The Armenian capital is throwing a birthday party today. Yerevan has turned 2,975 years-old, but, like any millenarian, would have you believe that “the old girl,” as one news outlet put it, is still looking good.
The city, which is believed to have more gray hair than Rome and is regarded Babylon’s peer, is not hiding her age. She is celebrating it with a song and dance. And a spot of windsurfing.
She's been through it all, after all: a difficult childhood marked by complicated relations with abusive neighbors; riotous teen years spent mingling with Persians, Turks and other so-called shady characters; a mid-life crisis under Tsarist and, then, Soviet rule, and, finally, a late bloom in her 2,900s, but not without some criticism of her face-lifts.
"Numerous cafés and restaurants have been built instead of trees and bushes, often clashing with the surrounding planned environment," complained one United Nations Economic Commission for Europe report. "The most important concept of the city’s plan – viewpoints of the natural environment – has been lost," and the "environmental situation has drastically declined."
It was all much simpler when Yerevan was a baby, back in the days before urban development. The city’s birth certificate was carved in stone by Urartian King Argishti I, who is believed to have midwifed the city into existence by founding a fortress called Erebuni in that area in the 780s BC. The name Yerevan is believed to be derived from Erebuni.
Urban legend has it, though, that when the Bible's Noah and his floating zoo landed on nearby Mount Ararat amidst a flood of the world, he screamed “Yerevats!” or “Land, ho!”
Whichever the case, few of Yerevan's ancient structures have survived the ravages of time, wars and architects. The city reinvented itself several times, until it became the capital of Soviet Armenia and grew exponentially. The master plan of Soviet architect Alexander Tamanian transformed Yerevan into a monument of neoclassical or Stalinist architecture, marked with nods to traditional Armenian ornamentation and the local, salmon-tinted tuffa stone.
With a population of roughly 1.12 million, Yerevan now remains the smallest, albeit the oldest, capital in the South Caucasus. Yet, based on a recent visit, this blogger can attest that she does not look a century over 2,000.