Echmiadzin, the Holy See of the Armenian Apostolic Church, located in Vagharshapat, one of the capitals of Ancient Armenia. It is said that the main cathedral was built on the exact spot where Jesus descended from the heavens and struck the Earth with a golden hammer.
Now a UNESCO Heritage Site, Echmiadzin is one of the most common pilgrimage destinations in Armenia. The complex is surrounded by a number of museums and archives containing historic documents and relics, including a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified, the spear which pierced his side, and a piece of Noah’s Ark.
A masterpiece of the Middle Ages constructed between 643-652 A.D., this cathedral was an important example of Armenian architecture. It had a unique design and the techniques employed in its construction influenced architecture throughout Europe. The overall bold design and construction represents architectural innovation at at its finest. It is 45 meters tall and has no central supporting columns. Despite being in ruins today, its magical quality is still clearly palpable and due to its historical importance was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000.
The medieval monastery of Geghard in Kotayk province is surrounded by cliffs and partially carved out of the adjacent mountain. The UNESCO Site contains a number of churches and tombs, unique for the fact that many are cut directly into the rock face.
Geghard was founded in the 4th century by St. Gregory the Illuminator. The first monastery was destroyed by invading Arabs in the 9th century, but it was rebuilt by the 13th century. In addition to its stunning natural setting, history, and perfect acoustics, the monastery is known for the relic it houses – the lance that wounded Christ on the cross.
The fortress and pagan temple of Garni- symbol of pre-Christian Armenia - are situated on a high cliff that extends over the Azat River Gorge. This site was developed as a fortress as early as the 3rd century BCE., and a Hellenistic temple was constructed there around 70 CE.
Garni temple was destroyed by an earthquake in the late seventeenth century, but was extensively restored in the 1970s. The area surrounding the temple contains the ruins of a palace complex which comprises a number of buildings including steam baths around the fortress's main square.
Standing at 2300m above sea level, Amberd, which literally translates to “Cloud Fortress”, is an ideal example of Armenian fortress construction.
Amberd, the largest standing fortress in Armenia, is located on the southern slopes of Mount Aragats, on a triangular cape where the Arkashen and Amberd Rivers meet. The main construction and some sections of the walls were built in the 7th century by the noble house of Kamsarakan. Today Amberd is a favorite destination for history explorers and hikers.
One of the most memorable moments you can experience in Armenia is watching the sunrise at Khor Virap, at the foot of Mount Ararat.
An ancient pit believed to have held St. Gregory the Illuminator before he began the conversion of the country to Christianity in the early 4th century.
Khor Virap was built as a dungeon in the 2nd century BCE in the city of Artashat, “Carthage of the East”. The hills of the area are still covered with remnants of this fabled city’s past, including a richly adorned pagan temple to Mithra.
Sometimes referred to as the Armenian Stonehenge, Karahunj, near Tatev Monastery, contains over two hundred menhirs, massive rocks ranging from half a meter to three meters in size. The name derives from the Armenian words for stone (kar), and sound (hunj). Built an estimated six thousand years ago, the seven-hectare site, sprawled across the mountains of the Syunik province, is wrapped around Bronze Age burial mounds and may have been an ancient observatory. While its exact ancient purpose remains shrouded in ancient mystery, some speculate it may date back to 4,200 BCE based on the alignment of certain stars at that time with the stones. This also corresponds with the dating of zodiac chart petroglyphs found carved around the nearby Geghama Mountains.
The Matenadaran, a repository and museum for thousands of medival Armenian manuscripts, is the modern successor to series of such depositories which existed throughout the Middle Ages. The first was said to have been created by Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of the Armenian alphabet, whose statue greets visitors along with towering sculptures of other historic Armenian scholars. Armenian illuminated manuscripts are a highlight of Armenian cultural history, but thousands were unfortunately destroyed during the Mongol and Turkic invasions of the tenth through fifteeth centuries. Today's museum dates to 1959, where one can get a glimpse of some of these incredible surviving Armenian treasures, along with others of interest from around the world.