Today I woke up at 7:30am naturally. After getting dressed I walked over to the sister hotel where a delicious complimentary breakfast buffet was being served. After breakfast I hailed a taxi on the GG app to the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex. The Armenian Genocide Memorial is dedicated to the victims of the Armenian genocide, and is located on Tsitsernakaberd hill that overlooks Yerevan. It was built in 1967 on the same site that was once an Iron Age fortress. Every year on April 24th the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is recognized, and thousands of people lay flowers around the memorial out of respect of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who died during the atrocities committed by the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) between 1915 and 1922. The concrete monument was designed by architects Arthur Tarkhanyan, Sashur Kalashyan and artist Hovhannes Khachatryanar. The monument features a 44 metre tall “stele” which symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Next to the stele is a circle with a depth of 1.5 metres featuring an eternal flame, which is surrounded by 12 concrete slabs, which represents the twelve lost provinces in the present-day Turkey. Along the edge of the park there is a 100 metre long wall with the names of towns and villages where massacres and deportations were known to have taken place. At the same site the is The Armenian Genocide Museum, which was very sobering to visit. I spent about an hour hear reading about what happened.
After visiting the memorial it was time to do something lighter. Located on the same hill is the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concert Complex. The sports complex is a futuristic looking sporting complex that was opened in 1983. It was designed by A. Tarkhanian, S. Khachikian, G. Poghosian, G. Musheghian. The sports complex has capacity for 8000 people and was only open for two years before a large fire broke out. After the fire it sat empty for two years until it was repaired by the end of 1987. In 1999 the complex received its current name after the assignation of Armenian parliament speaker Karen Demirchyan. In October 2005 the complex was sold by the Armenian government to Russian BAMO Holding Company for $5.7 million with the agreement that the name of the complex couldn’t be changed, and the functionality of the complex couldn’t be changed. Shortly after nearly $42 million was spent renovating the complex over a three year period into a modern sports / concert arena. In August 2014, BAMO Holding Company had accumulated a large amount of debt, and the Government of Armenia transferred the ownership of the complex to the Ministry of Defense. In August 2015 the government decided to sell the complex to NTAA Investment Group, who eventually has a plan to turn the complex into a family-oriented center that will include hotels, an indoor waterpark, concert halls, meeting rooms, restaurants, shops, and a casino.
From here I took a quick 8 minute taxi ride to Yerevan Cadastre Local, which is located at 35/2 Komitas Avenue. It is a neat looking soviet era building, however I couldn’t find any information on it.
It was already approaching lunch at this point in time, so I decided to walk to Cafe Aznavour, about 20 minutes away, to get some lunch. The Russian couple that I met yesterday had recommended this place to me, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I had some coffee and Borscht.
Across the street from where I had lunch was a very strange building that houses the Development and Investments Corporation of Armenia. The building is a neobrutalist apartment block located at 74 Nairi Zaryan Street. Despite the building looking fairly old, it was recently completed in 2013, and reminds me a lot of the “city gates” that were built in Belgrade, Serbia. You can read about that in my blog post here.
A 20 minute walk away was Haghtanak Amusement Park and the Mother Armenia Statue. The amusement park is located in… you guessed it… Haghtanak Park. Despite it looking fairly dated, it is a fairly new amusement park that was started in 2017. It features 24 rides, including roller coasters, bumper cars, a ferris wheel, gondolas, etc. This reminds me a bit of the amusement park that I visited in Tbilisi.
The Mother Armenia Statue features a female monumental statue in Victory Park that overlooks Yerevan. It replaces a monumental statue of General Secretary Joseph Stalin, which was original erected in 1950. The original monument was designed by sculptor Sergey Merkurov, and architect Rafayel Israyelian. They designed the pedestal to allow statues to be easily replaced, because they “knew that the glory of dictators is temporary”. In 1962 the statue of Stalin was removed, with one soldier being killed and many others injured during the process. In 1967 the current statue of Mother Armenia, designed by Ara Harutyunyan, was installed. Mother Armenia symbolizes a 17 year old girl, named Genya Muradian, which Ara met at a store. The monument, including Mother Armenia and the original pedestal stands 51 metres (167 feet) tall.
After enjoying a nice walk through Haghtanak Park I exited on the North end, where I saw a huge obelisk. I walked over to it and realized I hadn’t done any research about this obelisk at all. Standing at 65 metres tall, it commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Soviet rule in Armenia. At the top of the monolith is a crown from the Urartian period, which dates back to about 850 BC. The obelisk was designed by architects Jim Torosyan and Sarvis Gurzadyan, and was completed in 1967.
I ended up walking down the huge Cascade Complex to get to my next stop, which was the National Centre of Chamber Music. The National Centre of Chamber Music is a concert hall in the Kentron district of Yerevan. The music hall is constructed in Armenian architecture style, and was opened in 1977. The hall has a capacity for 300 people, and was designed by Stepan Kyurkchyan, and constructed by Eduard Khzmalyan. The organ located inside the music hall is a unique pipe organ that was used in a few areas in the former USSR. It was designed in the Netherlands on a 17th century design that was used mainly for Baroque music, and features 4000 pipes. It was installed in 1979, and renovated in 2007. I also spotted an old soviet era playground while I was here.
