Echmiadzin (Vagharshapat) is an ancient town in Armenia located in the scenic Ararat valley. Founded in the 3rd millennium BC by King Vagharshak, Vagharshapat used to be the capital of Greater Armenia and the spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Today the city is referred to as the «Holy City of Armenia» and it is the spiritual center of the whole Armenian nation.
Vagharshapat is commonly known as Echmiadzin (or Etchmiadzin), which was the city’s official name between 1945 and 1995. The place is the perfect spot if you want to learn more about ancient Armenian architectural history and explore Armenia’s culture. In Vagharshapat you can find numerous churches, monasteries, and museums, that Armenians have preserved through their long and torturous history in order to understand their national mentality and its basis, the religion.
Expansion during the Soviet occupation
After the adoption of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia (301 AD), Vagharshapat was called Echmiadzin, after the name of the Mother Cathedral. The city of Echmiadzin became the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate.
Echmiadzin grew rapidly and developed into an important center of education and culture. Reduced to a small town by the early 20th century, it experienced large expansion during the Soviet occupation becoming, effectively, a suburb of Yerevan.
In 1995, after the declaration of the independence of Armenia, the town was officially renamed Vagharshapat. But it is still popularly known as Echmiadzin.
Places of interest in Echmiadzin
One of the highlights of Vagharshapat is its ancient UNESCO-listed Echmiadzin Cathedral, the major Armenian Apostolic church. Built in 303 AC as a small basilica, it is the oldest state-built church in the whole world. Located in a huge park-like area, the monastery is an impressive sight. It was rebuilt and has been added to it more than 1,700 years ago. The church is still the heart of the Armenian Church and the seat of the Catholicos of all Armenians.
The other place you should visit is the Zvartnots cathedral, a ruined church from the 7th century with a unique circular design. In spite of its ruined look, this cathedral is the favorite place for tourists.