is amazingly durable.  Offhand, can you thing of any other building material endowed with tall these qualities?  

    Walls made from tufa will stand for millenniums.  And if many of Armenia's ancient buildings do lie in ruins, you must not blame it on their old age but  wholly on the destructive instinct of foreign invaders.

    Artik, where the industrial extraction of pink tufa has been practiced on a broad scale for several years now, sends off trainloads of this amazing rock to various parts of Armenia and to other republics of the Soviet Union.  Pink tufa is the adornment of Yerevan and of Armenia's adornment of Yerevan and of Armenia's second largest  city--Leninakan;  it is used to build up the new industrial centre Kirovakan, the mining towns Kafa.  Alaverdy, Kadjara, and Dastakert where copper and molybdenum are mined, the Arzni and Djermuk spas, and also the hotels and boarding houses on the shores of Lake Sevan--the largest and the most alpine in the world.

    Tufa other than pink is also quarried.  There is a quarry in Azizbekov where the felsitic tufa so closely resembles Oakwood that it can be used for wall panels.  In Kolageran it is a reddish mauve colour with cream veins; in Noemberyan the felsite has a golden tint, and in Sevan it is the colour of a petrified turquoise sea.  Apart from the varicoloured tufas.  Armenia is rich in basalt, marble perlite, obsidian, pumice, and nephelite syenites.

    There is an infinite variety of rock in Armenia and, competently treated, it has become a source of the republic's wealth.  Rock means excellent building material, first-class concrete, heat insulators, pottery, marvelously clear crystal, semiconductors, and soft, silky yarn.  Aluminum is smelted from the nephelite syenites of which there are huge deposits near Lake Sevan.  The new mining and chemical combine in Razdan uses rock for its raw material.

    And here is how Armenia's poet Amo Sagian speaks of his native stones:

You stones of my true native land,
Armenia's living stones,
From castles, shrines on every hand,
From mountain sentinels on high,
You soar aloft into the sky
You plunge into the depths below
Through thunderstorms and gales that blow,
Grey, venerable stones,
Stones over all this land of ours...
Who knows from what high castle towers,
From what stern monastery walls
Your groaning blocks were torn?
I sing your song once more, for all 
My verses from your bowels were born.
Stoned, doomed to bitter sufferings,
Worn out with evil wanderings,
Stones, broken up so many times,
Reduced to ash so many times,
And saved again (how many times!), 
Armenia's sacred stones. 
From stone it was that I emerged,
Stone was the living force that surged
Within me.  Since primordial time, 
In stone I've woven fancies free,
In stone I've fashioned filigree
Of silken texture fine

    In the last fifty years a miracle of transformation has been performed in Armenia by the people who, after long centuries of struggle for the right lo live and work in freedom, had at last become the masters of their country's fortunes.  The new generation of Armenians only know from books and from the stories of the very old people how poor their land was in the past, what sufferings fell to the lot of their ancestors, how frightening was the genocide perpetrated by the rulers of the Osman empire against Armenians, and how the survivors dispersed all over the world.

    The Armenian people were on the verge of extinction, bu they refused to be beaten.  They found the inner strength and the will for a revival of their nation, and  in the new social conditions achieved tremendous results in their material and spiritual prosperity.  Armenians who had scattered all over the world began to return to their native land, reborn after the Great October Revolution, to start a new and better life.

    After visiting Soviet Armenia, Rockwell Kent, the famous American painter and writer, once said that he saw more miracles in Armenia than anywhere else in the world.  He called it a blessed land, a cradle of  talents and great achievements, a small country that had produced monuments and personalities that could be the adornment and pride of the entire world.

Konstaintin Serebryakov


This online book is based on: A Symphony in Stone.  Published by Progress Publishers, Moscow.


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