A block away is the site of an abandoned cable car station. The abandoned lower station, located at 1,3 Charents Street was built in 1962 and served 600 people a day until a tragic accident occurred in 2004. One of the cable cars derailed and fell 15 metres into the steep hillside. The car was carry eleven people; five of the people died and the other six were seriously injured. The main cable was replaced a year earlier, and it was suspected that improper maintenance occurred. The owner / operator of the cable car ended up being accused of criminal negligence and was sentenced to up to ten years in prison.
My next stop was a fair distance away, about a 25 minute walk. The Tigran Petrosian Chess House is the chess center complex of Yerevan. It was opened in 1970, and is now recognized globally as being one of the best chess center in the world. The complex was named after the former world chess champion Tigran Petrosian in 1984. Tigran even laid the first stone of the building. The triangular shaped building was designed by Zhanna Meshcheryakova.
Another ten minute walk away was the Rossia Mall. The unique building is a well-preserved example of soviet brutalism, and somewhat resembles that of a saddle. Across the street was quite the monstrosity of a brutalism (modernism) apartment complex.
It was starting to get dark at this point, so it was time to wrap up my day. I didn’t need to take the metro, but I wanted to ride atleast one stop to get a feel for what it was like. The stations were essentially all original, as was the rolling stock. I took the metro one stop and then walked back to Lavash Restaurant, and had another local dish called Kinjura, which was basically a huge lamb wellington in the shape of those Georgian dumplings called Khinkali. It was delicious!
Today I woke up at around 5:00am to catch a 8:00am flight to Yerevan, Armenia. I decided to take a cab since it was only a $10 ride to the airport. My flight was out of Terminal 2 at Dubai, which is the low cost carrier terminal. It reminds me a lot of London Stansted airport, or Terminal 2 at Lisbon. Very basic, and extremely busy. I had my travel fork taken away from me at security, despite it completing dozens of previous trips with me without issue in the past.
After clearing security, I had a delicious three cheese toasted sandwich, and a coffee while waiting for my flight. My flight was on a Fly Dubai Boeing 737 MAX-8. On the flight there was this obnoxious Armenian who started vaping before we even took off. After reaching cruising altitude I went back to tell the flight attendants, who went and asked him to stop, and then he got confrontational with them. Eventually he drank enough and fell asleep. What a great start to my trip to Armenia…
On the descent into Yerevan there were breathtaking views of Mount Ararat, a dormant volcano, which stands at 5137 metres (16854 feet) tall. Fun fact; Mount Ararat actually resides in Turkey.
When I landed at Yerevan I was heavily scrutinized for having gone to Azerbaijan, despite reading online that it wouldn’t be an issue if I did Azerbaijan first, then Armenia. Apparently if it was the other way round I would have been turned away immediately. After being scrutinized for about twenty minutes the customs officer stamped my passport and let me go on my way.
I had downloaded a taxi hailing app called GG prior to entering the country, so that I could grab a taxi and go. While I was waiting for my taxi I was harassed by quite a few Armenians at the airport. This wasn’t giving me good vibes about the country, and I hadn’t even left the airport.
I ended up leaving the airport and walking to the very end of the terminal to get away from people. I noticed a very old brutalism (modernism) airport terminal. It was first opened in 1961 and is a well preserved example of Soviet Brutalism style architecture. The original soviet style terminal was designed by M. Khachikyan, A. Tarkhanyan, S. Qalashyan, L. Cherkezyan, and M. Baghdasaryan. It is a circular building, with the parking located underneath the bridge serving the departures. Alongside the original terminal stands a huge monolithic spaceship-like control tower, which had a luxury restaurant at the top. In the 1980’s a new terminal was built alongside the original terminal to increase with the increased domestic air travel. Cargo traffic increased significantly after Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and a new cargo terminal was opened in 1998. In 2006 a new gate area and arrival hall were opened. The airport consists of only one 3850 metre (11630 foot) long runway. While you can’t currently enter the original terminal or control tower, they’re both currently protected from being knocked down. Perhaps one day they can be restored to their former glory?
My taxi driver showed up and drove me to my hotel; Elysium Gallery Hotel, about 15 minutes away, right in the city center.
After checking into my hotel, which was a small simple room, I started exploring Yerevan. Before I dive into Yerevan lets explore a bit of the history of Armenia and the capital city of Yerevan.
