Echmiadzin (Etchmiadzin) is one of the historic capitals of Armenia and the main religious center of the Armenians. The Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the most important Armenian Apostolic church, is located in Etchmiadzin city! That is why Echmiadzin city is unofficially known as a “holy city”.
Etchmiadzin City (also known as Vagharshapat) is the fourth largest city in the Republic of Armenia.
Echmiadzin (Etchmiadzin) is a holy city you should certainly visit in order to see numerous churches, monasteries and museums, the Armenians have preserved through their long and torturous history, and to understand their national mentality and its basis, religion.
Echmiadzin City Basic Facts
Etchmiadzin is the most populous city in the Armavir Marz of Armenia. The name Echmiadzin may be translated as “the place where the Only Begotten descended”.
Etchmiadzin (Etchmiadzin) Location
Echmiadzin city is located about 18 km west of the capital Yerevan, and is 10 km north of the Armenian-Turkish border.
The total area of the Holy city is about 40 sq. km.
Echmiadzin City Population
Etchmiadzin city is the largest urban community in the Armavir Marz of the Republic of Armenia.
According to the census in 2011, the population of Echmiadzin city is about 46540 people. However, its population has been gradually declining since the 1990s.
History of Echmiadzin City
The city of Echmiadzin was founded in 685 BC. According to Movses Khorenatsi (famous Armenian historian), the oldest name of Etchmiadzin city was Artimed (derived from the ancient Greek goddess Artemis).
In the first half of the 1st century AD, under the reign of the Armenian Arsacid king Vagharsh I, the city was renovated and then renamed Vagharshapat. Vagharshapat has served as the capital of Armenia between 120 AD and 330 AD.
After the adoption of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia (301), Vagharshapat was called Echmiadzin, after the name of the Mother Cathedral. The city of Echmiadzin became the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate.
Etchmiadzin was a spiritual center of the whole Armenian nation. Echmiadzin city grew up rapidly and developed as an important center of education and culture.
In 1995, after the declaration of the independence of Armenia, the town was officially renamed Vagharshapat but it is still popularly known as Echmiadzin.
Climate of Echmiadzin City
Echmiadzin city has an average elevation of 853 meters (about 2799 feet) above sea level and has a dry continental climate.
July and August are the hottest months in Echmiadzin (average high temperature is about 32-33 °C) and the coldest ones are January and February (average low temperature is about -5 to -7 °C).
April and May are the wettest months, but during other months precipitation is comparatively less.
So, now, when you’re informed about specific weather conditions of Echmiadzin city, you can decide for yourself during which season of the year you’d like to visit this holy city.
How to get to Echmiadzin City?
If you’ve already decided to go to Etchmiadzin, in this part you will be informed about the travel options for getting there.
Buses regularly depart from the territory nearby Covered Market (Pak Shuka) on the Mashtots Avenue.
Fares are under a dollar and the buses take you straight to Echmiadzin, past Zvartnots ruins (before reaching town), Saint Hripsime (right at the start of the town) and continue straight to the town circle which is right next to the Echmiadzin compound.
There you can see a statue of Komitas by the town circle.
There is an alternative, Bus No. 111, going straight to Echmiadzin city.
One of the bus stops is on the corner of Mashtots Ave and Lusavorich St. The fare is 200 AMD (around 0.5 USD). It takes less than one hour.
There are also marshrutkas (minibuses), departing from central bus station (the fare is 500 AMD or around 1 USD).
Much of the city that tourists visit, is accessible by foot. But if you wish, taxis are also quite cheap, and there are also a couple of marshutka lines through the town.
Cultural monuments tourists can see in Echmiadzin City
If you’re travelling in Armenia and have decided to visit the holy city Echmiadzin, then you should know about several most well-known cathedrals and museums, so that you don’t miss the opportunity to visit them.
Thing to see in Echmiadzin (Etchmiadzin) #1: Echmiadzin Cathedral
Echmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest state-built church in the world. This ancient cathedral was founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 301.
