Echmiatsin and Zvartnots

Echmiatsin and Zvartnots
Photo by Els Slots.

The Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots bear witness to the development of Christianity in Armenia.

They are also prime examples of Armenian church design, characterized by its central-domed cross-hall layout. Echmiatsin is the center of the Armenian Church and holds the Echmiatsin Cathedral, the most ancient church in Armenia (301), as well as other 7th-century churches. Zvartnots was built to surpass the Echmiatsin Cathedral in grandeur: it was exceptionally high for its time and covered in bas relief.

Community Perspective: Despite their importance, these are quite sober churches and one can only guess at the former beauty of Zvartnots as it’s ruined like an Ancient Greek temple. They are easily visited on the way to or from Yerevan or its airport.

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Germany - 08-Apr-24 -

Echmiatsin and Zvartnots by Nan

In the summer of 2023, we visited Yerevan, Armenia, coming from Georgia. Yerevan, being the most westernized part of the country, served as our base for a few days to visit the nearby world heritage sites, including Echmiatsin and Zvartnots.

As the name suggests, the site has two principal components:

  • Echmiatsin: This is the active religious centre of the Armenian Church. It has some modern structures and is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Yerevan and interested in Armenian identity. While Paul compared it to Rome and Canterbury, those cities have a more developed urban fabric and are generally older.
  • Zvartnots: Mostly a ruin, we initially skipped Zvartnots. On our last day due to having some spare time we managed to squeeze it in. We found it enjoyable and recommend a visit. From a World Heritage Site perspective, Zvartnots seemed like the better component.

There are several other minor locations. But those don’t add much to the overall inscription. They don’t require a large detour as all sites align along one road, the highway connecting Yerevan to Echmiatsin. 

Getting There

If you’re staying in Yerevan, the most convenient way to travel is by cab (we used Bolt). The fares were low in 2023, so there was no need to check bus connections. Depending on the location, you might want the cab to wait:

  • Echmiatsin: A sizable town with a large site to explore. It’s not useful to have the cab waiting. We had to wait a while to get a cab on Bolt.
  • Zvartnots: Located in an isolated corner along the highway. It would be beneficial to discuss with the driver about waiting at this location. Contrary to Zoe’s statement, getting another cab isn’t easy as they would have to come from the airport. Walking is not an option due to the location on the highway.
  • The two churches in the middle can be visited quickly, so I would recommend doing those as a stopover with the cab potentially waiting.

Note that Zvartnots is not only the name of the archaeological site but also Yerevan’s international airport, so be specific about your destination.

Generally, getting around in Armenia by taxi is cheap; we didn’t use any public transport.

While You Are There

We weren’t particularly taken by Yerevan itself. You can visit all Armenian World Heritage Sites as day trips if you wish. In comparison, Tbilisi is livelier. When travelling between the two cities, , you can visit the best World Heritage Sites of Armenia, Haghpat, and Sanahin. Plus a few more churches in the valley.

The Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial is also near the beginning of the highway from Yerevan to Zvartnots and Echmiatsin, so you could combine the visits. However, I felt that the Genocide Museum leaned too heavily towards a specific narrative instead of sticking to the undoubtedly horrendous facts and allowing visitors to process the information independently.

Ronan B

19-Sep-23 -

I went to Echmiatsin and Zvartnots on a half day tour. Zvartnots was a beautifully sited circular cathedral dating back to the 7th century, now reduced to picturesque ruins. I found it to be very atmospheric Then we went on the Etchmiatsin, where we looked around the religious compound surrounding the cathedral of Etchmiadsin. I was not as impressed with the architectural merit as I had been by the remains of Zvartnots. The Treasury House Museum in the cathedral compound was more interesting than I had expected. It holds what it claims is the real lance that pierced Christ's side (a very large one -it must have been a very muscular centurion that wielded that lance) and some religious pictures. One in particular was quite unique, showing the Virgin and Child Jesus, in which the infant Jesus was shown with some rather over developed abdominal muscles for an infant!

Hard to rate the significance of the sites as I am not part of the Armenian culture, it was obvious the Etchmiadsin and the surrounding area has been very important for the Armenain church through history.

Zoë Sheng

Chinese-Canadian - 29-Dec-22 -

Echmiatsin and Zvartnots by Zoë Sheng

I'm not impressed but I don't really dislike it either. It's easy to see these as they are 10 minute drive from the airport. Use one of the ride apps to get a car to drop you off easily. Echmiatsin is the easiest because it's the town of Vagharshapat itself, with a hotel directly across the traffic circle if you want a convenient place to stay (Richmind, cheap and comfy). Unfortunately as you can see from my picture it was closed for renovation.

While the infrastructure is not bad in any way, the Armenian style churches are not special enough in this area. So I think it was more inscribed due to "imported" structure knowledge at the time to show culture moving around the world/regions - I don't find that fancy enough for a world heritage. Because it's an easy visit (oh no she said "easy" again?!) I would recommend throwing it on your itinerary even for non-WHS enthusiasts.

Zvartnots is best done on the way to/from Yerevan and it won't take you long to see everything either (I didn't say "easy"!), it's got ancient ruins from the old buildings and a better view because there is no town surrounding the site. So once again, don't expect to spend much time here and don't have high hopes of seeing something fantastic either.

William Dunbar

UK - 18-Jul-10 -

Echmiadzin and Zvarnots are a little underwhelming, especially compared to other monuments in Armenia. I would recommend Gerghard and Khor Virap as more interesting trips if you are staying in Yerevan. The museum in the main cathedral at Echmiadzin does have some interesting exhibits, but the main museums in Yerevan are better.

