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
Visit May / June 2005
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 in 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 backgrounds, it looks like a classic Greek temple in the Peloponnesos. Later I saw a recnstruction 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.
According to the respectful author : "Presumably, the architect if Zvartnots knew of Syrian and Byzantine structures" Yet, it is absolutely on the contrary as according to the historical chroniclers , the Byzantine Emperor Constantin who was present at the ceremony of consecration of the Cathedral of Zvatrnots was so much admired by the structure that requested that Catholicos Nerses sent out the architect with stonemasons to Constantinople to build a similar rotunda shaped Cathedral there. On his way to Constantinople the architect died...
Very few unfortunately have heard about the "Golden Rule" of the ancient Armenian architecture which said "NO COPY, MAKE IT DIFFERENT".
The architect according to the tradition having no other choice committed suicide. Why? Simply because 1/. his rule of professional honor did not let him to "copy" his work, 2/. the Emperor would kill him it the new one was worse than Zvartnots and finally 3/. being a true patriot and believer he wanted to preserve his style's uniqueness for his Homeland for as long as possible...
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.
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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