Armenia, originally called Hayk, is located in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat. Human occupation of the area dates back to about 4000 BC. There’s too much history that has occurred in the area for me to go over in detail, however Modern Armenia is comprised of only a small portion of what ancient Armenia, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, once was. During its peak, Armenia extended from the south-central Black Sea coast to the Caspian Sea and from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Urmia, which is located in present-day Iran. Historic Armenia was constantly invaded over the years and eventually lost its autonomy in the 14th Century. The Ottoman Empire and the Persians ruled the area for hundreds of years, until Russia annexed Eastern Armenia during the 19th Century. Western Armenia remained under Ottoman rule, and in 1894-1896 and 1915-1922 the Ottoman government committed awful acts of genocide by killing millions of Armenians. Eastern Armenia declared independence on May 28th 1918, however was quickly invaded by the Turks and Soviet Russia in 1920. The Soviet Republic of Armenia was established on November 29th 1920, and in 1922 Armenia became part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which was dissolved in 1936 to become part of the Soviet Union, where it remained until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. It declared independence on September 23rd 1991.
Yerevan is the largest city in Armenia, and is also the Capital city. The history of Yerevan dates back to 8th Century BC with the founding of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC by King Argishti I of Urartu. Erebuni was designed as an administrative and religious center. Over the later years of the ancient Armenian Kingdom, new capital cities were establish, and Yerevan declined in importance. Under Iranian and Russian ruling it was the center of the Erivan Khanate from 1736 to 1828, and the Erivan Governorate from 1850 to 1917. After World War 1, Yerevan became the capital city of the First Republic of Armenia, and the city rapidly grew when it was under Soviet ruling, and further more in the 1990’s after Armenia declared its independence. Today Yerevan has 1.4 million people and is a popular tourist destination, and is an important industrial sector. Over 40% of Yerevans industrial products are produced in Yerevan, including chemicals, metals, machinery, rubber products, plastics, textiles, clothing, and jewelry. Yerevan was named the 2012 World Book Capital by UNESCO.
My first spot to visit was supposed to be Freedom Square, but guess what? There was a massive protest there, so I quickly turned around and walked the other way. There was probably about 100 police officers there from my estimate. I presume they were protesting about the Azerbaijan conflict that’s ongoing, and got significantly worse within the last few days. Apparently they also annoyed Russia the morning I arrived by notifying them that they’re not allowed to practice military drills at their military base, which is located just outside Yerevan, this year, because its not tasteful with the current issues ongoing in the Ukraine.
Skipping to the next place to visit was the The Aram Khachatryan Concert Hall, also known as Yerevan Opera Theatre, was built in 1939. It was designed by Armenian architect Alexander Tamanian in 1933, and was designed to have over 3000 seats between two concert halls; an Opera Hall, and a Ballet Theatre. Construction had begun, and Alexander even had designed a miniature model to be presented at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937, however he died in 1936 before he could present his plan. The main theatre was finished in 1939 under the supervision of his son, however overall construction lasted until 1953! The final capacity of the the Opera Hall was 1400 seats, and the Ballet Theatre had 1200 seats.
Nearby was Komitas Statue. Komitas Statue is dedicated to Soghomon Soghomonian, also known as Komitas. He was an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer, and choirmaster, and is considered the founding father of the Armenian National School of Music.
Also nearby is the Alexander Tamanyan Statue, which is dedicated to the Russian-born Armenian neoclassical architect, who is well known for his work in Yerevan. The statue was built in 1974.
Immediately behind is the enormous Cascade Complex. The Yerevan Cascade Complex is a giant staircase made of limestone. It links the downtown Kentron area with the Monument neighbourhoods of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun. It was designed by architects Jim Torosyan, Aslan Mkhitaryan, and Sargis Gurzadyan. Construction started in 1971, and was only partially completed by the time construction stopped in 1980. There are several elevators underneath the steps, as well as exhibit halls connected to some of the landings. Construction of the final phase began again in 2002, and lasted until 2009. The project is still technically incomplete, as there is a large museum complex proposed, but construction has yet to begin. You really have to see this place to experience how large it is. I’ve never seen anything like this! While I was here I could see and hear fighter jets overhead, which made me feel more unsettled than I already was. I tried to use my VPN and google what was going on, but guess what? VPN was blocked. Never had that before… what’s going on here? I eventually found out later on that Russia was buzzing Yerevan because they were upset that Armenia announced earlier that day that they were no longer going to allow Russia to do wargame training because of the ongoing Ukraine war.
I continued exploring Yerevan, but felt on edge and was rushing through things. I would say that my photography wasn’t the best in this city because of that. Next stop was the Eternal Alphabet Wall, which is an art relief project showcasing the Armenian alphabet in beautifully cut out metal forms. The art project was designed by Bahan Balasanyan, and installed in 2015 in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian alphabet, which contains 38 letters (31 consonants and 7 vowels), was developed around 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots, an Armenian linguist. The alphabet originally had 36 letters, however three more were eventually adopted. The alphabet was also widely used in the Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.
From here I could see two unique buildings; the Museum of Manuscripts, and the NPUA 9th Building.
The Museum of Manuscripts, also known as Matenadaran, is a repository of manuscripts and a research institute. The building was built between 1945 and 1958 out of gray basalt. The reason why it took so long to build was because there was a lack of labour between 1947 and 1953. It was designed by Mark Grigorian, and is influenced by medieval Armenian architecture.