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 25-May-05 -

Echmiatsin and Zvartnots by Els Slots

I visited this site (Echmiatsin, to be precise) twice during my stay in Armenia. The first time when fresh out of the plane, the second time after travelling around Armenia for a week. At first, I found the main cathedral a bit sober, but it's exuberant compared to others around the country.

Zvartnots is a completely different sight. In ruins and with snow-clad mountains in the background, it looks like a classic Greek temple in the Peloponnesos. Later I saw a reconstruction of what it could have looked like before demolition, and that was definitely more like a typical Armenian cathedral.

On my second visit, I also went to Surp Hripsime (shown in the big photo above): a 6th-century church about 2 km. from the main Echmiatsin complex. It's a bit big and bulky, but nice.


UK - 01-May-05 -

Echmiatsin and Zvartnots by Solivagant

Echmiatsin is the “Rome” or “Canterbury” of the Armenian Church being the home of the Katholikos of All Armenians and his cathedral. As such it is clearly an important site. The town is a relatively short drive from Yerevan and is an automatic excursion for anyone who visits the capital. The archaeological remains of Armenia’s 7th century cathedral at Zvartnots are just outside the town and will be passed on the road to/from Yerevan.

I personally didn’t find these 2 sites particularly memorable – certainly less so than the other 2 ecclesiastical WHS. The Zvartnots remains hinted at little in the way of the possible former glories of the site and the Cathedral has undergone a lot of later development and its siting close to the town centre among gardens lacks the drama and scenery of the other sites.

That morning in Yerevan we had visited the Matenadaran (Institute of Ancient Manuscripts), which is inscribed on another UNESCO list “The Memory of the World Register”, and the Genocide Memorial. Both were far more memorable. (Visited Jul 2000)

Site Info

Full Name
The Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots
Unesco ID
2 3
Religious structure - Christian

Site History

2000 Inscribed


The site has 6 locations

Echmiatsin and Zvartnots: Mother Cathedral of Echmiatsin and surrounding constructions Echmiatsin, Armavir Marz, Armenia
Echmiatsin and Zvartnots: Church Saint Gayaneh and surrounding buildings
Echmiatsin and Zvartnots: Cemetery of Congregation
Echmiatsin and Zvartnots: Saint Hripsimeh Church and St. Shoghakat Church - part I Echmiatsin, Armavir Marz, Armenia
Echmiatsin and Zvartnots: Saint Hripsimeh Church and St. Shoghakat Church - part II
Echmiatsin and Zvartnots: Archaeological site of Zvartnots with ruins of the Temple, the Royal Palace, and other constructions Echmiatsin, Armavir Marz, Armenia


The site has

Art and Architecture
Religion and Belief
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process


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AC Adrian Turtschi Afshin Iranpour Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Alexandrcfif Alfons and Riki Verstraeten Ali Zingstra Ammon Watkins Andersgrau8 Ani Anna Wludarska Arseny Dimi Artur Anuszewski Aspasia Atila Ege BH Bazikoln Bill Maurmann Bin Bob Parda Bram de Bruin Brigitte Huber CHJLondon Christian Wagner Christoosh Christoph Christravelblog CugelVance Dachangjin3 Daniel C-Hazard Debfc Dibro Dimitar Krastev Dkabanov Donald M Parrish Jr Donnico Dorejd Einziger Els Slots Erfe91 Erik Jelinek Eva Kisgyorgy FGKJR1492X Fan Yibo Fernweh Filip Murlak Fmannucci Ge zhang Gennady Nezhdanov George Evangelou GerhardM Gisella Gonca Hadrianus Handballrama Hanming Harald T. Harry Mitsidis Hfxdeb Hidalgo Hidalgo History Fangirl Howe Siang Tan Iain Jackson Ivan Rucek Jakubmarin Janis Janklak Jarek Pokrzywnicki Jaroslav Klement John Smaranda Jonas Kremer Jonathanliao Jos Schmitz Jose Antonio Collar Joseph C. Joshuakirbens João Aender Judit Dalla Judith Tanner JudyWalsh Juha Sjoeblom Jungliemonkey Juropa KB1 Kasienka5 Kevin McFarland Kevin247 Knut Krijn Kristin Kurt Lauer La Concy LaVale Liu tuo Ljowers Loic Pedras Longdutch Lorenzo Mejino Ludvan Luis Filipe Gaspar Lukasz Palczewski Luke LOU MMM Mahuhe Malgorzata Kopczynska Marcel staron Marcobrey Marek Mariam Markassonne Marta Lempert Martina Rúčková Marton Kemeny Marty Max Smits Merveil Michael Novins Michal Kozok Michal Marciniak Mikal Ahmet Mikita M Mikko Milan Jirasek Miloš Tašković Mkborys MoPython Nan NataliaS Nej153 Nihal Ege Nils Kronenberg Paczeterson Pandapearls Pascal Cauliez Pasha Globus Patrick Matgen Patrik_globe Paul Hilder Peter Day Philipp Leu Pink Bunny Plutomu Rahelka Red Reza Rica Duchateau Risson Rob Wilson RobRos Rodinia Roman Bruehwiler Roman Koeln Roman Raab Ronan B Rvieira Rwestervelt3 SHIHE HUANG Socon Solivagant Sophie Stanimir Stanislaw Warwas SteO153 Super-Sophie Sutul Szucs Tamas Tamara Ratz Tarquinio_Superbo Thomas Buechler Tingmelvin Tjark Tony H. Tony0001 Triath Truls Brekke Usagi1974 Vanessa Buechler Vernon Prieto VforMih Voyager WHS Lux WalGra Walter Waterfighter8 Weecheng Werner Huber Westwards Willc1515 Wojciech Fedoruk Wolfgang Hlousa WolfgangHl Wouter Yevhen Ivanovych Zoë Sheng