Gyumri is situated on the left bank of the Akhurian River, 126 kilometers northwest of Yerevan on the Shirak highlands. According to a 1988 census its inhabitants numbered around 230,600. It is one of the oldest dwelling places of Armenia where man has lived since ancient times. Gyumri was already a center of agriculture 2 millenniums before the birth of Christ. The western side of the town has archeological sites that date back to the Stone Age. Gyumri, as a name of a village started to appear in Armenian manuscripts from the 8th century AD. In a manuscript dating 1209, Gyumri was mentioned as a burgeoning town. In the following centuries, Gyumri didn’t appear to develop yet remained a strong and prosperous community. In 1804 the Kumaïri-Gyumri became part of the Russian Empire and after the Russian-Turkish War in 1828-29, Armenians from Western Armenia (Erzerum, Bayazet, Kars, etc.) migrated to the town. In 1830 the Fortress of Gyumri was reconstructed and fortified.
During the visit of Czar Nicholas in 1837, Gyumri was renamed Alexandrapol in honor of Queen Alexandra and soon turned into a large city and center of its region. During the 19th and 20th centuries Alexandrapol was an important city on transportation routes, a center of trade, craftsmanship education and culture. In the following decades, it became the stage for many political upheavals and struggles. The city had a distinctive cultural flavor. In 1924 the city was renamed Leninakan and kept this name for 70 years until the 1990′s when it reclaimed its original name of Gyumri. During those 70 years, Leninakan was the second largest city in the Soviet Republic of Armenia.
Gyumri is full of historically and culturally significant examples of architecture, especially civic structures such as homes, shops, baths, etc from the 18th-19th centuries. Five churches, four Armenian and one Russian, were built during the 19th century. The most beautiful though is the Church of All Saviours, which was constructed from 1859 to 1873. It was modeled after the Katoghike Church of Ani and incorporated relief sculpture of high refinement.
During the last century the city has been damaged by two major catastrophes. The first was the earthquake of 1926 where many parts of the city and 15 surrounding villages were destroyed. The effects of the earthquake were quickly mended and soon life returned to normal. Even more devastating was the earthquake of December 1988 in which the city had an enormous loss of human life and economic ruin. A vast amount of modern and antique structures were demolished within seconds.
Gyumri’s natives include Armenian cultural giants such as A. Isaakian, troubadour Sheram, H. Shiraz, Professor G. Khalatian, archeologist – ethnologist Y. Lalayan, singer Shara Dalian, mathematician A. Shahinian, mechanical engineer Kh. Koshtoyants, songwriter A. Tigranian, etc, who will always hold a place in Armenia’s cultural and scientific history.
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