The NPUA 9th Building is a university building that was built in the 1980’s. The building, designed by Armen Aghalyan, is an excellent example of brutalism (modernism).
A short walk away is the National Library of Armenia. The building was built in 1939 and designed by architect Alexander Tamanyan. I ended up just snapping a photo of the exterior, because I didn’t feel like going inside.
Just up the street from the library is The Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction, which was founded in 1921. I couldn’t find much history on the building that it resides in, however you can see some beautiful Soviet era motifs, so I have to believe that this building was built in the 1920’s, or as late as the early 1930’s.
A short walk away is the Yeritasarddaken metro station, which is a great example of brutalism (modernism). Yerevan Metro is the eight metro system that the former Soviet Union built. Unlike most of the former soviet metro systems, its stations are not very deep. The metro stations are also fairly basic on the inside.
Just up the road is the Holy Mother of God Kathoghike Church, which is a small medieval style Armenian Apostolic Church that was constructed in 1264. The complex was larger once upon a time; a large basilica named after the Holy Mother of God was built between 1693 and 1695, however it was demolished under Soviet rule to make way for residential buildings and a linguistic institute. The only remaining building is Katoghike, which measures only 5.4 metres by 7.5 metres. Due to its small size, it only serves as a prayer house.
A few blocks away was Cinema Rossia, a former soviet cinema that was built in 1975. It was designed by Spartak Khachikyan, Hrachik Poghosyan, and Artur Tarkhanyan.
I was starting to get hungry, so I decided to eat at a restaurant called Lavash, where I had a local delicacy called Lavash. I figured the restaurant probably knew how to cook that dish properly considering its name. Lavash is a thin flatbread, however this restaurant did a bit of a twist. My meal included a delicious steak with melted cheese cooked inside lavash, cut open, and then spread over my steak. It was absolutely incredible!
After enjoying my delicious meal I walked to the Hard Rock Café, where I purchased another pin. I also found the building looked pretty neat.
I then walked to the former Ministry of Labour and Social building, which is another excellent example of soviet brutalism, and was built in 1972. It is located next to Republic Square and Republic Square metro station. The building was designed by architects T. Gevorkyan and V. Gusyan.
Speaking of Republic Square, check out the neat look of Republic Square Metro station.
Turning around 180 degrees you’re presented with the jaw dropping Republic Square. Republic Square, formerly known as Lenin Square, is the central town square in Yerevan. It consists of two sections; an oval roundabout, and a trapezoidal shaped section, which contains a pool with musical fountains. The square is surrounded by five major buildings (Government House, History Museum, National Gallery, Armenia Marriott Hotel, and two other government buildings, which were all built in pink and yellow volcanic rock in neoclassical style. The square was renamed to Republic Square when Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
It was starting to get dark, but there were a few more places I wanted to visit before calling it a day. A 15 minute walk away was the Yerevan History Museum. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, however I did snap a photo from the outside. The Yerevan History Museum was founded in 1931 as the Communal Museum. The museum is located in a building designed by Jim Torosyan, and is attached to the Yerevan City Hall. The museum as originally located on the second floor of the Yerevan Fire Department building until 1936, then was moved to the Blue Mosque until 1994. From 1994 to 1997 the museum was located in a former gymnasium, until it moved to its current location in 2005. The main façade of the museum showcases what the original city core looked like.
Across the street is the Noy Brandy Company. There’s a bit of history with how Noy came to be. Original Noy started life as the Yerevan Brandy Company, also known as ArArAt, which was established in 1887 within the territories of the Erivan Fortess. It was started by a wealthy guild merchant named Nerses Tairyan, with the help of his cousin Vasily Tairov. In 1899 it was leased to Russian businessman Nikolay Shustov, who was well-known for his vodka and liqueur production. In 1900, Shustov fully acquired the factory and renamed it to Shustov and Sons. The company ended up becoming the main supplier of the Imperial Majesty’s court of Russia. Here’s a fun fact; In 1900, Shustov’s Armenian brandy received the Grand-Prix and the legal right to be called “cognac”, which is usually only reserved for Brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. In 1948, the factory was separated into 2 entities; the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory, and the Yerevan Brandy Factory. In 1953 the Yerevan Brandy Factory was transferred to a new building, designed by architect Hovhannes Margaryan, in 1953. The new building stands on a high plateau at the western end of the Victory Bridge, opposite the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory. It has a long flight of steps leading up to nine austere arches. Between 1953 and 1991, the Yerevan Brandy Factory was granted the rights to produce Armenian cognac within the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Yerevan Brandy Factory was sold by the Government of Armenia to French distiller Pernod Ricard for $30 million in June 1998, after a competitive bidding process. The other building entered a period of abandonment until 2002, when it was privatized and sold to Multi Group Holding led by businessman Gagik Tsarukyan. The building was completely restored and rebranded as “NOY”, after Noah’s Ark, because apparently it rested on the Mountains of Ararat according to biblical scriptures. Anyways so I ended up doing a tour here alongside a young Russian couple who were celebrating their 11th year anniversary together. They were absolutely wonderful and we had some great conversations. During the tour we got to taste delicious port from 1913 and 1924, and some 10 and 20 year brandy’s. The bottle from 1913 goes for a few thousand dollars!
