Duration 6-7 hours
Echmiadzin (Armenian: Էջմիածին) is the spiritual centre of
Armenia and the seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians,
the head of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church. It is the
most populous city in Armavir province, about 20 km west
city originated as Vardkesavan in the 4th or 3rd century
BC. King Vagharsh (117-140 AD) had the name changed to
Vagharshapat, which still persists as the official
appellation of the city. Several decades later, the city
became the capital of Armenia and remained the country's
most important city until the 4th century AD.
Historically, the focal point of the city is the
Etchmiadzin Cathedral. It was originally built by St.
Gregory the Illuminator as a vaulted basilica in 301-303,
when Armenia was the only country in the world the state
religion of which was Christianity.
to the 5th-century Armenian annals, St. Gregory had a
vision of Christ descending from heaven and striking the
earth with a golden hammer to show where the cathedral
should be built. Hence, the patriarch gave the church and
the city the new name of Echmiadzin, which may be
translated as "the place where the Only Begotten
descended". In 480, Vahan Mamikonyan, ordered the
dilapidated basilica to be replaced with a new cruciform
In 618, the wooden dome was replaced with a stone one,
resting on four massive pillars linked to exterior walls
by arcades. This was the church much as it is today.
Murals in the interior and extravagant rotundas
surmounting the apses appeared in the early 18th century.
A three-tier belfry was constructed half a century
earlier. The cathedral formerly boasted the largest
collection of Armenian medieval manuscripts, but these
were lately handed over to the Matenadaran.
Immediately west of the cathedral is the Gate of St. Trdat,
leading to the imposing patriarchal palace. To the
northeast, with buildings both within and outside the
enclosure, is the Spiritual Academy. Several Khachkars are
north of the cathedral.
Apart from the Etchmiadzin cathedral, the city of
Ecthmiadzin contains two highly important and very ancient
churches: the church of St. Gayane (630 AD), church of St.
Hripsime (618 AD).
Nearby, just a few kilometres away is also the
archaeological site of Zvartnots Cathedral famous for its
unique design. The church was built between 643 and 652 AD
by Catholicos Nerses III.
In 930 AD the church was ruined by an
earthquake, and remained buried until its rediscovery in
the early 20th century. The site was excavated between
1900 and 1907, uncovering the foundations of the cathedral
as well as the remains of the Catholicos palace and a
winery. The interior of the fresco-decorated church had
the shape of a cross with three aisles, while the exterior
was a 32-sided polygon which appeared circular from a
The churches of St. Gayane, St. Hrispsime and the
archeological site of Zvartnots, are, just like
Etchmiadzin Cathedral, listed among the World Heritage
Sites designated by the UN Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization, UNESCO.