Culture

"There is no other land in the world so full of wonders as the land of Armenians…
 But whatever may have been destiny, and it has been bitter, whatever it may be in future,
their country must ever be one of the most interesting in the world."
 

-George Gordon Byron

 

One of the most ancient civilizations in the world, Armenia is often referred to as an ‘open air’ museum in terms of both nature and culture. Over the centuries, it has created and developed a modern, sophisticated and living culture at the intersection of the east and the west, unique in many ways. Some of the most significant features of the culture of Armenia are reflected in its pre-historic and early Christian monuments, most artistic fashion, in needlework, carvings, design, carpet weaving and even more. Very important were also the adoption of Christianity as state religion in 301 and the inventions of the Armenian alphabet in 405, which helped Armenians preserve their identity and develop unique cultural traditions.

Armenian culture has always been and still remains a means of maintaining a sense of national unity, not only in Armenia but also in international Armenian community. Armenians acknowledge the importance of their culture for the survival of a small nation, and they have left a rich cultural legacy in every corner of their historical homeland.

Architecture


A particularly rich part of the Armenian heritage, Armenian architecture is also considered to be a major component of the world culture with its thousands of historical monuments and the significant role it played in the development of world architecture. The history of Armenian ecclesiastical architecture begins with Armenia’s conversion to Christianity and almost simultaneously the construction of the Cathedral of Holy Ejmiatsin at the beginning of the 4th century. Replacing pagan temples with the first churches, Christian influences created architectural masterpieces such as the churches of Hripsime, Gayane and the gem of the 7th century Armenian architecture.

During the 9th-14th centuries, the unique monasteries of Tatev, Sanahin, Haghpat, Noravank, Goshavank, Ohanavank, Harichavank and Makaravank were created, which have survived till today and are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

There are two distinctive features of Armenian church architecture: the first is the use of double-intersecting stone arches to span the interior space, eliminating the need for the supporting columns familiar in other types of churches; while the second feature is the pyramidal dome, supported by a drum, which is supported in turn by intersecting arches.

A unique manifestation of Armenian medieval national art is comprised by the monuments called khachkars or cross stones, which were widely used in Armenia and have become additional signifiers of Armenian identity.

Following the Sovietization of Armenia in the early 20th century, two architectural directions competed for dominance: the national, expressed in such works as the Government Buildings of Republic Square, the Genocide Museum, the State Opera House, etc., and the contemporary, examples of which include the Sports Complex, Zvartnots Airport and the Youth Palace.

Art


With a history of nearly five thousand years old, Armenian Art has always had a special place in the development of the nation’s culture and traditions. The most vivid examples of Armenian art include miniature painting, sculptures, frescoes, mosaics and ceramics, add to this metalwork and engravings, textiles, music and printing.

Embracing more than 13 centuries, the architecture and miniature painting have dominated Armenian artistic production, showing consistent development. Early Armenian miniatures are best-known for their festive grandeur and never fail to make one feel the infinite power of art. ‘The Targmanchats Gospel’ (artist-Grigor), painted in 1232, is a truly striking miniature with its unique iconography and coloring as well as its dramatic expression.

Other remarkable Armenian painters that greatly introduced such painting genres as still life, landscape and historical composition in the second half of the 19th century are Hovhannes Ayvazovski (1817-1947) – the most interesting phenomenon that gained international fame at the age of 25 (‘Windmill on the Sea Coast-1837,’ ‘The Great Roads at Kronstadt-1836,’ and ‘Stormy Sea-1868’ to name but a few); Gevorg Bashinjaghyan (1857-1925), founder of national realistic landscape painting (‘Portrait of Liza Yarovaya-1878,’ ‘Portrait of a Man-1878,’ and ‘Sevan at Sunrise-1894’); and Vardges Surenyants (1860-1921) – specialist of Armenian theory of arts who has enriched the Armenian pictorial art with such works as ‘The Abandoned,’ ‘Shamiram at the Corps of AraGeghetsik,’‘Salome,’ and others.

Among the 20th century artists, of great significance and well-worth a mention is Martiros Saryan (1880-1972), the founder of the school of modern painting, whose works include portraiture, still life and landscape (‘Flowering Mountains,’ ‘At the Well on a Hot Day,’ ‘Mount Aragats,’ ‘Midday Stillness’ and more). The artist brings to each of his masterpieces the most delicate shades of a mood, which is mostly intimate and lyrical. He composes cycles in which the meaning of the present and the eternal is philosophically explored. One such series consisting of seven landscpaes is ‘My Homeland.’

Another modern Armenian artist, who put the color back into painting, like the yellowed pages of the ancient manuscripts found in Matenadaran, is Minas Avetisyan (1928-1975). His real emergence as an artist was at the ‘Exhibition of Five’ in Yerevan (1962), where he revealed himself as a mature painter with a bright individuality. His famous works include ‘Memory-1973,’ ‘Landscape with Khachkars-1974,’ ‘Still-life with Watermelon-1960’ and ‘Master Gevork-1970.’

Armenian Cuisine


Armenian cuisine is as ancient as the history of Armenia, offering a wonderful combination of different tastes and aromas. Part of the Armenian culture, the glory of Armenian cuisine extends far beyond the country’s borders.

Armenia is also known as the motherland of viticulture and winemaking and according to a legend, Noah planted the first vineyard in the plateau of Ararat. Wine is part of the national lifestyle, and traditional dishes are not complete without wine. Influenced by eastern and western cuisines various spices, vegetables, fish and fruits combine to present a unique experience for any visitor to the country.

Literature


Literature has always played a vital role in Armenia’s cultural and national identity. Of special value are the historical works by Movses Khorenatsi in which the writer managed to preserve the precious specimens of oral national poetry.

The written literature is made up of five main epochs: the 5th century golden age (or voskedar) following the adoption of the alphabet; the Middle Ages; the Armenian Renaissance (19th century); modern literature of Armenia and Constantinople (Istanbul) at the turn of the 20th century; and contemporary literature of Armenia and the Diaspora. The first major Armenian literary work is the 5th century translation of the Bible the language of which became the standard of classical Armenian. The unique handwritten heritage of Armenian people – over fifteen thousand manuscripts on history, law, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, natural sciences, astronomy and music are stored in Matenadaran, a top tourist attraction in Yerevan named after Mesrop Mashtots.

Armenian literature has been highly influenced by European literary styles and movements and reflects the tragic history of its people.

Music


Armenians love music and they have been creating priceless compositions for centuries. Sharakans – traditional liturgical songs, and sacred music are purely Armenian and today they are reviving.

Komitas is perhaps the most famous Armenian composer, a talented musician and musicologist who set a new era in the history of Armenian music by tracing the path of musical folk art. Armenian folk songs sung by ashughs and gusans are still alive today in Armenia and artist Djivan Gasparyan has taken the unique sound of Armenian duduk to foreign audiences worldwide, collaborating with internationally renowned musicians such as Peter Gabriel and Kronos Quartet.

The contribution in the rapid rise of the Armenian national music was also due to the outstanding composer Aram Khachaturian, whose works are deeply rooted in Armenian people, their art and culture.

The best way to get acquainted with the rich cultural heritage of Armenia is to visit the country’s museums and galleries, showcasing the nation’s history and culture. Yerevan alone has over 40 fine arts museums and galleries.