After the tour I was decided to take some night photos, and get some dinner on my way back to the hotel. I stopped at the Dargett Craft Beer brewery for a delicious pizza. This is apparently one of the top destinations in all of Yerevan for food and beverages. It certainly didn’t disappoint.
One I finished dinner, I walked back to my hotel and did some blog writing for the remainder of the evening.
Today was a much slower pace than yesterday. I was quite surprised by how many things I got to see yesterday. I woke up at around 8:00am, and had breakfast downstairs. This time I opted for the “healthy” option, which was cheese, salami, yoghurt, olives, etc.
Even though that today was a slower pace than yesterday, the buildings were very spread out, so I had to spend a fair amount of my time on public transportation. My first stop was Heydar Mosque. I used the metro system to get here. Heydar Mosque is a massive Islamic mosque named after the former President of Azerbaijan; Heydar Aliyev. It was opened in December 2014 and has capacity for 75000 people!
It had already been over an hour since I left the hotel, and I had way too much coffee, so it was time to find somewhere to be. Ahhh yes McDonald’s comes saves the day. The catch is you need to purchase something, so I purchased… another coffee!
Next stop is an extremely ugly brutalism (modernism) building called the Gosstroy Residential Building. The Gosstroy Residential Building is a sixteen story apartment complex that was designed by Rasim Aliyev, a former Baku city architect. The building was constructed in 1975.
After taking pictures of the building I took the metro to Nizami Metro Station, which is the prettiest looking soviet metro station that I’ve ever seen. It has chandeliers everywhere on the platform area. Baku’s original metro stations were built quite lavishly, and were also built very far underground because they were built during the cold war and doubled as a bomb shelter.
I got off of the train at Nizami station and walked to the Azerbaijan State of Academic Drama Theatre. Theatre and dance are integral parts of the Soviet culture, and the theatre was created for a comedy called “Vizier of Kankaran Khanate”. The theatre was completed in 1919.
I then took the bus to check out the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art, opened in 2009, contains 800 pieces of modern art. It was funded by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation has created some joint collaboration projects with the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles. The museum doesn’t have individual rooms, but rather a large central open area where walls meet at different angles, which helps to create a multidimensional perspective of the exhibits. The museum was incredible, and had some hilarious pieces of art.
After visiting the art museum I walked to Military Trophies Park, also referred to as War Trophies Park. It is a public park that contains war trophies seized by the Armenian Army and the Artsakh Defense Army during the 2020 Nagorono-Karabakh war against Armenia.
I was getting quite hungry at this point in time so I purchased a delicious spicy donair from a donair shop called FMD (Flame Manqal Donair).
Right outside of FMD was the bus that I needed to talk to my second last stop for the day, Heydar Aliyev Centre. Heydar Aliyev Centre is a beautiful Neo-futurism style complex that consists of a 1000 seat auditorium, exhibition spaces, a conference center, workshops, and a museum. The wavy white building was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, and was constructed between 2007 and 2012. The building consists of a multitude of folds that connect various central spaces together in one single continuous surface. It was a very well thought out museum outlining the history of Azerbaijan, and all the wonderful things that Heydar Aliyev has done for his people, and I really enjoyed my experience there.
I then stopped in at the New Karavanseray Art Garden Restaurant for dinner. I had some delicious fresh bread and Dashbura, which is an Azerbaijani chicken soup. It was pretty tasty, and a bit salty, which I liked.
After dinner I took some night time photos. It’s really neat to see the Flame Towers lit up at night, as well as the Baku Ferris Wheel.
The rest of the evening I spent editing photos and blogging. Tomorrow, I jump on a mid morning flight to Dubai!
Today I decided to catch a train to Bratislava, Slovakia to explore the small, but beautiful capital city. The train ride took about 1.5 hours, and I arrived around 10am. I left my bag at my hotel, which I ended up picking up at the end of the day, because I would be switching hotels.
Slavs originally settled in the area in the 6th century AD. They were soon conquered by the Avars, but eventually drove out the Avars by the 8th century. In the 9th century Slovakia became part of the state called Great Moravia, which included parts of Germany, Hungary, and Poland. The Moravian empire ran from 830 AD to 906 AD, during which time Slovakia was converted to Christianity. The Moravian empire was destroyed by the Magyars (ancestors of modern Hungarians). Slovakia would be under Hungarian ruling for the next 1000 years.
