Echmiatsin and Zvartnots
The Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots are two prime examples of Armenian church design.
Echmiatsin is the center of the Armenian Church. It locates the Echmiatsin Cathedral, which was built in 480 (making it the most ancient church in Armenia).
Zvartnots dates from the 7th century, and was built to surpress the Echmiatsin Cathedral in grandeur. This complex consists of a temple and the palace of Catholicos Nerses III. Presumably, the architect if Zvartnots knew of Syrian and Byzantine structures.
Map of Echmiatsin and ZvartnotsLoad map
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.
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.
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.
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)
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