Visiting Yerevan’s old town you can really tell the Armenian capital is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is a mixture of colors and styles, the old and the new. Without doubt, different wars over centuries and, most significantly, the recent communist past of this city, have left their mark on Yerevan’s face. However, its unique heritage is still present in some parts of the Armenian capital, mixed into the blend created by history. And Kond is undoubtedly one of those parts. Yerevan’s old town is still hiding in that colorful mixture of mismatch of our capital city.
So, what is Yerevan’s old town? What can one find there and is it even worth visiting? Oh, Kond is absolutely worth visiting, especially if you like going off the beaten track. You’d be surprised by how many visitors of Yerevan have no idea that Kond even exists. And it is such a wonderful place, full of inspiration and peace. So, here we go with my list of top things to do in Yerevan’s old town. If you visit this awesome neighborhood thanks to my recommendations, please let me know! Take pictures and tweet or instagram those to me with #ArmeniaTravelTips.
What is Kond, Yerevan’s old town, all about?
Kond is one of the Yerevan’s oldest districts, situated within the boundaries of the center of present-day Yerevan. This is not your typical European old town with beautiful, well maintain buildings and high property value. This place is unique, partly, and sadly, due to how little attention it receives from the local government.
The neighborhood contrasts with polished city center, even though it’s just next to it. Kond is full of history! And it’s very present there in modern days, as large parts of the neighborhood were untouched by public investment.
The word “Kond” means “long hill” in Armenian. The district was named so due to its higher elevation compared to the surrounding areas. Kond is often called Yerevan’s capital due to its historical significance and proximity to the city center.
Originally, Armenians represented the main ethnic group who populated the area and they were big on gardening and farming. However, during the years of Turkish and Persian rule, more intricate architecture started popping up. Their rule over the Armenian lands has influenced the architecture of Kond to a great extent and you can see that to this day.
Some gorgeous and well-maintained houses of Kond, seen from the central streets of Yerevan, are pleasing the passersby. Looking at them one couldn’t imagine that deep inside the district there is a neighborhood with narrow streets full of history, half-ruined houses that are leaning on each other, and old wooden doors from the past century.
You can learn a bit more about Kond in the video below. And I will tell you more about the author of this video further down in this post. So, keep reading. 🙂
Things to see in Yerevan’s old town
Narrow alleys and old stairs from Saryan, Proshyan, Paronyan, and Leo streets will lead you to this hidden place. So, what can you find in this old neighborhood apart from extremely friendly residents and authenticity of children playing on the streets without cars?
St. Hovhannes Church
One of the dominants of Kond is Saint John the Baptist Church or St. Hovhannes Church. It was built in 1710 but then was destroyed as a result of an earthquake. In the 1980s, the church was entirely rebuilt. Large scale works were realized both inside and outside the church. And today, it is an active Apostolic church. In 2000, an educational and cultural center called “Hovhannes Kozern” started operating next to the church. It offers foreign language, art, and computer classes to public.
Repurposed remnants of Thapha Bashi Mosque
The Thapha Bashi Mosque was built in Kond during the period of Yerevan’s capture in 1687 by the Safavid dynasty, one of the most significant Persian dynasties. At the beginning of the 20th century, when the Muslims left Kond, the mosque served as a residence for many people who survived the Armenian Genocide in Turkey and moved here.
The local residents gradually re-purposed the construction into housing (of relatively poor quality) over years. The main dome of the mosque collapsed in the 1960s, the small dome, however, still stands. You can find the old entrance to the mosque in Rustaveli street, and then walk around it to explore the walls.
Kond’s public bath
Few know that in the old times there was a major public bath in Kond. People did not have water in their houses, so they had to go to the public bath. In fact, this was one of the favorite activities of the residents of Kond, especially women. You can still find the remnant of this public bath in Kond, near the mosque mentioned earlier.
Looking to see traditional Armenian lifestyle in Yerevan? The old town is the go to place for that.
Historically, people who ended up in Kond were to some degree considered to be at the margins of the society. Refugees, national minorities, people who refused to live by the rules of the Soviet regime etc. Eventually due to lack of interest from the local government, Kond became home for several criminal authorities known in Yerevan in the 80ies and 90ies. This led to further abandonment of the neighborhood as people started associating Kond with crime.
Nowadays, Kond is nothing like a neighborhood full of crime, in contrary it’s full of love and support that neighbors show to each other. It’s common to see people pull chairs from their houses, put them in the middle of the street and play games, or drink coffee with their neighbors right there. Children are free to run around and play anywhere they want in the neighborhood, because parents know the kids are safe in Kond. You see people’s freshly washed cloths hanging on ropes on the streets everywhere, because nobody would steal from their neighbors. And, if somebody spots you staring at something for too long, don’t be surprised if they invite you for a coffee. Probably, they just want to try to chat with you about the history of their district.
I believe that this sense of community has partially been built by the fact that the rest of Yerevan has been mentally rejecting Kond for so many years. But to be honest, in many ways, this is how I remember Armenia as a child – a place where all neighbors know each other by name and hang out with each other regularly. So, I believe that Kond represents the culture and tradition of interpersonal relationships in the Armenian society much better than any other place in Yerevan does.
Street art in the heart of Yerevan’s old town
Recently modern Kond has been transforming into an open-air gallery, all thanks to efforts of local and international graffiti artists. Sereg Navasardyan (@yerevantropics on Instagram), a well-known local Graphic Designer, started this project, called #kondgallery. (click to see their website) As the project was evolving, it attracted street artists from all over Armenia and Georgia, and even from as far as Finland. If you check out their website, you’ll see a complete list of artists who created their artwork in the streets of Kond to this day.
Sereg started working directly with the residents of Kond to understand their mentality. Their views matter when we talk about painting street art works on the walls of their neighborhood. This street art highlights important topics around Armenian history and politics and challenges the observer to think critically. But also, it’s a community work, as Sereg is working to boost the image of Kond, as the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood in Yerevan.
See this old district’s unique spirit before going there!
Recently I came across this beautiful music video of one of the most popular Armenian pop singers, Sirusho. She decided to sing a song in one of the Armenian dialects and shoot a video entirely in Kond. Check it out below, because I’m sure you’ll love it! I think the growing artsy vibe Kond is getting has contributed to her decision to shoot this video here.
Don’t miss the end of the video, where she performs what I call ‘Traditional Armenian voguing’. 🙂 To be honest, I have no idea if it has anything to do with modern-day voguing dance style, but it looks similar to me!
As one of the oldest districts in Yerevan, Kond is a synthesis of cultures and a mixture of colors. Let the old stairs and narrow alleys lead you to discover Yerevan through studying its old town – the place where the old meets the new, where the past collides with the present, where the city smells like history.
I really hope that after reading this post you will make sure to visit Yerevan’s old town – Kond. There is a lot to see in our capital city, and if you want to explore further, check out my selection of unique places in Yerevan and three best markets for street shopping in Yerevan. While visiting Kond or other places I recommend, please take pictures and tweet/instagram those to me with #ArmeniaTravelTips. Knowing that you help visitors explore our capital city in a better way is very fulfilling.
Featured image credit: Photo by @kondgallery on Instagram