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Bucharest, April 24 /Agerpres/ - It might sound like a cliché, but reaching the northeastern county of Botosani as a tourist and not visiting the birthplaces of national poet Mihai Eminescu, world famous musician George Enescu or encyclopedic historian Nicolae Iorga would mean having wasted time and money.
Then again, getting to the center of Botosani city and not taking a look at the oldest Armenian church in Europe means shutting oneself off from history.
Dating from 1350, the 'St. Mary' Church is the oldest place of worship built by Armenian communities in Europe, but also the first stone made Orthodox church in Botosani. It stands in the city center, on a street called - how else - Armenian Street.
The Holy Scriptures written on parchment in 1354, the earliest known and surviving book from Botosani, were kept until 1950 in the altar of the 'St. Mary' Church. The precious book was brought to Bucharest and from there it was transferred to Armenia.
The church in Botosani still keeps dozens of old books from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, written in Armenian. The first Christian cemetery discovered in Botosani lies near the church, with graves dating from the 15th century and tombstones carrying not yet deciphered Armenian inscriptions.
"The 'St. Mary' Church is the oldest Armenian church in Europe. On August 16 we will celebrate 664 years since its founding, 664 years of uninterrupted service in a church,'' says the head of the Botosani Armenian community Viorica Popa.
The church was left in an advanced state of decay until the early '90s. It took almost 20 years to restore the historic monument, with direct financial support from the Romanian Government, the Ministry of Culture and the local budget of the Botosani municipality.
The 'St. Mary' Church was the growth center around which the Armenian quarter developed in the 14th century, a quarter whose residents were mainly Armenian merchants who left their country after the devastating earthquake of 1319, which completely destroyed the once flourishing city of Ani, the capital of Armenia.
''In 1319, many Armenians migrated to Botosani and Suceava, leaving their homeland after an earthquake devastated their capital city,'' writes priest and ethnographer Dan Dimitrie in his work "Orthodox Armenians in Bucovina.''
The Armenians who settled here made an essential contribution to the formation of the Botosani Borough, providing it with two churches and dozens of houses that are today listed as historic monuments.
''The Armenian quarter meant the place where the first Armenians settled around 1350 - 1370. This is where Armenians have almost exclusively lived for several hundred years. They made a closed community, marrying among themselves and not interacting with the rest of the world otherwise than for business,'' argues historian Gheorghe Median.
At a certain time, the Armenian community represented the majority of the population of the Botosani Borough, and this had an important influence on the subsequent development of the city.
A major landmark in the history of Botosani, especially for the Armenian community, is represented by the 'Holy Trinity' Church, located on the same street as 'St. Mary' Church, just a few dozen of metres away from the latter. It was built in 1560 and originally served as a cloister. The church completely collapsed, but was rebuilt in 1795. Overlooking the courtyard is the old bell tower and the old parish house still stands there.
The feel of the Armenian neighborhood is even nowadays strongly present thanks to the architecture of the houses built as of the 1800s.
For instance, the Ciomac House located at No. 2 Pushkin Street is a true architectural monument. Built in 1892 in eclectic style with a classical touch, it belonged to one of the wealthiest land owners and cattle merchants of the time, Garabet Ciomac. The monument now belongs to the County Council, after having housed for many years the Sanitary Inspection Directorate. It was restored in the last two years with European funds and will most probably become a retirement home.
Equally beautiful is the Caracas House which was transformed today into hotel. The building dates from the 19th century, featuring also an eclectic style with romantic elements. Its specificity is given by the masonry and window pilasters, as well as by the fish-scale metal roofing. This property too is on the list of historic monuments.
A special attraction is the Buicliu House, which was built around 1810 for residential purposes; its façade, topped by a triangular frontispiece, has corner and gallery pilasters emphasizing its vertical lines. It belonged to Armenian merchant Garabet Buicliu, but served over time as a bus terminal and is now the headquarters of the Roads and Bridges County Directorate.
The history of Botosani documents the important role many representatives of the Armenian community have played in various fields. Noteworthy are for instance doctor Iacob Iacobovici; painter and violinist Andronic Taranu; musicologist Emanoil Ciomac; writer Ioan Missir; philosopher and journalist Grigore Goilav; city chief physician Dionisie Goilav.
The Armenian community of Botosani, which gave the city four mayors (Luta Ciomac, Cristea Ciomac, Ion Misir, and Florin Egner) counts today only 82 members and dwindles with every year due to old age of the denizens. AGERPRES

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