Vanadzor, Armenia

  - darkometer rating:  5 -
Vanadzor 1A provincial city in northern Armenia, listed here for its sprawling  industrial wastelands of former Soviet chemical plants. 

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: Vanadzor, formerly named Kirovakan, used to be one of the centres of the Soviet Union's chemical production in Armenia. And as you can image, this entailed some severe environmental issues. The pollution in the air is said to have been so bad that it could dissolve nylon clothing! That may be an exaggeration, but the place was no doubt seriously affected by the giant chemical plants. In a way, Vanadzor was to Armenia what Sumqayit (see Absheron) was for Azerbaijan.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the industry has been shut down here as well, and it still lies derelict – except for a few re-started exceptions and new businesses.
My guide (see under Gyumri) also claimed that some of the plants were involved in top-secret work for the Soviet military – which probably meant chemical weapons production, or at least research. This only makes the sight of the endless derelict industrial wasteland even scarier. You don't want to imagine what toxic residues may be lurking there …
Today, Vanadzor is slowly recovering from the economic collapse that followed that of the Soviet Union. And it serves as a transport hub for northern Armenia, as it lies on the road and rail routes between Georgia and Yerevan, so it can well be that you'll pass through the place when travelling through the Caucasus – and if so you could just as well try to catch a glimpse of these (pseudo-)post-apocalyptic dark sights left by the former Soviet industry.
What there is to see: The sprawling industrial wasteland of the former chemical plants from the Soviet days stretches out mostly to the west and north-west of the town centre. It's not even easy to see where one plant ends and the next begins – it looks more like one huge conglomerate of rusting industry whose former functions remain largely mysterious … to the untrained eye at least.
Needless to say, you can't just walk into any of the closed plants themselves. As a mere tourist you will have to be content with viewing them from the outside, as you pass by. It's eerie enough this way.
Other than those industrial wastelands, Vanadzor doesn't offer the dark tourist anything in particular – other than perhaps the function of a convenient stop-over en route to/from Tbilisi/Georgia to the north and Yerevan to the south, or to/from Gyumri to the west.
Location: In the north of Armenia, in the Lori province, between the Debed Canyon and Mt Aragats, about 45 miles (70 km) north of Yerevan (as the crow flies – by road it's almost twice as far) and a good 30 miles (50 km) east of Gyumri.
Google maps locator: [40.82,44.47]
Access and costs: easy to view from the road, but no access to the plants themselves.
Details: to get to Vanadzor as such is easy enough, as it lies on the main road between Georgia in the north and Yerevan to the south, so most travellers between the two countries will most likely at least pass through. The train between Yerevan/Gyumri and Tbilisi also passes through Vanadzor, but is the slowest transport option (and only passes through every other day for each direction, and that in the middle of night). Buses, taxis and marshrutkas (minibus taxis) are the better means.
If you get a marshrutka to Yerevan doing the loop route via Spitak, then you'll invariably pass through the industrial part of town and can get a halfway decent view from the window. Otherwise you need a car for this. The train is no use, as it passes through Vanadzor at night.
From the central square, Hayq Hraparak, and the train/bus station at the top of Khorenatsi Poghots the eastern end of the industrial part of town is about two-thirds of a mile (1.2 km) away and stretches on westwards for a few miles more … too far to walk it all, but in order to get a static view (rather than one from a moving vehicle) you may consider walking at least the first stretch of Grigor Lusavorich Poghots that leads out of the city centre westwards and all along the inner half of the industrial part of town and the valley floor until a bridge connects it with the main M6 route further west.
It goes without saying (hopefully) that viewing the old industrial plants from a distance from the outside only is the best you can get out of them. Trying to venture into any of the derelict plants themselves would be foolhardy (and certainly illegal too). So keep out. I'd also advise that you be discreet when taking photos – as in these parts of the world people may not take all too kindly to tourists snapping away happily at the grim Soviet pollution belchers of old.
Time required: If passing by on public transport you'll only get a few minutes of a chance of catching a few glimpses of the old industrial complexes out the window. When going independently, it will depend on how long you can/want to gaze at rusting old industrial plants …
Combinations with other dark destinations: Nothing else in Vanadzor itself. The next places of dark interest are Spitak and Gyumri to the west; otherwise Yerevan, the country's capital is within fairly easy reach from Vanadzor and forms the hub for all traffic in Armenia.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Most regular tourists come to Vanadzor not for its grim industrial legacy, but much rather to use it as a convenient base for trips to the famed monastery and church complexes of the Lori region and to the Debed Canyon, which can be reached on fairly convenient day excursions from the city (by taxi – negotiate with drivers or have your accommodation help you arrange this).
Vandzor itself has a couple of mildly interesting buildings too, plus a local museum, an art gallery, markets and shops (allegedly good for clothes) – but it's still is hardly a particularly touristy place in itself.
  • Vanadzor 1Vanadzor 1
  • Vanadzor 2Vanadzor 2
  • Vanadzor 3Vanadzor 3
  • Vanadzor 4Vanadzor 4
  • Vanadzor 5Vanadzor 5
  • Vanadzor 6Vanadzor 6
  • Vanadzor 7Vanadzor 7
  • Vanadzor 8 - main square in the centreVanadzor 8 - main square in the centre

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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