With its nearly 170,000 inhabitants, Vanadzor is the third most inhabited city in Armenia after Gyumri and its capital, Yerevan. The city is located at 1,350 metres above sea level (4429 feet) and protected by the mountains of Pambak and Bazum. It is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Yerevan and is the capital of the province of Lori.
Vanadzor is the typical Soviet post-industrial city that developed a powerful iron and steel business network during the Communism. The city was called Kirovakan at the time of the Iron Curtain.
Today, it is known for its monumental chemical plant. That is still open, unlike other factories which had to close their doors after the Recession of the 90s and have now become ghostly places. However, it seems that new winds are blowing for the city, and some of them have resumed their activities.
The commercial and recreational life of the population revolves around Tigran Mets Street. It is full of shops, cafes, banks, and cybercafés. It runs through the centre from northwest to southeast.
If you have the opportunity, go to the Republic Square – at the intersection of this road with Khorenatsi Street. That is the political heart of the province. The building that houses the regional institutions is in the middle, and the Consistory is on its left.
A Little Bit of History
The place where the city sits today has been inhabited for thousands of years. At least that’s what the archaeological sites found northeast of Vanadzor says. Those sites are particularly concentrated on the Takavoranist Hill and they date back to the third century B.C. Later on, the city repeatedly fell into the hands of Persians and Turks and it was looted on multiple occasions.
In 1801, it was annexed to the Russian Empire. This place was not always called Vanadzor. It is believed to have been given its name in the thirteenth century because of a black church that was destroyed in 1826 by Hassan Khan during the Russo-Persian war.
In the 19th century, it was known as Karaklis and it was called Kirovakan during the Soviet period. In 1988, Vanadzor suffered the consequences of the strong earthquake that devastated the northern part of Armenia and much of the city was destroyed, too. Thanks to the international aid and the efforts of the population, barely any scars of the tragedy remain today.
Vanadzor is a medium-sized city located between mountains. That’s why it has an elongated shape. From one extreme to the other, there are about six kilometres.
It is good for you to take the Tigran Mets Street (the main commercial artery) and Vardanants (which runs in parallel) as your points of reference. The train and bus station are at the end of Khorenatsi Street, one of the perpendiculars of Tigran Mets.
What to See in Vanadzor?
Vanadzor is surrounded by impressive peaks that offer interesting options to nature lovers. One of them is the walk of about 30 km which links the Mairasaar, Maimegh, and Teshler Mountains. Another option is to visit the Terchklan Waterfalls, 7 miles from the town of Nalban. The trails are not well signposted so if you do not have much experience, it is advisable to go with someone who knows the route well.
More than a city to show, Vanadzor is made to be lived. Still, it has some interesting places to explore. You cannot miss the market (shuka), which occupies a large area between Grigor Lusarovich, Shirvanzade, and Moskovyan Streets. This is where you can find almost anything. Even second-hand nuts.
Vanadzor Republic Square
You must also visit the Republic Square, at the intersection of Tigran Mets and Khorenatsi Streets. The structure stands out due to the grandeur and sobriety of its buildings. The central building is the regional parliament while the Consistory is on the left.
Russian Orthodox Church
The golden dome of the Russian Orthodox Church shines on sunny days and it is inside the park next to the railway station.
Charles Aznavour Cultural Center
Another important spot to visit the city is the Charles Aznavour Cultural Center (2 Tigran Mets Poghots Avenue), located at the beginning of the main artery that crosses the city. It has a beautiful facade of pink tufa. They sometimes organize exhibitions and events inside.
The Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden is located in the south of the city. It is a good place to have a walk (one-way taxi costs AMD 500, you can walk on the way back).
Located in the city centre, Vanadzor lake is full of people in summer.
‘Lori Pambak’ Local History Museum
Address: 1 Tigran Mets Avenue.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Its former headquarters was destroyed in the 1988 earthquake and it now occupies a rundown building. It is nothing special, but it is useful to get an idea of the ethnographic and cultural past of the region.
Vanadzor Museum of Fine Art
Address: 52 Tigran Mets Avenue.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Entry price: 200 AMD. It was founded in 1947. There is a permanent exhibition where 1,700 works of diverse artistic disciplines are exhibited: paintings, sculptures, engravings, and moreThe museum also serves as an educational and research centre. For more information: www.vanart.org
Where to Sleep in Vanadzor?
Medium Price Lodging
Address: 1 Mashtots Poghots Street.
Phone: ✆ +374 98 417010.
It is the typical three-star Soviet hotel in which you will find fairly decent rooms for a ridiculous price. The hotel is on top of a hill, next to the park of the three lakes. And it has wonderful views of the heart of the city and the Vanadzor Mountains.
It is not far from the centre. Kirovakan offers rooms of different categories and prices range from 7,000 AMD for the single, 14,000 AMD for the most basic double, 15,000 AMD for the double deluxe, or 35,000 AMD for the most luxurious.
Address: 21 Azatamartikneri Poghots Street.
Phone: ✆ +374 91 380305/ +374 77 094029 / + 374 96 681080.
It is the most professional B&B in the city and it is the best option if you want value for money. The bed and breakfast occupies two small buildings with traditional architecture in the centre. They also boast a garden full of fruit trees. The rooms are bright, comfortable, and clean.