During the Middle Ages the mining of gold, silver and copper ended up driving economic development. In the 13th century Germans settled in the country and town life flourished. In 1526 the Turks won the battle of Mohacs causing Hungary to be dismembered. Slovakia and parts of Hungary came to be ruled by the Hapsburgs of Austria. Slovakia was now part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
During the 19th century nationalism was a growing force in the Austrian Empire, with many Hungarians and Czechs becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Austrian ruling. In 1848 a wave of revolutions occurred across Europe, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves. Towards the end of the 19th century the area surrounding Vienna grew rapidly.
In 1914 Archduke Ferdinand, the heir of the Austrian throne was assassinated, which led to World War I. In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up. Prague became the capital of the independent Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. During World War II Prague was occupied by the German Nazi’s. After the war, Czechoslovakia was re-established as an independent state. In 1946 the communists became the dominant party and formed a coalition government with other socialist parties. In 1948 the communists seized power. In the 1950’s the country suffered harsh repression and decline, and many Stalin style practices were adopted by the Communist Part of Czechoslovakia (KSC). Eventually these people in charge of the KSC were executed.
On November 17th 1989, the Velvet Revolution occurred, which ended communism making Czechoslovakia a democratic country. In January 1990 the first democratic elections were conducted, with Vaclav Havel becoming the president. On January 1st 1993 Czechoslovakia was split into two independent countries; Slovakia and Czech Republic, with Bratislava becoming the capital of Slovakia.
Exploring Bratislava, Slovakia
In Bratislava I explored New Slovak National Theatre, Historical Slovak National Theatre, The Blue Church, Schöne Náci Sculpture, Man at Work Sculpture, Michael’s Gate, St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava Castle, and Most SNP (UFO Bridge).
The New Slovak National Theatre was designed in the early 1980’s, and construction started in 1986. The building took 21 years to complete due to lack of funding. The building was finally opened on April 14th 2007. The building is designed to hold roughly 1700 spectators.
Historical Slovak National Theatre was constructed between 1885 and 1886. It was based on a design by Viennese architects Fellner & Helmer, who designed theatre buildings in 10 European countries. This building was designed for roughly 1000 spectators and was illuminated by 800 gas lamps. This wasn’t Bratislava’s first theatre through, as it replaced a former Classic style theatre that was built in 1776 and demolished in 1884.
The Blue Church, also called the Church of St. Elizabeth, is an Art Nouveau Catholic church that was built between 1909 and 1913. The façade was originally painted in light pastel colours, but the church later received its characteristic blue colour, which makes it stand out.
Schöne Náci Sculpture is a bronze statue dedicated to Schöne Náci (real name Ignác Lamár). He was the son of a shoemaker and grandson of a famous clown and brought happiness to the streets of the city. He would walk around the Old Town in a top hat and tails, greeting women with the words “I kiss your hand” in German, Hungarian and Slovak. He received free food from many of the café’s in the city, and took the occasional cleaning job.
Man at Work Sculpture is a bronze statue of Čumil, also known as “the watcher”. It is a statue that reflects a typical communist era worker who is not bothered about the work he is doing. Viktor Hulik commissioned the piece in 1997.
Michael’s Gate is the only city gate that has been preserved and is one of the oldest buildings in the town. It was originally constructed in the 14th century, but was destroyed between 1529 and 1534. It was rebuilt in its current form between 1753 and 1758. The tower stands at a height of 51 metres tall and has a statue of St. Michael placed atop the tower. The gate received its name from the nearby Saint Michael’s church. Unfortunately it was under renovation when I was there, so nothing exciting.
St. Martin’s Cathedral is the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava. The gothic style cathedral was built into the city’s defensive walls when it was constructed in 1452. It’s 85 metre (279 foot) tall spire dominates the Old Town’s skyline. In 1760, the top of the Gothic tower was struck by lightning and replaced by a Baroque one, which was subsequently destroyed by a fire in 1835. It was reconstructed in 1847 and topped by the crown of St Stephen. The church was re-Gothicized between 1869 and 1877.
Bratislava Castle is a massive rectangular castle that built on an isolated rocky hill of the Little Carpathians above the Danube river in the middle of Bratislava. The area was originally settled on thousands of years ago because it was strategically located in the center of Europe at a passage between the Carpathians and the Alps. The Boleráz culture (the oldest phase of the Baden culture), were the first known culture to have constructed a fortified settlement on the castle hill, around 3500 BC. The hill was occupied over time by the Celts, Romans, Slavs, Nitrian Principality, and Great Moravia until the current castle was built in the 10th century, with extensive modifications being made until the 18th century. The castle, which has four prominent towers (one on each corner), was built originally in 9th century with many modifications being made until the 18th century. The castle features a central courtyard with an 80 metre (260 foot) deep water well. The tower on the southwest corner is known as the Crown Tower because it housed the crown jewels of Hungary from the mid 1500’s to the mid 1700’s. In 1811 a fire was accidentally started by garrisoned soldiers. From 1811 to 1953 the castle’s state gradually deteriorated and the military even sold parts of the main castle buildings as construction materials. It was even attempted to demolish the remaining structures to make was for government offices and a university district, but that never came to fruition. Instead, in 1946 the ruins were opened to the public, and in 1948 the town even constructed an amphitheater in the northern part of the castle site and used for about 15 years in the summer to shown films. It was decided to restore the castle in 1953, and the restoration took place between 1957 and 1968. It was chosen to restore the main building to the Baroque style, which was the last state of the castle when it caught on fire. Some of the other older buildings were restored to Gothic and Renaissance styles. Numerous other reconstructions have taken place since, with the latest reconstruction being the Honorary Courtyard in 2010.
