Gyumri is the second largest city in Armenia and the administrative center of Shirak. The region is located in northwestern Armenia. Gyumri is situated in the central part of the Shirak plateau, on the left bank of the Akhurian River. The Gyumrichaye, Ghorghoban, Boshichay and Circassian Rivers, which belong to the Akhurian basin, flow through this territory. The Akhurian is the only major river of Shirak and flows from Lake Arpi. The Akhurian Reservoir is the largest in Armenia and was built on the Akhurian River. Lake Arpi is situated on the Ashotsk plateau, where the air temperature falls to -46 degrees C. This area is often called the "North Pole" of the Armenian Highlands.
Gyumri first enters the annals of history as Kumayri during the Urartian period (9-6th centuries BC). Its name suggests that the city was founded following the invasion of the Cimmerians into the Armenian Plateau in the late 8th century, since they became known as the Gamirk in Grabar sources. Xenophon may have passed through Gyumri during the retreat of the Ten Thousand from the Achaemenid Persian Empire in 401 BC.
During the Middle Ages, Gyumri was known as a large and important settlement. According to the Armenian scholar Ghevond the Historian, the town was a centre of Armenian rebellion led by Artavazd Mamikonian against the Arab Caliphate in the mid 8th century AD.
The town had lost its significance following the collapse of the Bagratuni Kingdom (1045) until the beginning of the 19th century.
It was in 1837 when the name Kumayri was changed when the Tsar Nikolay I visited Armenia and named the city Alexandrapol in honor of his wife, Alexandria. After the Russian-Persian War in 1804 the city had been incorporated into the Russian Empire and became a major cultural center.
Blacksmiths, metalworkers, stonemasons and jewelers settled in Alexandrapol. Commercial and cultural life prospered when the Tbilisi–Alexandrapol railway was launched in 1899. Industry took the leading position providing economical development. At the end of the 19th century Alexandrapol became the third largest industrial and cultural center after Tbilisi and Baku. In the 1920s the population of the city increased to more than 30,000, which was equal to the population in Yerevan.
At the beginning of the 20th century Alexandropol was the main Armenian proletarian center as the Alexandrapol labor community actively participated in the revolution of 1905-1907. In the Soviet period, Alexandrapol was renamed Leninakan.
Urban planning progressed widely in Leninakan and several monuments were constructed with a number of gardens coming into existence. Wide avenues and beautiful squares were built according to the plans by A. Tamanyan and M. Mazmanyan in 1925-1939, and the city was expanded further under the supervision of H. Isabekyan in the 1960s.
But it was on December 7, 1988 that an earthquake left a devastating effect on the city. A number of buildings were ruined, while many factories and educational institutions were destroyed. Traces of damage caused by the earthquake are still visible, but most of the city has been reconstructed. Recently Gyumri became the CIS Cultural Capital 2013, thanks to its rich cultural heritage that dates back to ancient times.
The independence of the Republic of Armenia followed in 1991 and the city was renamed twice: first as Kumayri and then Gyumri in 1992.
Geography and climate
Gyumri is 126 km north of the capital Yerevan at the central part of the Shirak plateau. It has an approximate height of 1550 metres above sea level. The Akhurian River passes through the western suburbs. The Shirak plateau is surrounded with the Pambak Mountains from the east and Aragats volcanic range from the south. The city is 196 km away from the Black Sea. The surrounding lands of the city are reach with tufa, basalt and clay.
Gyumri has a semi-arid climate, characterized with extremely cold and snowy winter where the minimum temperature could fall down to −41 °C (−42 °F). On the other hand, summer in Gyumri is relatively hot with temperatures could reach up to 36 °C (97 °F). The annual precipitation averages 500 millimetres (20 in).
Gyumri is known as the 'city of crafts and arts.' It is the home town of popular Armenian poets and gusans Jivani, Avetik Isahakyan, Sheram and Hovhannes Shiraz.
The first opera performance in Armenia (Anoush by Armen Tigranian) took place in Alexandropol in 1912.
In 1865, an amateur theatre group in Gyumri performed H. Karinyan's "Shushanik". Vardan Ajemian State Drama Theatre was founded in 1928 in Gyumri. Prominent directors Ruben Simonov and Vardan Ajemian, actors Mher Mkrtchyan, Azat Sherents and Varduhi Varderesyan worked in theatre. The theatre's new building was opened in 1972. The artistic director is Nikolay Tsaturyan.
The people of Gyumri (gyumretsis) are famous for their sense of humor. Many of them, like Poloz Mukuch and Dzitro Alek, are popular folklore characters.
Gyumri is also known for its 19th century architecture and urban constructions.
The first printing house of Gyumri was founded in 1876 by G. Sanoyan and operated until 1918. It published literary works (including Avetik Isahakyan's first book), calendars, and textbooks. Another printing house-Ayg (founded 1892), published historical books and the first periodical of Gyumri, Akhuryan.
Blacksmithing was the most widely known craft in Alexandrapol. Blacksmiths made various tools for labor and household objects. The well-known blacksmiths were Nalchadjian, Loretsian and Chakhmakhian families. It was due to the rich traditions of blacksmithing that inspired the filmmakers of the film “Triangle” to choose Gyumri as the shooting location. The film is about the collaborative work and friendship of five blacksmiths named Mkrtich. The Gyumri lifestyle was accurately represented in the film.
Tinsmithing became popular at the end of the 19th century in Gyumri. The wide use of sheet metal resulted in the development of tinsmithing and the main entrances and roofs were covered with beautiful tin-figured decorations. The tinsmiths began to use rolling machines at the beginning of the 20th century and mechanical work came to substitute working by hand.
Foundry work has its unique place in Alexandrapol. As a result of technology metal tempering was improved and hardened metal objects becoming more in use. Detailing for beds, furnaces, handrails, candlesticks and various handles were produced. Graphite ladles and ovens with advanced furnaces were the basic tools of foundry work. The Tochmajian family mastered foundry work in Alexandrapol.