Etchmiadzin became the spiritual centre for Armenia’s Christians shortly after the country’s conversion in the early 4th century.

Officially Vagharshapat since 1995, yet still almost universally referred to by its old name, Etchmiadzin is Armenia’s fourth most populous city. The central square is Komitas Square, where a statue of Komitas by the same Yervand Kochar responsible for the eagle at Zvartnots was erected in 1969. Attractive parks with fountains and walkways stretch east back towards Yerevan through the city centre. On the south side of the square is one of several entrances to the cathedral precinct, beyond which most visitors rarely venture. A few hundred metres west along Khorenatsi can be found the bus station – actually just a section of street – from where minibuses and buses return to Yerevan’s Central Bus Station, departing every few minutes throughout the day when full.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral Armenia by Deirdre HoldingEtchmiadzin Cathedral, the spiritual centre of the Armenian Apostolic Church © Deirdre Holding

Known in Armenian as the Mayrator (‘Mother See’, literally ‘Mother Seat’), Etchmiadzin became the spiritual centre for Armenia’s Christians shortly after the country’s conversion in the early 4th century. Today this vast complex houses a religious seminary and all the administrative mechanisms of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as being a pilgrimage site for followers of the Church worldwide; its touristic element is in reality a mere sideshow. In recent years there has been, and continues to be, a considerable building programme, with extensive renovation of the main cathedral in progress at the time of research, the roof and belltower clad in scaffolding and much of the interior similarly obscured.

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