Most SNP, bridge of the Slovak National Uprising, is also commonly referred to as the UFO Bridge. It was built between 1967 and 1972 and spans 431 metres across the Danube River. It’s an asymmetrical bridge constructed of steel, and suspended from steel cables. It features a restaurant and observation deck atop a 85 metres (278 foot) pylon.
Before heading back to Vienna I had lunch at a delicious restaurant called BeAbout, where they make home-made hamburgers. I had a jalapeno burger with onion rings and fries, which was absolutely delicious!
After catching the train back to Vienna I decided to check out a few places before heading back to the hotel including Belvedere 21, Belvedere Palace, the Embassy of France, and the Soviet War Memorial.
Belvedere 21 (21er Haus) is a modernist style steel and glass building designed by Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer. It was constructed in 1958 to be used as a pavilion for the Expo 58 in Brussels, and was later transferred to Vienna to house the Museum of the 20th Century. It was originally nicknamed 20er Haus. The building was used as storage for contemporary art works between 1979 and 2001. Between 2009 and 2011 it was remodeled by architect Adolf Krischanitz and renamed 21er Haus to reflect the 21st century. The building is currently used as a museum showing contemporary art by Fritz Wotruba.
Belvedere Palace is a comprised of two beautiful Baroque palaces (Upper and Lower Belvedere), as well as the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The Lower Belvedere Palace was built between 1712 and 1717. Upper Belvedere was built between 1717 and 1723. Some extra work was required at Upper Belvedere at risk of structural collapse, so between 1732 and 1733 a vaulted ceiling supported by four Atlas pillars was installed. The buildings were built on request of Prince Eugene. When Prince Eugene died he did not leave a legally binding will so it was decided by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI to give the Palaces to the Prince Eugene’s niece Victoria. Victoria was the daughter of Eugene’s eldest brother Thomas. Inside was a bunch of amazing art pieces, which you can see below.
I couldn’t find much information on the Embassy of France, however it’s a beautiful Art-Nouveau style building.
The Soviet War Memorial is a semi-circular white marble colonnade partially enclosing a 12 metre tall figure of a Red Army Soldier. It was unveiled in 1945 to commemorate 17000 soviet soldiers who were killed in action during the Vienna offensive in World War 2.
It was time to pickup my bags from my hotel that I stayed at the previous night, and then I checked into my new hotel, which would be home for the next four nights; Hotel Urania. The hotel was quite beautiful, however I can’t recommend staying here based on the useless WiFi. It made working in the evenings a very frustrating experience.
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Today I embarked on a 3-week trip to Eastern Europe to complete an Eastern European journey across 8 countries. The countries that I will be visiting are Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Vienna, Estonia, and Finland. During my trip I’ll go into a brief history of each country I visit, as well as go into more detail about specific places in each country that I visit.
My journey started in Calgary with a 9 hour flight on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 to Frankfurt, with a quick layover before flying on a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO to Zagreb, Croatia. I booked the outgoing flights in Premium Economy, however was upgraded to business class, which was nice. On the Air Canada flight I had Smoked Duck Breast as an appetizer, Chicken thighs with lemon mustard sauce and sautéed gnocchi for the main course, and cheese and crackers with Port for dinner. Breakfast was fruit, oatmeal, and cheese, however I skipped eating the oatmeal.
Upon arrival in Zagreb I picked up my rental car from Budget; a Skoda Kamiq, a mini SUV, which I only paid $65 CDN for two days.
After picking up the rental car I drove to downtown Zagreb. Before we dive into my adventure out let’s talk about Croatia’s history.
Croatia’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC. After 390 BC the Greeks settled in colonies along the coast line. After 229 BC the Romans gradually took control of Croatia, and ended up ruling the entire country by 12 AD. The Romans divided up the area into provinces of Dalmatia (the coast), Noricum (which included part of Austria), and Pannonia (which included part of Hungary). The Roman control of Croatia came to an end in the 5th Century when the Roman Empire collapsed.
In the early 7th Century Slavic people, known as Croats, migrated to the area. They first settled in Dalmatia, expanding further northwards and inland in the 8th Century. During the Middle Ages trade flourished in Croatia, which allowed many towns to grow significantly. In 1202 of Venetian Crusaders took the town of Zadar to repay a debt that the Croatians owed them. In 1205 the Venetians also captured Dubrovnik and Istria.
