And again I am in the capital of Armenia. This time I am staying at the Grand Hotel Yerevan, an elegant and modern hotel for travelers and dreamers. From here, the Opera House, the National Gallery, Place de la République and the Cascade are within easy reach – a monumental travertine staircase with sculptures by famous contemporary authors. A few steps away is the main pedestrian street of Yerevan – Northern Avenue with trendy bars and boutiques.
The neoclassical style hotel is located in a building built in 1928, over the charm of which time has no power. Located in the historical center, the hotel is the epitome of sophisticated luxury, keeping the traditions of ancient Armenian history and culture. But since the management of the hotel is Italian, it is impossible not to enjoy the elegance of Italian style: the Dolce Vita lounge bar, spa and rooftop outdoor pool are the perfect place to relax, where you can sunbathe on comfortable sun loungers, enjoy a cocktail, as well as unique cuisine from the Italian chef of the Rossini restaurant.
In general, the very case when you don’t want to leave the hotel at all, despite the sun and spring outside the window. I feel very comfortable here, and most importantly, it’s wonderful. Either this is the spirit of the writer Yeghishe Charents, who lived here for 7 years (there is even a sign in front of his room 328, telling about this), or the creative-bohemian atmosphere of the oldest hotel in Armenia, the “mecca” of the city’s cultural life…
But when you sit in the lobby, listen to live music, drink coffee in Armenian, leaf through the Esperienza Emozione magazine found in the room and suddenly find stories about Charents and his friend, writer Alexander Shirvanzade, an Armenian classic and my great-grandfather’s uncle, who he also sometimes stopped here, and Charents periodically assured him that “all today’s writers are no match for him,” warmth spreads over the body as, you know, it happens from a sip of good Armenian cognac, which Charents, by the way, treated his friends from glasses . Thanks to the Esperienza Emozione magazine, the stories of my family come to life, and I learn facts that were previously unknown to me – for example, how Charents reconciled the quarreling Shirvanzade and the actor Abelyan.
But outside the windows is spring, and it needs to be enjoyed. I go for a walk in Yerevan and wander into the book festival on Republic Square and immediately find there the books of my great-uncle great-grandfather, like me, who lived in Baku for a long time and gained fame thanks to the novel “Chaos” published in 1898, which even included in the school curriculum. And I think that someday I will publish my book in Armenia, and some fragments for it will be written at the Grand Hotel Yerevan.
But genes are genes, and it’s time for me to move on, in search of dragons. Don’t be scared!
The cult of vishaps (translated from Armenian as a dragon or water snake) originated in Armenia a very long time ago, even before the state of Urartu, in the 2nd millennium BC. Mystical dragons (bull-like and fish-like, in fact, similar to large columns), which were installed near rivers and lakes as protectors of water bodies, store a unique and very ancient energy.
In Yerevan alone, I found 5 vishaps. But she also went in search of them to Metsamor (translated from Armenian – a large swampy area) – to take a walk and get acquainted with another of the dragons, about which the director of the local museum Artavazd Zaakyan knows a lot. If you are lucky, he will personally give you a tour of the museum and the ancient observatory, and tell you amazing facts about vishaps. They say that the dragons did not fly away, but remained forever in stone vishaps to serve people and help them remember the truth…
On the way from Metsamor to Yerevan, I stop by Zvartnots, a temple of early medieval Armenian architecture, the construction of which lasted twenty years (from 642 to 662). The name Zvartnots is translated as the Temple of Heavenly Angels or Vigilant Forces – from the ancient Armenian Zvartun – Angel. Unfortunately, little remains of the once majestic temple built at the meeting place of King Tiridates with Gregory the Illuminator, released from prison, the first Catholicos of all Armenians. Zvartnots stood for more than three hundred years and around the year 930 was destroyed by an earthquake. Now the ruins of the Zvartnots Temple are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Like dragons, angels protect this earth and serve it, but not only dragons and angels help to remember the truth in Armenia, but also the people themselves, whose hearts give so much love and keep the traditions of the Old Testament Noah, who once moored on his ark on Mount Ararat.
One of these people is the Honorary Consul of Italy in Armenia Antonio Montalto, who first came to Armenia with a charitable program in December 1988, when the city was badly damaged by the earthquake in Spitak. He came and stayed here forever, organizing the Family Care charity organization, which trains local residents in the production of ceramics and, at the end of the training, offers work in the foundation’s workshops. Antonio also bought and restored 3 old houses for hotels – two in Yerevan (Villa Delenda and Villa Ayghedzor) and one in Gyumri (Villa Kars), all income from which goes to the development of Family Care programs.
It is to visit Antonio, in one of his guest houses in Yerevan “Villa DeLenda” on Kogbatsi Street, that I move after traveling to Metsamor. The building where the hotel is located was built in 1906 as a private residence of the Mnatsakanyan brothers. This building has been preserved in its original form, harmoniously combining the classical Armenian style with the unique interior of a graceful residence.
Translated from Italian, Villa Delenda means “Villa to be destroyed.” The name of the villa was given by Antonio himself, because the entire territory, in accordance with the law of national interests, must sooner or later be destroyed. But for 15 years nothing has been happening and, one might say, the name of the villa, with the light hand of Antonio, has become its talisman.
There are 6 rooms, each of which is furnished in its own style and has its own name. Rooms are rented for both individual tourists and groups of up to 15 people and are perfect for chamber celebrations.
The villa is furnished with antique Armenian furniture, and the style of all Antonio’s guest houses both in Yerevan and in Gyumri combines the traditions of Armenian culture and elegant Italian style. All the interior decoration is also the work of Antonio. He chooses interior items himself, determines the main motif of decoration and does it with his characteristic Italian elegance, weaving Armenian traditions and Italian elegance into a single pattern.
In each of Montalto’s “children” there is a ceramics shop of the Family Care social project, and it is simply impossible to leave here without the excellent quality of souvenirs. Wonderful homemade breakfasts at a large oval table, cooked with great love, a library conducive to reading books, wooden floors slightly creaking with a wide board, Armenian carpets, in the ornaments of which whole legends are encrypted, lampshades that comfortably cast light – all this creates a unique atmosphere that is impossible not to fall in love and not fall in love. In my next articles about Armenia, I will tell about the city of Gyumri, from which this Armenian-Italian story began, and about other projects of Antonio and the foundation, because I was lucky to get to know him personally.
In the meantime… while Armenia takes me into its loving embrace, swaying me in her arms like a mother — probably, Sevan is also swaying white gulls on its blue-blue waves…