Echmiadzin (Էջմիածին), in Central Armenia, is Armenia's fourth-largest city. It was officially renamed Vagharshapat (Վաղարշապատ) in 1995, but the old name is still in common use colloquially and in some official contexts.
Echmiadzin is the seat of the Armenian Catholicos, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's usually visited as a day-trip from Yerevan, along with nearby Zvartnots.
Marshrutkas to Echmiadzin (line 203) start from the central (Kilikiya) bus station in Yerevan, at least every 30 mins, more often in busy periods, and take 20-30 mins. It is a fare of 250-300 dram, even if you get off early at the Zvartnots ruins. The end of the line in Echmiadzin is on the corner of Movses Khorenatsi street and Baghramyan street, near the Cathedral complex.
The tourist sights of Echmiadzin are easily accessible by foot. Zvartnots is 5 km east, back towards Yerevan: take a marshrutka (several alternatives to the 203 for this short hop) or taxi.
The following 5 monuments are listed as World Heritage Sights by UNESCO.
- 1 Cathedral of Echmiadzin. Founded in 301 by St. Gregory the Illuminator and rebuilt and added to for over 1,700 years, Echmiadzin now is the heart of the Armenian Church, and seat of the Catholicos of all Armenians. The altar is built over an ancient Zoroastrian eternal flame that was uncovered during excavation works in 1950 (now accessible from the museum behind the altar), the inside has interesting frescoes, altar, lamps, and thrones. The intricate bell tower entrance is an addition from the 1800s, and the surrounding grounds have gardens with examples of khachkars from throughout Armenia and further. Near the new entrance gates are a few exquisite khachkar examples from Jugha (in Nakhchivan) - which had by far the largest khachkar collection in the world until they were destroyed during this decade by the Azerbaijani government. The Treasury is well-worth seeing, especially the Roman Geghard or "Spear used at the Cross". Cathedral free, Treasury 1,500 dram.
- 2 St. Hripsime Cathedral. An outstanding example of earlier Christian architecture, this 7th-century cathedral with soaring ceilings and vast interior space was an example for future architects.
- 3 St. Gayane Church. Built in honor of one of the Christian virgins killed by the Armenian king, along with Hripsime, this smaller church with an arcade in front is a few blocks south of the Echmiadzin compound.
- 4 Shoghakat Church. At the site of the present day church of Shoghakat, there stood an earlier church of the 6th or 7th century which has not survived. Current building was erected in 1694 by Prince Aghamal Sorotetsi. The name of the church comes from Armenian (Շողակաթ եկեղեցի) meaning "drop of light" because of the ray of light that is said to have come down from Heaven upon Hripsimé's martyrs.
- 5 Zvartnots Cathedral (South side of main highway 5 km east of Echmiadzin). Ruins of a cathedral built from 643-652 by the order of Catholicos Nerses. It's a 3-tiered rotunda on a platform (ramp on right) with a small museum. 1,300 dram.
- 6 Khrimian Museum. Built and opened in 1896. It has been renovated to become a museum of art.
- 7 Alex and Marie Manoogian Treasury House. Constructed in 1982. The museum is home to treasures of the Armenian Church throughout the history.
- 8 Catholicosal Museum (Old Pontificial Residence). The old pontifical residence built in 1738–1741 and served as residence until 1962. Since 1968 the building has served as Catholicosal Museum.
The Echmiadzin compound and the Hripsime cathedral area have bookstores/souvenir stores inside, with collections of religious gifts, icons, books, DVDs, crosses, jewelry, art, crafts, shirts, and other things. Worth popping in for a look.
Echmiadzin Kufte is beef ground to a fine paste, rolled into a big ball, and boiled; then it's soaked in melting butter. The town market ("shuka") is one of several places serving it.
- 1 B&B Artson, Petrozavodsk Street 55. Wi-Fi, large living room, HD TV, washing machine, garden. Can meet guests at the airport free of charge, also organize a tour in Echmiadzin free of charge as well. Double 13,000 dram.
- 2 Machanents Guest House, Shahumyan Street 36. Very simple rooms with shared bathrooms. Budget double one is a really tiny room with bunk bed, regular double is a bit better. Guest house also has an Armenian bakery and tavern. WiFi. Budget double 13,000 dram, double 18,000 dram, dorms 7,500 dram.
- 3 Van Restaurant & Hotel, ☏ , , email@example.com. 2-star motel offering 6 suites with private entrances off the main dining area and 2 lux suites upstairs. Although it can get crowded and loud in the evenings. They also rent a few flats nearby. Double 10,000 dram, lux 22,000 dram.
- 4 Zvartnots hotel and casino (On main road 500 m east of Zvartnots temple, 3 km west of airport), ☏ , , . 2-3-star hotel complex which has restaurant-bar (with live music), tennis, billiard, swimming pools, gym. From 22,000 dram.
You'll probably need to back-track to Yerevan to reach anywhere else.