Days: 548 (25 December 2015)
Total distance travelled: 137,696.00 kilometres (85,525.47 miles)
When you’re in the oldest Christian country in the world, it stands to reason there’d be a fair chance it would also play host to the oldest cathedral in the world too… right?
Wikipedia seemed to support the idea (that is our notion that it might be here, not that we should visit it), so it was another cold yet sunny morning that found us headed on yet one more adventure.
Another cloudless morning promised warmth, but the sub zero temperatures and frozen water suspended from random down pipes told the true story.
It was cold indeed.
When we got into town, hard to find, Echmiatsin was not.
Harder to avoid was again, the scaffolding.
Our curse continues!
The few people about were suitably rugged up (think thick fur coats), whilst we sported our by now tired goose down puffer jackets giving us that slight Michelin Man appearance (if he were Blue or Black respectively).
We were eager to get out of the cold, so it was through the heavy wooden doors we passed and into the somewhat smoky interior within.
So here we were. The Holy See of the Armenian church.
Essentially their version of the Vatican.
No colourfully dressed men wielding archaic pole-arms (like the Swiss Guards) and no queues snaking their way through the complex.
In fact, there was hardly anyone about at all…
There was far more natural light within than expected, but being surrounded by solid stone on a freezing winters morning meant the place felt cold.
Some bold claims were made here (not like the book they all revere isn’t full of them, so no surprises really), and by claims I mean some of their relics try to add truth to the most popular work of fiction ever written.
Several reliquaries (just a fancy name for something that apparently contains a holy relic) listed their contents, one purporting to hold pieces of that boat built by a man called Noah, and others parts of the body of Saint John the Baptist (who’s made a few cameos in our writing of late).
It was far less enjoyable than when that bunch of German pilgrims sang… and we’d actually had to pay one of the few people we encountered to enter the area where these ‘treasures’ could be found.
I write like an arse at times, but we certainly maintained a modicum of respect whilst we were visiting Armenia’s Holy See, but we’d soon exhausted our interest.
We were back out and walking the streets of Vagharshapat (apparently the countries fourth largest city with around fifty thousand inhabitants), and despite it being the day everybody would be celebrating Xmas back home, here it was still several days distant, and the streets here were still found to sport the odd nativity scene.
Oddly decorated some were indeed, with cheap plush puppy toys (like the sort that were poorly made in China and back home would be part of a product recall due to their toxicity or something) and houses made of Styrofoam, their fake snow blending with the real thing and swirling around in the mornings light breeze.
We were headed for Zvartnots, the other cathedral/church that shared this UNESCO world heritage listing, where along the way we spied another place of worship in that distinctive Armenian style, surrounded by a wall with edges rounded over time, like something hundreds of years older.
In no hurry, we wandered into the grounds, not honestly expecting to be able to see more than just its exterior.
A gentle push on its large wooden door (they all seem to have them in these parts, likely older than the colonised history of Australia) and we were proven wrong.
There was no congregation in attendance, just us and some wafting incense, but it was a cool place to check out (apparently it is also part of the UNESCO listing, we just didn’t know this at the time).
We continued on, our way seeing us wander alongside the highway that actually was actually leading us back towards Yerevan.
There were at least some interesting sights along the way (we weren’t walking back to the capital, rather to the location of Zvartnots).
A combination of loose gravel and frozen ground saw us crunch our way onwards, eventually a grand entrance and large parking area (presently empty) signalling the need for us to turn away from the main road.
Despite there being a line of ticket windows, it came as little surprise that there was only one vendor (well in truth, it was a surprise there was anybody) actually present. We paid our entrance fee, plus a little extra to have permission to take photos, then entered the cathedral grounds… which we had completely and utterly to ourselves!
Believe it or not, even though this place no longer even had a roof, at the time of its completion it proudly soured as one of the tallest structures on the planet!
At one point standing around forty five to fifty metres tall, it must have once been quite the sight.
Today however, it barely resembles a building, and looks more like a more ornate version of Stonehenge.
There was a small museum to one side (where we saw a wooden model of how the cathedral is believed to have once looked), as well as the original version of an Armenian sundial (a moss covered re-creation sites beside the cathedral itself).
In its present condition, there was little more for us to see, so we bid farewell to Zvartnots, leaving the lady at the ticket window behind with her glass partition firmly shut.
Some time later, we’d managed to flag down a passing bus (it might not have been at the first attempt), and paid our way back to Yerevan.
* A shared taxi from Yerevan to Echmiatsin cost us 400.00 Dram each.
* Entrance into the Echmiatsin Cathedral was FREE, however there was a 1,500.00 Dram cover charge to visit the treasury museum.
* The ruins at Zvartnots will set you back 700.00 Dram per person for entrance alone, plus an additional 1,000.00 Dram for permission to take photos. We paid for the privilege to take pictures, however nobody even checked (nor was there anybody around to check) once we were in!
* A local bus for 250.00 Dram each took us back to Yerevan’s Kilikia bus station.