Symphony in Stone*
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Symphony in Stone" image gallery.
A Russian's perspective of historical
Armenia, particularly during the time of the Soviet Union.
Part of this book is online here.
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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
This makes Yerevan 2750 years old, and one of the oldest cities in
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
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
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
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 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
This online book is
based on: A Symphony in Stone. Published by Progress