In 1358 the Hungarian-Croatian king defeated the Venetians and took back control of Dalmatia, however this didn’t last long because in 1409 after a war the king of Hungary-Croatia sold Dalmatia (except Dubrovnik) to the Venetians. The reason why Dubrovnik wasn’t included was in 1382 Dubrovnik became independent and remained so until 1808.
In 1493 the Ottomans defeated the Croatians during the battle of Krovsko Poje. Peace in the area remained short lived with another war occurring in 1526, when the Hungarians were invaded by the Turks during the battle of Mohacs. The king of the Hungary-Croatian empire was killed and the kingdom was based to Austrian, Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, however the Turks continued to control most of Croatia until 1716 when they were defeated during the battle of Petervaradino.
In 1797 Venice was forced to return its Croatian territory to Austria. In 1809 Napoleon formed the territory into a new stated called the Illyrian Provinces, but this was short lived because in 1815 Napoleon was defeated. Austria took back the territory, including Dubrovnik.
In 1848 the Hungarians and Croats had a falling out and went to war, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves. Croatia was eventually split; Dalmatia was ruled by Austria, while most of Croatia was ruled by Hungary.
In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Croatia declared its independence. On December 1 1918 the Croats agreed to join with the Slovenes and Serbs to form a new state called the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Croats soon became upset, as they wanted the new state to become a unitary state. In 1929 King Alexander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.
There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.
During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.
During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In May 1990 elections were held, with the Croatians seeking to leave Yugoslavia, but with a substantial number of Serbians living in Croatia this created issues. In May 1991 the Croatians voted for independence, but The Yugoslavian army invaded to protect the Serbians living within the Croatian borders. This was the beginning of a long war, which didn’t end until 1995 with the signing of the Erdut Agreement. Croatian independence was recognized by the European Union on January 15 1992, even before the war was over. Eastern Slavonia was ran by the United Nations until 1998, when it was handed over to Croatia.
Zagreb’s history dates back to the Roman times, and was founded in 1134. Today Zagreb is home to 1.1 million people, housing about 25% of Croatia’s population. I spent the late afternoon exploring the old city including Lotrščak Tower, Ban Josip Jelačić Square, Zagreb 360°, Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Mark’s Church, and Atelijer Meštrović Museum.
As I drove into Zagreb I saw how beautiful the streets were. They reminded me quite a bit of the Czech Republic.A notable building was the circular Croatian Society of Fine Artists. I parked my car in the downtown area and explored for a bit before having to take my COVID test @ 430pm.
Lotrščak Tower is a fortified tower that was built sometime in the 13th century to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall. Gradec is an old part of Zagreb known as Upper Town. The name is derived from the Latin saying “Campana Latrunculorum”, meaning thieves bell, making reference to a bell that was hung in the tower in 1946 to signal the closing of the town gates. The tower had a cannon placed on the fourth floor, and since January 1 1877 the cannon is fired from the tower to mark midday so that bell-ringers of the city churches know when it is noon.
Ban Josip Jelačić Square is Zagreb’s central square. The square has existed since the 17th century, and was first named Harmica. It was renamed to its present name in 1848 after Count Josip Jelačić, who was in office from 1848 to 1859. In 1946 the square was renamed Republic Square and Josip Jelačić’s statue was removed the following year as the new Communist government of Yugoslavia denounced him as a “servant of foreign interests”. After the breakup of Yugoslavia Josip Jelačić’s historic role was again considered positive and the statue was returned to the square, but in a different location on the north side, facing south. Today the square is a common meeting place for the people in Zagreb and is a pedestrian only zone, as well as the main hub for the ZET tram lines. The square is adorned by a variety of architectural styles ranging from classicism, secession, and modernism.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is a museum in a baroque palace displaying personal objects from former lovers along with brief synopses.
St. Mark’s Church was built in the 13th century and was radically reconstructed in the second half of the 14th century to a Gothic architecture style. Massive round columns support heavy ribbed vaults cut in stone and an air of peace and sublimity characterizes the church interior in its simplicity. Outside, on the northwest wall of the church lies the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 engraved in it. On the roof, tiles are laid so that they represent the coat of arms of Zagreb. There was police tape all around the building so I wasn’t able to enter. I couldn’t figure out why there was police tape all around.
The Atelijer Meštrović Museum is dedicated to the artwork of Ivan Meštrović, a renowned Yugoslavian and Croatian sculptor, architect and writer of the 20th century. He lived from 1883 to 1962, where he died at an age of 78 in South Bend, Indiana, USA.
During my walks I also saw a vineyard in the middle of town.
For dinner I had a Truffle Strukli from La Štruk. Štrukli’s are a popular Croatian dish made of pasty, cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt. All I can say is WOW this dish is delicious!
I explored the night life walking the streets back to my car before driving back to my hotel called Hotel & Hostel Zagreb; a basic accommodation for about $40 CDN. I finished my blog, had a shower, did some work, and went to bed.
Be sure to check back tomorrow when I travel from Zagreb, Croatia to visit the Uprising Monument, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.