Yerevan is the oldest city in Armenia

Yerevan, which we almost lost. Qond district: slums or old city?

We walk around the district that hides several centuries of the Armenian capital’s history.

What is the first thing tourists look for when coming to an unfamiliar but ancient city? Of course, antiquity. Any self-respecting capital must have an old city in one form or another. And it must be trampled by any self-respecting tourist. Armenia guide Anna Tashchyan tells about a little-known Yerevan landmark – the old town of Kond, which hides in the heart of the capital.

Yerevan is about 2,800 years old, but there is no traditional old city here. There is the Erebuni fortress, the same which is almost three thousand years old and with which the history of the city began. There are a few XIX century buildings in the center. And that’s, like, all; the rest of the architecture is Soviet. It was Tamanyan, the architect, who turned a typical Middle Eastern settlement with dusty streets and adobe houses into a unique modern metropolis, thanking him. But to do this, all of old Yerevan had to be razed to the ground. Almost all of it.

Surprisingly, one of the old quarters of Erivan at that time was not destroyed. Muslims called it Tapabashi, while Armenians called it Kond. Tamanyan wanted to preserve it as a sample of old architecture. Kond exists to this day. It is responsible in Yerevan for the old city, although it does not look very presentable to tourists.

The slum-like appearance of Kond has changed little since most of the city was demolished. Yet it exists in the heart of the booming and developing capital. From the times of Tamanyan, the idea of making it into a historical center has been floating in the air until now. The idea has never been realized, and Kond is dilapidated, becoming more and more a city in a city which nobody deals with, but which still keeps small historical treasures from the XVII century. Anna Tashchian told us about the history of the area and how and what to see in it.

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How to Find the Cond

Kond is only a mile and a half from Yerevan’s main square. It is bounded by four streets: Paronian, Leo, Saryan and Frick. The area is elevated [both “Gond” and “Tapabashi” are translated as “hilltop” – Author’s note], so if you see stairs going up in the streets, you should take the stairs to the Gond. The easiest way to start the walk is from the church of St. Hovhannes (John the Baptist) on Paronyan Street. The cab driver can simply call it “the church of Kond”.

The first building of the temple was built in the Middle Ages, but it was destroyed by a monstrous earthquake in 1679. Sources say that the tremors lasted for several months. In the early 18th century, a new church was erected on this site at the expense of the wealthy Kondani Melik Agamal. This man and his family mean a lot in the history of Kond. Even now the old people remember the descendants of Melik-Agamalians. The church, a three-nave basilica topped with a dome, was renovated in the 1980s, so it has a very new look compared to the rest of the buildings in the neighborhood.

From the church, exit onto Frick Street and follow it into Cond.

Where to go in Cond.

On the map, even if you find one, it is difficult to navigate inside Kond. The construction is chaotic, and the streets are so narrow that a car can barely pass – passersby have to press against the walls. With house numbers, too, of course, confusion.

But do not be afraid to get lost. First of all, the block is small and you will soon get out of it no matter where you go. Secondly, you can always ask the locals for directions. Don’t be shy or afraid; although Cond looks like a Brazilian favela, it’s completely safe. The locals will look at you curiously, but kindly. They will tell you the way and, very likely, offer to show you an interesting building and even invite you into the house. Especially if you say hello in Armenian: “barev dzes”.

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If you entered from the side of the church, you will soon get to one of the three main streets – Rustaveli. Only these streets – Rustaveli, Konda and Simeon Yerevantsi – have names. Hold on to them for guidance.

On your right will be the backdrop of a big beautiful building – that’s Dvin Music Hall, a remodeled former Soviet hotel. Both the swanky new Dvin and the residential new building next door are in stark contrast to the poor houses around it.

And, of course, you may wonder if they are going to demolish the Cond and build this place with normal houses. Now they are going to, now they aren’t. This issue has been discussed at different levels for many years. And the strangest thing is that the majority of Kond residents are against the demolition. First, it is the center of the town, and nobody knows where they will be given apartments later. Second, they hope for competent reconstruction and transformation of Kond into a historical district. Well, thirdly, they just got used to it. Many have managed to improve their conditions, to add and rebuild their apartments, in order to eventually turn them into quite comfortable mansions. And the residents of Kond appreciate it for its quiet, tranquility and almost rustic atmosphere in the heart of a bustling city.

