Let’s look into some interesting facts about Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia. Is it worth seeing? Definitely, yes! It is called the cultural capital of Armenia. This is where Armenians with the best sense of humor live, and this is the right place to taste the famous Gyumri kiala!
Before you pack your suitcase to see this fabulous city with unique architecture, lovely parks, and impressive Kumayri historic district, here are 7 facts about Gyumri you might not know.
Facts about Gyumri:
- The first mention of Gyumri is in the 8th century BC as Kumayri by the Urartians
- Jokes sound better when told in the Gyumri dialect
- Gyumri has a wall of jokes
- Gyumri has preserved authentic historical urban Armenian architecture
- The oldest barbershop in Armenia is in Gyumri
- The first Armenian Theater House was built in Gyumri
- Gyumri has the weirdest food all around Armenia
1. The first mention of Gyumri is in the 8th century BC as Kumayri by the Urartians
An Urartian inscription was found to prove this happening. However, settlements were discovered in the area dating back to the beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C.E. So, if you meet someone from Gyumri, don’t be surprised if they start bragging about how ancient they are! Their ancestors are 5000 years old! Although, as Armenians, we are all guilty of that kind of pride no matter which region we come from.
Just a century ago, from 1804 to 1913, Gyumri and the surrounding regions became part of the Russian Empire. Gyumri went under the control of Russians on June 12, 1804, around 25 years earlier than the rest of Eastern Armenia.
Today it is the capital of the Shirak Province in the northwestern part of Armenia with a population of over 150,000 people.
2. Jokes sound better when told in Gyumri dialect
Residents of Gyumri have a fantastic ability to see the fun in every dark situation. It’s shocking but they were making jokes even during the devastating earthquake of 1988. I understand that it’s a coping mechanism, probably, nevertheless, at that time it might have seemed a bit morbid.
Today, Gyumri is known to be the city of not only culture but humor specifically. Famous Armenian comedians came from this city. And you can sort of feel the positive vibes as you walk around the city. Add to that a very specific dialect people in Gyumri use (they tend to prolong the vowels and use words that sound funny to Armenians from other regions) and you get why they bring positivity with them wherever they go.
3. Gyumri has a wall of jokes
Right in downtown Gyumri near Vardanants Square, there is a building at the address of 188 Shahumyan. One of the walls of Shahumyan building has turned into a Wall of Jokes. This is a youth initiative to make the authentic character of Gyumri accessible to all. There are jokes in Russian and English languages as well.
Here is one from that wall. Quite a morbid one, tbh. But, that’s as on-brand for Gyumri as it gets. 🙂
Wife to a neighbor – I sent my husband to buy carrots to make soup but he had an accident and died.
Neighbor – So, what will you do?
Wife – Maybe I will cook something else.
The wall was presented to the public back in 2018, and it still stands. As far as I understand the members of the local youth organization keep it updated. So, check it out when you’re around. You can read more about this wall in this post on Facebook.
4. Gyumri has preserved authentic historical urban Armenian architecture
Generally, Gyumri is considered the cultural capital of Armenia. And that goes beyond movies and theater. The Architecture of Gyumri is something that truly stands out. Luckily, the earthquake of 1988 has not touched the 18th and 19th-century buildings, which represent the prime traditions of the Armenian urban architecture of that period. The city somehow has managed to preserve the atmosphere of the 19th century. And that’s absolutely beautiful!
If you happen to visit Gyumri, definitely visit the Kumayri historic district which is one of the few places in Armenia with authentic historical urban architecture. You will see many monuments, museums, and churches here, all of which are built with the proper traditions in mind. So, you will not be bored in Gyumri for sure.
5. The oldest barbershop in Armenia is in Gyumri
Gyumri claims to have the oldest barbershop in Armenia. And that is not a lie, I think. The oldest barbershop in Gyumri has operated for almost 80 years non-stop. How cool is that! Unfortunately, ladies, this is a men’s barbershop where men also gossip about you, so women are often not allowed here. 🙂
All men are welcome to visit this barbershop to have their hair cut and meet the oldest barber in Gyumri – Khanan Aristakesyan. You can find the barbershop near Vardanants Square. This place is truly epic! I love the fact they keep the old interior intact, yet they adapt to the modern marketing trends. Some time ago they even invited a DJ and threw a party there. And the music was decent! Just check this out.
6. The First Armenian Theater House was built in Gyumri
Step by the Gyumri Old Theater that stands tall at the very beginning of Gyumri Central Park. The theater was built 150 years ago. At that time Gyumri was called Alexandrapol and the theater was built with the funds raised by the community.
In the beginning, it served as a folk house. It hosted concerts, literature evenings, poetry gatherings. In fact, the first Armenian opera “Anush” by Armen Tigranyan was premiered in this concert hall in 1912.
Today the building belongs to Tumo Center for Creative Technologies and has become a creative technology center for the youth of Shirak region.
7. Gyumri has the weirdest food all around Armenia
You haven’t fully enjoyed Gyumri if you did not try their national food – panrakhash or kiala.
Panrakhash is basically bread, cheese, and some fried onion. It’s really yummy if you are not obsessed with keeping your calorie intake low. People pour boiled water on bread and special chechil cheese. Then add some fried onion and wait for three minutes. The dish is ready! If you are a lazy bone, this dish is exactly for you. It takes some 5 to 10 minutes to make it.
And of course the famous Gyumri kiala. The literal translation of kiala is “head”. In fact, it is the cow head that people in the Shirak region eat. Seems gross? I honestly agree! But everyone who tried it, says it’s good. Maybe try it with your eyes closed. 🙂
I detailed 7 facts about Gyumri that I thought you might not know. Oh, and one more thing! I forgot to tell you that Gyumri is a city of champions. Yuri Vardanyan, the world’s first weightlifter to achieve a 400 kilogram total in the 82.5 kg weight category, is one of them. Here is a long list to impress you with the names of world champions who came from Gyumri.
So, definitely give Gyumri a chance, when you’re visiting Armenia. Especially since it’s so easily reachable from the capital with this Yerevan-Gyumri train. I am sure after Gyumri you would like to visit other interesting places in Armenia. Learn more about some unique and beautiful cities in Armenia – check out that link.
Although Gyumri is my personal number one on the list of places to visit in Armenia, it is not the only one. So, get adventurous and explore as much as you can. And, if you would like to share your impressions from your visit to Gyumri, don’t hesitate to ping me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips. Happy travels!
Featured image credits: photo by me