Alexander Tamanyan’s Cascade Then and Now
Situated right in the heart of Yerevan, the complex of Cascade is one of the landmarks of the city. It is a huge limestone stairway of 572 stairs (302 m) linking the center of the city to the Monument neighborhood. The construction of Cascade took place in two phases; the first one started in 1971 and partially ended in the 1980s, and the second one lasted from 2002 to 2009.
Go to Cascade any day of the week, any season of the year – it is always full of people; tourists who have just stepped out of the plane, students who have skipped classes to enjoy sunny Cascade while enjoying some colorful scoops of ice-cream. Children riding their scooters or bikes with their grandparents trying to reach them and shouting, “Don’t ride too fast! Be careful!”. Young parents with their babies peacefully sleeping in the stroller and ignoring all the noise, toddlers trying to catch soap bubbles or running after the pigeons which can always be spotted in front of Alexander Tamanyan’s statue in search of some crumbs. Alexander Tamanyan’s statue was standing there long before Cascade was built.
Connecting Sites and Culture
Being the creator of the first general plan of modern Yerevan, Tamanyan stands behind many other designs, such as the Opera and Ballet Theater, the Republic Square, and others. The original plan of Cascade also belongs to Tamanyan. It was his desire to connect the central and northern parts of the city, however, the construction started long after his death being redesigned by Jim Torosyan, Yerevan’s Chief Architect at that time.
Everybody loves Cascade, even those who use it only to shorten their way from the center to the Monument neighborhood or the other way round. One may find it hard to use the exterior stairs especially on scorching summer days, and that is when the interior escalators come to the rescue. There are seven escalators rising along the length of the complex.
The complex of Cascade houses the Cafesjian Center for the Arts with a museum inside. This is another reason visitors are attracted to the complex. But the main reason is known to everybody – it is to see Mount Ararat from the very top of Cascade. But you can never guess how Ararat will welcome you. If a year has 365 days, Ararat has 365 looks; every day it is different. Some days it is as clear and big as the eyes of a child, and other days it is as shy as a bride not willing to unveil itself.
Nowadays, hardly anyone remembers, however, that just half a century ago there used to be houses and thousands of trees in the place of Cascade and its surroundings – all green and stretching to the sun. Little did they know that fate had other plans for them.
1991, the collapse of the USSR, independent but dark and cold Armenia… I belong to the generation of the 1980s, and that period has been engraved in my memory for a lifetime, the period of darkness and cold, as the post-Soviet period is referred to by the locals. In 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia got deprived of electricity, the factories were shut down, and many people lost their jobs.
Many chose to sell all their belongings and seek happiness in other places, some others left everything including their families in search of better places, but not all of them came back. Only two types of people remained – those who chose to stay and make Armenia strong again, and those who seized the opportunity to steal or sell the remnants of their own country already knelt from deep wounds.
Trees of Yerevan
Those winters were fierce. With no electricity, the only means of heating homes up with was by burning wood. Cascade would be the place where people would go hunting for wood. My two siblings and I would sometimes join my father and uncle. All of us were under ten at that time. We just loved collecting the branches and helping the men to order them on the sleds.
They never cut down a tree, unlike many others who were cutting down tons of trees to sell them to those in need of wood. This led to the destruction of the forest surrounding the complex of Cascade and not only. It was slowly dying while saving people’s lives. It was sacrificing its babies one after another in order to give life to the humans who had once given life to them.
Tree cutting has always been an issue in Armenia. At present, however, thanks to the environmentalists and activists mainly, there exist many organizations taking care of the woods. Thousands of trees have already been planted by volunteers to compensate for the lost ones. There are thousands more yet to be planted. We need to pay back to Mother Nature after all.
Not very far from Cascade, near Matenadaran, the museum of ancient manuscripts, there is a tree sculpture dedicated to the memory of all the trees which silently sacrificed themselves to save the Armenians during the 1990s. Next to the sculpture, there is a memorial plaque that reads, “In the memory of the trees which were burnt while heating up Armenian homes. Winter 1993” And, as if ironically, there is a gas pipe right above the tree sculpture.
Fridays for Dancing
Nowadays Cascade is welcoming visitors day and night, every season of the year. Concerts and festivals take place outside and inside the complex. Every Friday of all three months of the summer you can learn how to dance Armenian national dances with the help of professional dancers, free of charge. And these are the days when everybody becomes one – old and young, locals and foreigners, professional dancers and those who have never danced – all stand together holding hands and dancing. That is some joy everybody wants to be a part of.
Enjoy the present-day Cascade, but never forget the past. Tell this story to everyone who might ask why there are streets called Antarayin (Forest) and Verin Antarayin (Upper Forest), while there are almost no trees around. The Forest died for us to live, and we should be forever thankful, we should never forget…