By Robert Weitzner
When I first had the chance to visit Yerevan, Armenia, I had no idea the impact this city, one of the oldest in the world, would have on the rest of my life.
My plan was to stay only three days, absorbing as much history as I could; after all, Yerevan, the capital of Armenia is such an old city. But it is the people that really make the city special. The Armenians are a relatively small race but make up most of the strongest people I have ever met. A holy people, constantly praying and thanking God for what they have, and with such an emphasis on preserving their culture and history – Armenia was the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as the official state religion, in the year 301.
So no wonder that most of the architecture in Armenia consist of churches and monasteries dating back to the 4th Century, along with museums filled with manuscripts and writings dating back over 3,000 years. One of my favourite places in the city is a juxtaposition of old and new – a 13th Century Armenian church, Armenian Katoghike Church, surrounded by the brand new Saint Anna Church, built in 2015. The architecture is strikingly similar, but you can tell that one has seen many more life events and ages than the other.
The biggest surprise Yerevan had for me, however, would be meeting my wife Astghik. On my first day in Armenia we met, and I took her on a date on my third day, when I told her I wanted to marry her. We had gone on a date to the National Gallery of the Republic of Armenia, an excellent display of art and artefacts. It is situated in the centre of Republic Square, which is the heart of Yerevan, and was founded in 1924 by the city’s famous architect, Alexander Tamanyan.
The architecture is incredible, and most buildings are government buildings but make for great photos. At the centre of the square is the Dancing Fountains – which from spring to autumn creates an incredible show of fountains choreographed to international music, attracting tourists from all over the world. To me it is like the dancing of a million diamonds.
I suppose my own story also plays a large role in the magic that Yerevan brings to me. I am an American, but have been living in Armenia after marrying my wife for about a year now.
There is certainly an abundance of perfectly preserved cameras from the former Soviet Union, many of which can be seen at the weekend open-air market of Vernissage. The camera I have used the most here in Armenia, however is a Zenit 122 SLR. It was bought for my wife by her parents shortly after she was born, while her parents were on vacation in the early 1990’s. My wife gave it to me and I was the first to unseal the box and load the camera. I have not been disappointed! Unfortunately film and processing services are hard to find here, and I brought much of my Kentmere 400 film and powdered black and white chemistry back with me after a two week trip back to the USA to visit my parents.
There is, however, one place where I develop colour film – it is a small photo printing shop slightly below street level, and it’s the only place in the city that develops C41 colour film – at least the only one that I trust. The owner’s name is Armen, and his shop is at 38 Abovyan Street. This is in the area of Circle Park– a beautiful green park that encircles the city from almost all directions. It is a beautiful place to walk through to escape the summer sun, which also offers incredible photo opportunities as the sunlight filters through tall poplar trees as well as lots of other foliage. Also scattered throughout the park are many sculptures dedicated to many famous Armenian writers, poets, musicians, and other notable historic figures.
Another of my favourite spots is the Yerevan Cascade. It is a free outdoor museum of modern and contemporary art and statues. At the top is a beautiful overlook of the city, the Yerevan Opera House as the crown jewel of the city.
I truly love this city and country (and not just because it is the place I met my wife) I think it is one of the best relatively undiscovered tourism destination in the world – especially for photographers.