has everything from junk to jewels . . .
It is impossible to think that a tourist would
visit Armenia and not find Yerevan's "vernissage"
open market, shopping mall, bazaar and all-around
cultural curiosity center.
Stretched out over four blocks in the center
of the city, visitors can buy just about anything
at vernissage, from paintings to puppies.
Each Saturday and Sunday, beginning at about
10 a.m. and continuing till early evening, vernissage
is home to hundreds of artists, craftsmen, jewelers,
stone cutters, seamstresses, potters . . . It
is also where men and women who can't find jobs
have turned to sell everyday goods ranging from
nuts and bolts to used clothing.
"Vernissage is my second home as I've been
coming here for 11 years every Saturday and Sunday,"
says 42-year old carpenter Gagik Simonyan, sitting
in front of his table and carefully working on
one of his unfinished plates. "When all factories
were closed in Armenia this had become my working
place and the only way of maintaining my family."
Yerevan has no shortage of gift shops, but if
you ask any resident where you can purchase Armenian
souvenirs, the first answer will be "vernissage".
Two days are hardly enough for taking in everything
This is a place where beauty was created as
means of survival. Ten year ago most of the craftsmen
sitting here had different professions. They were
doctors, architects and policemen. Mixing with
old and new Armenian styles, their boundless imagination
is constantly creating something.
Thousands of souvenirs of different styles and
types carefully made of silver, marble, wood,
ceramics, cloths, different stones, threads and
even fruit seeds.
The name "vernissage" comes from the
end of '80, when a selling exhibition was organized
in the park next to Opera House, in the area surrounding
the monument of Saryan, where mainly Armenian
painters were presenting their works.
However, in the 90s, during period of crisis,
day in and day out different craftsmen and numerous
traders began joining painters turning the central
part of the city into market.
. . . and it is a treaure and a trap for foreigners.
That's why in 1993 local authorities ordered
to move the market into another central area,
which didn't mar the appearance of the city so
Many painters still choose to sell their work
at what is now called "painter's vernissage"
at the original location.
When you buy souvenirs, some of the craftsmen
or salesmen will tell you the meaning of their
products. The "Nuri-Nuri" doll, for
example, is a colorful rag doll meant to be hung
in the home to bring good luck.
"People here are not pursuing only material
gains but they enjoy spiritual pleasures as well,"
says 48 year old craftsman Hayk Andreasyan. "If
I didn't work here I would never have met painter
Jansem. Sometimes we paint together. There are
people next to us who have become our close friends."
Master Hayk has been in Vernissage for 10 years.
Everything started from his first handmade work.
He made a wooden miniature violin the size of
a forefinger. After that he decided to improve
his skills. Today one can find approximately 20
musical instruments on his table including miniatures
of other musical instruments including the duduk,
guitar. Dhol, electronic guitar, kiamancha. Each
of them costs 4000-6000 drams (about $7-10).
Andranik Davtyan, 34, makes miniatures of well-known
Armenian churches that sell from $20 to $400.
Davtyan says the vernissage income is seasonal,
as souvenir sales rely heavily on tourists.
"Our works aren't valued so much as handwork
in Yerevan," says master Gagik. "There
are resellers who buy works here and sell them
abroad for double the price as a work of art.
But here we can't sell them for high prices or
else we would lose our clients."