Some of them have a private bathroom and others have a shared one. Prices: single + breakfast (11,000 AMD), double with shared bathroom + breakfast (16,000 AMD), double with private bathroom + breakfast (19,000 AMD).
Marine, their very good cook, speaks English. Ashot is the tour guide and he usually organises trips to get to know the surroundings. Maghay is located behind the Sayat Nova Park.
Where to Eat?
Medium Price Restaurant
Oasis Cafe and Restaurant
Address: 48 Tigran Mets Poghots Avenue.
Phone: ✆ +374 322 40646.
They serve pasta, salads, pizzas, and mixed platters. The restaurant is one of the most fashionable places in the city. It also has a varied menu of mixers and cocktails. Modern decoration, good service, and an unbeatable location.
Address: 22 Tigran Mets Poghots Avenue.
It is a very cosy venue that belongs to the well-known Jazzve chain of cafes. They serve good coffees, salads, soups, pasta, and international food.
Address: 2/1 Zoravar Andranik Street.
It is known throughout the city for its khorovats (barbecues). The prices of the meat are negotiated depending on the number of diners. It is located next to the park of the three lakes, an area which becomes the recreational spot of the inhabitants of Vanadzor during the summer months.
Both the bus and railway stations are located at the intersection of Khorenatsi and Kayarani Streets, opposite the Orthodox Church. Yerevan is about 120 km (75 miles) by road and 224 km (140 miles) by train since the line deviates to the city of Gyumri and it takes a lot longer to get there.
From Yerevan, there are marshrutkas leaving every hour from 7.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. from the Killikia bus station. All schedules tend to change so check and double check.
Vanadzor-Yerevan: they leave every hour from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (1200 AMD). It takes about two and a half hours. Shared taxis cost around 2000 AMD.
Vanadzor-Tbilisi: they leave at 8:30 a.m. (4,000 AMD). It takes from 3 to 4 hours. Taxis shared cost around 5,000 AMD.
Vanadzor-Gyumri: they leave at 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. (800 AMD). It takes a little over an hour.
Vanadzor-Alaverdi: they leave at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Vanadzor-Dilijan (a very picturesque town): they leave at 1:00 p.m.
Vanadzor-Ijevan (goes through Dilijan): they leave at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Vanadzor-Sevan-Yerevan: they leave at 9:00 a.m.
Vanadzor-Etchmiadzin: they leave at 3:00 p.m.
Vanadzor-Gyumri: they leave at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. (these are slower)
Vanadzor-Yerevan: they leave at 1:53 p.m.
Vanadzor-Tbilisi: they leave at 2:18 p.m.
The Last Molokans in Hayastan
Visiting Lermontovo and Fioletovo, 14 and 22 kilometres from Vanadzor, is like getting into a time machine and travelling to a remote Russian village of the 19th century.
They are another world, or rather, another era. They are the places where the last Molokans of Armenia live in a small community which comes from Russia that some equate with the Amish of the United States.
There are hardly any vehicles in their streets, the children steer the cattle firmly, and their people live austerely, totally willingly. Here, the air is pure and the summits of the Pambak and Bazum mountain ranges protect these two towns from the icy north currents and the crazy southern winds.
The facades of the houses (dyed blue or turquoise) and their characteristic gabled roofs are nothing like the multicoloured tufa buildings of the rest of the country. Neither its inhabitants, blonde as the sun, with a lumberjack’s beard and light eyes.
Very little has been written about them because they have the reputation of being a secretive community. However, our experience is completely different. They descend from those Christians of the former Czarist Russia who had to escape the persecutions of Catherine II because they refused to obey the Orthodox Patriarch and they wanted to continue venerating their icons.
They pray to God, not to statues. They represent one of those Christian currents that seek to break with the ostentation of the Church and return to a more spiritual and primitive Christianity.
They arrived in the north of Armenia in the middle of the 19th century and out of the 18 settlements that there used to be, only these two remain. The Molokans of Fioletovo arrived from Tambov towards 1840, while those of Lermontovo came from Saratov.
Their lifestyle has been frozen in the 19th century when they arrived in these lands. However, they are not prohibited from accessing modernity. They just do not like the changes which a modern lifestyle brings. Molokan means “milk drinker” in Russian. They are known as such because one of their rituals is to drink this liquid on Wednesdays and Fridays, which are their holidays. For them, the white symbolizes purity.
They consider themselves pacifists and workers. They do not drink alcohol and they speak a Russian that has barely changed in 170 years. They organize themselves in a communal way and they only marry each other. Therefore, they proudly claim to be the purest existing Russians.
And when you look at them, they do have a point. When men are 40 years old, they grow out beards because they imagine God looks that way. In addition, women do not have their hair cut from age 5, and they cover it with a scarf.
Lermontov and Fioletovo are 5 miles away on the M8 Road that connects Dilijan with Vanadzor. It seems incredible that there are such places so close to the hustle and bustle of Tigran Mets Street.
To get there, you can take a taxi or some of the Marshrutkas that connect Vanadzor with Dilijan or Ijevan. To return, take those that do the return way. Of course, if you dare to take a walk through any of the villages, please behave respectfully. They are not used to outsiders.