It was rebuilt and added to for over 1.700 years. The church still remains the heart of the Armenian Church, and seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians.
The altar is built over an ancient pagan fire worshiping pit. The inside part has some interesting frescoes, altar, lamps, and thrones. The bell tower entrance is an addition from the 1800s.
The surrounding grounds have gardens with examples of khachkars (cross-stones) from throughout Armenia.
Near the new entrance gates, there are a few exquisite khachkar examples from Jugha (now, in Azerbaijan) which had by far the largest khachkar collection in the world.
Unfortunately the thousands of khachkars, which remained there, were destroyed during this decade by the Azeri government.
Thing to see in Echmiadzin (Etchmiadzin) #2: Saint Hripsime Cathedral
Hripsime, along with the abbess Gayane and thirty-eight unnamed nuns are traditionally considered the first Christian martyrs in Armenia’s history. They were persecuted, tortured, and eventually killed by the pagan Armenian king Tiridates III of Armenia.
According to the Armenian chronicler Agathangelos, after conversion to Christianity in 301, Tiridates and Gregory the Illuminator built a martyrium dedicated to Hripsime. It was built at the location of her martyrdom.
St. Hripsime Cathedral is a seventh century Armenian Apostolic church. It’s one of the oldest preserved churches in the country. The church was erected by Catholicos Komitas to replace the original mausoleum, built by Catholicos Sahak the Great in 395 AD.
The current structure was completed in 618 AD. The cathedral is known for its fine Armenian-style architecture of the classical period. That style has influenced many other Armenian churches since.
Thing to see in Echmiadzin (Etchmiadzin)#3: Saint Gayane Church
It was already mentioned about Gayane and other nuns above. Abbess Gayane was also one of the first Christian martyrs in the history of Armenia. During the time that Hripsime was being tortured, Gayane told her to “be of good cheer, and stand firm” in her faith.
St. Gayane Cathedral is also a 7th century Armenian church and one of the religious centers of Armenia. It is located within walking distance from the Echmiadzin Cathedral. St. Gayane was built by Catholicos Ezra I in 630.
The church design has remained unchanged, only partial renovations of the dome and some ceilings were made in 1652. These cathedrals and the St. Shoghakat Church (Shoghakat was also a nun, killed by the pagan king Trdates) have unique beauty and great national value.
The Armenian people love and remember Hripsime, Gayane, Shoghakat and other nuns who had a great role in adopting Christianity as the state religion of Armenia.
Thing to see in Echmiadzin (Etchmiadzin)#4: Zvartnots Cathedral
Zvartnots Cathedral is a 7th century Armenian cathedral. It was built by the order of Catholicos Nerses the Builder in 643-652.
Zvartnots Cathedral remained standing until the end of the 10th century, but historical sources are silent as to the cause of its collapse. The most popular version is about an earthquake that destroyed the temple.
Now, the cathedral is in ruins. It is located at the edge of Echmiadzin city in Armavir Province of Armenia.
Thing to see in Echmiadzin (Etchmiadzin)#5: Khrimyan Museum
Khrimyan Museum was built and opened in 1896.
It was recently renovated to become a museum of art.
Mkrtich Khrimyan was an Armenian religious and political leader, literary scholar, writer and editor. He served as the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople from 1869 to 1873, as Prelate of Van from 1880 to 1885 and was elected as Catholicos of All Armenians.
Mkrtich Khrimyan devoted his whole life to the betterment of the Armenian people, especially in Western Armenia.
If you plan to take something that will remind of your unforgettable visit to this holy place, there is a bookstore/souvenir store inside the Echmiadzin compound. There is also one store in the area of the Hripsime Cathedral, with a collection of religious gifts, icons, books, DVDs, crosses, jewelry, art, shirts and other items.
Even for a non-Armenian, Echmiadzin city is a spiritual place, so, we strongly recommend you to go there to feel it with your own soul.