Gyumri is the second largest city in Armenia and the capital of the Shirak Province in the northwestern part of the country. Gyumri is located 126 km north of the capital Yerevan in the central part of the Shirak Plateau. It has an approximate height of 1,550 meters above sea level.
It was originally founded as Kumayri, later in 1837 Russian Czar Nicholas I arrived in Gyumri and changed the name into Alexandropol. Being under the Soviet rule, the name of the city was changed in 1924 to Leninakan, after the Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. At the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, the city was renamed Kumayri between in 1990 until 1992, when it was finally given the name Gyumri.
Archaeological excavations have shown that the area of modern day Gyumri has been populated since at least the third millennium BC. The area was mentioned as Kumayri in the historic Urartian inscriptions dating back to the 8th century BC. In 720 BC, the Cimmerians conquered the region and probably founded the Kumayri settlement, which bears phonetic resemblance to the word used by ancient Armenian in reference to the Cimmerians. Historians believe that Xenophon passed through Kumayri during his return to the Black Sea, a journey immortalized in his Anabasis.
Gyumri (then Alexandropol) and the surrounding territories became part of the Russian Empire during the Russo-Persian War between 1804 and 1813. During the period of the Russian rule, Gyumri became one of the developing cities in the Transcaucasus. The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin visited Gyumri during his journey to Erzurum in 1829.
Until the Soviet expansion of Armenia’s new capital of Yerevan, the Alexandropol was the largest city of the republic. Much of the historic center dates to the days when Gyumri was an outpost of the Russian Czar in the Southern Caucasus, and the architecture reflects that. The buildings, of dark black stone are primarily 1800s Russian in style, with Armenian touches. Much of the center was destroyed by the 1988 earthquake which devastated the region, part of which has been rebuilt. There are also Russian churches, cemeteries and a large Russian base still dominates a part of the city.