You’ll feel that atmosphere, too. Kond is like a little Narnia: you enter and find yourself in another world. You forget that five minutes ago you stood in a busy Yerevan street, because here you can’t even hear the noise of cars.

What to see in Kondet

Just walk around and look around. Somewhere you’ll be horrified by poverty and think, “How can you live like this?”, and somewhere you’ll see a kind of cozy exoticism. And be sure to find traces of history, but for this you need to look closely.

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Right after you pass “Dvin” you will see a wall of dark tufa on your right side – it’s the wall of the house of those very Melik-Agamalyans. True, the house used to be much bigger.

On the left side is something like a small memorial with a cross, next to a fountain and a pavilion. It’s a monument to one of the locals, who is said to have been quite authoritative in his time. During the Soviet years, Kond was quite a criminal area. The militia didn’t especially come here, and it was easy to hide from it: the relief and architecture of Kond contributed to it. There are even secret doors that lead ostensibly into the house, but in fact – into a through yard, through which it is convenient to hide from pursuers.

Pay attention to the walls, they reflect all the layers of civilization: what the house was built of, what it was tiled with later, what it was insulated with. The bottom layer, as a rule, belongs to the XVII-XVIII centuries. It is not uncommon to find wood, stone and brick in the same wall. The latter is brick only in appearance. In the XVII century this material was in fashion, and tuff, the stone from which all of Yerevan was built, was turned under it.

Persian motifs can be seen in many places: Oriental arches above window apertures, ornaments. This is also the XVII-XVIII centuries.

Speaking of walls: there’s a lot of graffiti in Condé. The exoticism of the neighborhood is appreciated by modern artists-the contrast of street art and decaying antiquity is impressive.

Look at the rooftops. There are pigeons circling above some of them, which means there’s a dovecote. They have always been a characteristic of Kond, and these days there are several dovekeepers living here, no longer old, but still keen.

You’ll probably catch your eye the parts of the houses that stand on the pillars. These are the kitchens and toilets. The sewage system in Kond was installed late, and the toilets were attached to the houses. By the way, there are still no water meters here.

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The population in Kond, as in the whole Yerevan, was mixed up till the 20th century. For several centuries Erivan passed first to Persia, then to the Ottoman Empire. Kond was traditionally considered an Armenian quarter, but it was also inhabited by Persians, Turks and Bosha Armenians. The houses of Christians and Muslims differed in appearance, and this can still be seen today. The Muslim buildings face inward and are hidden behind high stone walls, with no windows in the street walls. But there is a patio and a veranda, all life goes on inside, hidden from prying eyes. This was done so that a Muslim woman who spends most of her time at home would not be seen by outsiders.

There are two buildings in Kondé that simply must be seen. They are on Simeon Yerevantsi Street (formerly Chkalov Street), which is just the opposite end of the neighborhood, if you start from Rustaveli.

The first building is the ruins of a former mosque in which people now live. Tapabashi Mosque was built at the end of the 17th century under Persian rule and is considered one of the oldest buildings in Yerevan. At the beginning of the 20th century most of the Muslims left Armenia and the mosque became deserted. After the genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Empire in 1915 16 families of refugees from Western Armenia reached Kond and settled in the empty building of the mosque, having received the permission of the authorities. By the way, the same Melik-Agamalyan family helped them financially. The building has not been repaired properly since then.

In 1988, the dome collapsed from dilapidation. The residents planted a garden in its place, and the roots of the trees, sprouting through the roof, destroyed the masonry more and more. The building is now in a state of disrepair, though three families still live in it, and even more according to the registration. Why? The reason is still the same: people hope that they will get apartments. The situation is similar, however, in the rest of Kond: a lot more people are registered there than actually live there. So, it is not easy for the state in this matter, too, so it is still not solved.

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The second building is not far from the mosque (if you stand facing it on Simeon Yerevantsi Street, you must go right), it is the former home of a local nobleman. It stands out externally: the very cultural layers are clearly visible: brick, wood, stone, and a Persian arched motif above the window.

Interestingly, many native Yerevanites have never been to Kondeh. If you tell someone about the desire to walk there, the older generation will certainly shrug their shoulders: “What’s there to do in the slums?” at best, and at worst they will begin to actively discourage you. But this is where the remnants of Yerevan’s history can be seen. Because Kond is the real old Yerevan, which the country has almost lost and which, unfortunately, the residents of the capital are even a little embarrassed of. True, in the secret hope of a revival soon.

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