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Armenia’s fourth city, Vagharshapat (former Echmiadzin), was the capital from about 184 to 340 AD.
It is a holy place for Armenians, owing to King Tiridates III’s conversion to Christianity there in 300 AD. He had ordered a Christian virgin to be stoned to death, and subsequently went mad. A Christian prisoner named Gregory (later promoted to the title of Gregory the Illuminator) saved and converted him, and the whole country soon followed suit.
Vagharshapat today is the site of the most important Orthodox cathedral, founded by the prisoner Gregory, on the site of a former pagan site of worship. It is also the spiritual home of the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Supreme Catholicos.
St Hripsime Church is a fine restored church built in 618, replacing an earlier chapel on the site where Saint Hripsime died. Reputedly one of the most beautiful buildings in its day, the Church of St Gregory (Tserkov Sv Grigoria) was built in 641-61, but it was destroyed during an earthquake in the 10th century and only excavated ruins remain on the site today.
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Best of Vagharshapat
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 pagan fire worshiping pit, 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 which had by far the largest khachkar collection in the world. The thousands of khachkars which remained there were destroyed during this decade by the Azeri government.
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.
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.
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 meaning “drop of light” because of the ray of light that came down from heaven upon Hripsimé’s martyrs.
Ruins of cathedral built 643-652 by the order of Catholicos Nerses. It’s a 3-tiered rotunda on a platform with a small museum.
Built and opened in 1896. It has been renovated to become a museum of art.
The old pontifical residence built in 1738–1741 and served as residence until 1962. Since 1968 the building has served as Catholicosal Museum.
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