One of the most ancient civilizations in the world, Armenia is often referred to as an ‘open air’ museum in terms of both nature and culture. Over the centuries, it has created and developed a modern, sophisticated and living culture at the intersection of the east and the west, unique in many ways. Some of the most significant features of the culture of Armenia are reflected in its pre-historic and early Christian monuments, most artistic fashion, in needlework, carvings, design, carpet weaving and even more. Very important were also the adoption of Christianity as state religion in 301 and the inventions of the Armenian alphabet in 405, which helped Armenians preserve their identity and develop unique cultural traditions.
Armenian culture has always been and still remains a means of maintaining a sense of national unity, not only in Armenia but also in international Armenian community. A particularly rich part of the Armenian heritage, Armenian architecture is also considered to be a major component of the world culture with its thousands of historical monuments and the significant role it played in the development of world architecture. During the 9th-14th centuries, the unique monasteries of Tatev, Sanahin, Haghpat, Noravank, Goshavank, Ohanavank, Harichavank and Makaravank were created, which have survived till today and are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A unique manifestation of Armenian medieval national art is comprised by the monuments called khachkars or cross stones, which were widely used in Armenia and have become additional signifiers of Armenian identity.
Following the Sovietization of Armenia in the early 20th century, two architectural directions competed for dominance: the national, expressed in such works as the Government Buildings of Republic Square, the Genocide Museum, the State Opera House, etc., and thecontemporary, examples of which include the Sports Complex and Zvartnots Airport. With a history of nearly five thousand years old, Armenian art has always had a special place in the development of the nation’s culture and traditions. The most vivid examples of Armenian art include miniature painting, sculptures, frescoes, mosaics and ceramics, add to this metalwork and engravings, textiles, music and printing.
Remarkable Armenian painters that greatly introduced such painting genres as still life, landscape and historical composition in the second half of the 19th century are Hovhannes Ayvazovski (1817-1947), Gevorg Bashinjaghyan (1857-1925), Vardges Surenyants (1860-1921) and others.
Among the 20th century artists, of great significance is Martiros Saryan (1880-1972), the founder of the school of modern painting, whose works include portraiture, still life and landscape. Another modern Armenian artist, who put the color back into painting, like the yellowed pages of the ancient manuscripts found in Matenadaran, is Minas Avetisyan (1928-1975).
Literature has always played a vital role in Armenia’s cultural and national identity. Of special value are the historical works by Movses Khorenatsi in which the writer managed to preserve the precious specimens of oral national poetry.
Armenians love music and they have been creating priceless compositions for centuries. Sharakans – traditional liturgical songs, and sacred music are purely Armenian and today they are reviving.
Komitas Vartabed is perhaps the most famous Armenian composer of the 20th century, a talented musician and musicologist who set a new era in the history of Armenian music by tracing the path of musical folk art. Armenian folk songs sung by ashughs and gusans are still alive today in Armenia and artist Djivan Gasparyan has taken the unique sound of Armenian duduk to foreign audiences worldwide, collaborating with internationally renowned musicians such as Peter Gabriel and Kronos Quartet.
The contribution in the rapid rise of the Armenian national music was also due to the outstanding composer Aram Khachaturian, whose works are deeply rooted in Armenian people, their art and culture.
The best way to get acquainted with the rich cultural heritage of Armenia is to visit the country’s museums, galleries, as well as performaces, showcasing the nation’s history and culture.