Armenian News Network / Groong

His Vision of Yerevan - A Lasting Legacy - Alexander Tamanyan

Armenian News Network / Groong
November 13, 2008
Travel Wire

By Ruth Bedevian


Tamanyan Walkway
Pedestrian path that connects Abovian
Street near Republic Square to the
Opera House

Ruth Bedevian
Whether he designed a hospital, a public library, or any other kind of building Alexander Tamanyan, considered the founder of contemporary Armenian Architecture, was inspired by Armenia's historic architectural legacy. He combined ancient Armenian design, the natural stone of Armenia, and the best of world architecture to create a distinctive Armenian national style. His greatest achievement was transforming Yerevan, a provincial town, and dramatically rebuilding it. In 1924 he drew up the first general plan, in which the future central square was given a central position. At the time, some of his most ardent supporters thought some of his ideas impractical. His plan for the city of Yerevan was intended for a population of about two hundred thousand residents with a view of Mount Ararat in every direction. It has since mushroomed into a metropolis of over 1 million. The latest construction of Northern Blvd was in his original plan, but without the high-rise buildings. He envisioned green gardens lining a pedestrian pathway connecting the center of the city (Republic Square) to the Opera House - the focal point, an award-winning design that combines two venues in one building. The opera house has a capacity of a little over 1200 and the concert hall 1400. Both halls are shaped like amphitheatres and have excellent acoustics. [After his father's death, Tamanyan's son, Kevork, completed the Opera House and other of his father's designs.]

Located a stone's throw away from the Vernisage, the Alexander Tamanyan Museum (Government House, 3rd Building, Yerevan) is a vast ground-level room with very high ceilings and is partitioned into eight sections. We were warmly greeted by Anahid Bedrosian, Custodian of Archives and also an architect. She guided us through the displays, telling us that the offices of the Tamanyan Research Institute are also housed in the museum under the supervision of the Ministry of Urban Development. She went on to explain, that the museum was founded through the efforts of the Tamanyan family as recently as 2001. A government financed museum, the artifacts belong to the family and there is no charge for admission. A visitor is welcomed to view drawings signed by the architect, photographs, and dioramas. One diorama, in particular, depicted the reconstruction of Yaroslavl which was Russia's second largest city in the 17th century. As Anahid explained, `In 1913 the Romanoff family was celebrating the 300th anniversary of its dynasty. As part of the celebrations each area prepared exhibits. Tamanyan studied photographs of Yaroslavl and created original drawings. Corresponding photos of his renderings are on display. Based on his drawings, the diorama was created.

A large photograph of a beautiful woman caught my attention in the first section. Anahid told us Tamanyan married Camilla Edwards in 1907. Her mother was French and her father was Scottish. They had two sons and two daughters. Their first daughter, Maria, died at age thirteen. Vavara died at age twenty. Julius died at an early age also. Kevork, an artist, died in 2004. He was the first director of the museum and his son, Haik, is the present director.

ALexander Tamanyan
Alexander Tamanyan

Ruth Bedevian
Alexander Tamanyan (1878-1936) was born and educated in Russia and was a graduate of the Imperial Academy of Arts (St. Petersburg), where he won numerous contests and received prizes for his innovative designs of schools, hospitals, theaters and private dwellings in St. Peters burg, Moscow and other cities. He was Vice President of the Czar's Art Academy as well. His first visit to Armenia, along with his family, was in 1919. It was a very brief stay on Armenian soil. For the safety of his family, he fled to Persia in the same year because of the turmoil during the faltering new republic. He found employment in the municipality of Tabriz, a major city. His participation in the design of Tabriz was significant and artifacts in the museum attest to his contributions.

According to Anahid, Martiros Saryan, the famed artist, is credited with having persuaded Tamanyan to return to Armenia. After being asked four times, he finally negotiated with the Soviet government. He requested a home and safety and food for his family as he had seen great suffering and his first born had already died. The Soviet officials agreed and he reestablished himself in 1923 in Yerevan with his family. As chief architect, he served for ten years as chairman of the committee to preserve the historic monuments of Armenian architecture while working on the design for the city of Yerevan. By 1929 part of Republic Square's main building, Government House, was finished. A massive undertaking, construction was not completed until after Tamanyan's death in 1936. [Tamanyan's grave rests among his contemporaries in a place of honor in the Pantheon of Komitas Park.]

Anahid said, `Tamanyan's grandson by his son Kevork fought in Karabagh.' To celebrate the inauguration of the President of Karabagh in September 2007, a special exhibit was brought to Stepanakert, Karabagkh by grandsons Haik and Ara Tamanyan. They were present at the opening ceremony. At that time Haik Tamanyan said, `...this is the first exhibition `abroad' and perhaps the last because the exhibits are highly fragile and may easily be spoiled.'

It is truly worth a visitor's time to step across the path at the edge of the Vernisage to enter the Alexander Tamanyan museum and experience the life and work of a man whose spirit embraces all of Yerevan!

Ruth Bedevian continues her visits in Armenia. Many of her articles are at:
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