Gyumri is the second biggest city of Republic of Armenia nowadays (distance from Yerevan – 96 km, altitude from sea level – 1500 meters). It is a very beautiful and interesting place with magnificent culture and heart-warming people.
But what is the history of Gyumri like? Is it old or just a modern city? And is it worth visiting it? You will have all the answers after reading this article.
Gyumri before the tsarist period
The first time the area is remembered in the cuneiform found not far from Marmashen monastery, where it says.”By the greatness of God Khaldi, Artashes conquered Irdaniuni city and the land of Ishkikulu “.
During the centuries the name of the place was changed from “Irdaniuni” to “Kumayri” to make the spelling easier and in the later period to “Gyumri”.
The next time Kumayri is being mentioned as a village in 774 A.C. in the history of Khevond Alishan. He says.”… he was reaching to Kumayri village of Shirak district”
History of Gyumri of the tsarist period
In the autumn of 1937 tsar, Nikolay the First from Romanov dynasty with accompany of the entourage started his trip from Tbilisi to Eastern Armenia passing though picturesque canyon of Borjomi.
The first stop of the king was in Gyumri, where he ordered to build a fortress and a church of holy Alexandria, a queen and holy martyr of Russian Orthodox Church. He renamed the village into “Alexandrapol” thus opening a new era in the history of the Gyumri.
Population and religions of the city
Gyumri and its surrounding passed to the supremacy of the Romanov family in 1804 as a result of the war between Russia and Persia. By 1831 Gyumri had a population of 3500 people, where each nationality had its own region.
Those were “mayla of Bosh” (district of poor), “mayla of Turks” (district of Turks), “Slavodka” (translation not found), “Kayaran” (the station) and “mayla of Dzor” (district of the ravine).
The first character describing the people of the city was his or her district, so people would say something like this “this guy is from mayla of Bosh” and it was enough to have a bad reputation.
Gyumri was populated with Armenians, Russians, Greeks, Jews and Turks. Turkish district still exists, although with no Turks living there.
The city was home for different cultures and religions, Christians, Muslims and Judaists, but these are not all as there were different branches of Christianity.
Only Armenians were divided into three groups, followers of Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholics and Protestants. All these churches function up to these days.
Alexandrapol was one of the main fortresses of the tsarist army. During the time three settlements for soldiers were built (“Severskiy”, “Polygons” and “Kozachiy post”).
This was the period when Alexsandrapol was expanding and was declared a city in 1937 with its interesting architectural design which reached up to our days and becoming the first Armenian village transformed into a city with a population of 30000 people.
The unique architectural design of Gyumri is a hybrid of Russian and local Armenian Architectures.
Alexsandrapol became the most important city of Western Armenia in 1899 when the railway line was built from Tbilisi which in the later period reached to two other cities of Western Armenia, Yerevan and Kars. Soon in 1916, the population of the city expanded 50.000 people.
Gyumri and the First Republic of Armenia
During the Armenian Genocide, Gyumri accepted many thousand orphans and victims and faced famine and starvation, but the situation became harder when the Turkish army occupied the territory for months since May 1918.
When Turkish army was defeated and the war stopped everyone was happy and hope for bright future, but soon Turkish army occupied the city the second time in the autumn of 1920 when the Armenian Republic fell and Armenia was forced to become Communist country.
Although Armenia became a communist country in December of 1920, the Turkish army stayed in Shirak field until April of 1921 making it desolate and killing many people. Then the city was renamed into “Leninakan” by the name of the leader of Bolsheviks.
Gyumri in the USSR period
The entry of Armenia into USSR was commemorated with the rebuilding of Yerevan and Gyumri lost its importance. Slaughters of the Armenian population by Turkish armies in 1918-21 made the city to cry out of pain, as more and more people would leave and migrate to Doni Rostov and Tbilisi.
The earthquake of 1926 made the situation rather difficult and many people died, but the Soviet Union Government restored the city and people started to work and the city to prosper.
But this was not for a long time as the mighty earthquake of Spitak city not far from Gyumri would greatly damage the city. 25000 people died, 31000 were damaged and 514.000 people were left without houses. The estimated power of the earthquake was 9-10 magnitude. The restoration process of the city continues up to these days.
Gyumri is a must-visit place for all those who want to explore Armenia. Distance from Yerevan is 95 km. You can reach there either by taxi (2 hours) or by train (3 hours).
I would suggest going there by train so as you will be able to enjoy interesting landscapes of Armenia. You will have two options either usual trains, which reach the place in three hours or by a new one, which is fast and you will reach in two hours.
You will enjoy the beautiful architecture and design. You can visit Dzitoghyants museum and explore the lifestyle of the city.
Visiting there you will see the central square with the statues of heroes of Vardanants war and two churches.
One of them is the church of Holy Mary, where the cultures of Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian churches were mixed.
From the square, you can go to the walking streets with the beautiful houses of the 19th century. And finally, I would suggest you visit Marmashen monastery located not far from the Armenian-Turkish border and Black Fortress, built by the Russian army in 1934.
I am sure, that exploring the history of Gyumri, its beautiful landmarks and architecture and people will help you to explore Armenia better.