Day 8: Echmiatsin in Armenian (Echmiadzin)

Continue reading: →Day 9: Yerevan → Tbilisi

In Echmiadzin
Echmiadzin, centre of the
Armenian-Apostolic branch
It's already two days that we are Yerevan, but except for some nocturnal walks we haven't seen much of the itself. This needs to be changed. However, before spending several hours in the capital, we are heading to Echmiadzin, the religious centre of Armenia. The night before we noticed, that we have everything but enough time to explore the small country country. There are numerous interesting places around Yerevan and of course in remote areas of Armenia. Due to our lack of time, we cannot see Nagorno Karabakh. And we have to choose between the temples of Garni, the fortress of Geghard and Echmiadzin. Anait has told me, that all of these places are a must-see. We have to skip two of them so that we would have enough time for Yerevan. To get to Echmiadzin, it's not necessary to go to the bus terminal. Old buses start from the city centre and run along a surprisingly good road. Actually it's the first road in that region without large holes. Halfway, you can see the International Airport of the country on the left side. Not just along this road but also elsewhere, countless "vulcanizers" can be seen. They also offer simple car repair. A phenomenon, which is not limited to Armenia - this can be seen in many other poor countries. Since almost all cars are rather old and new tyres unaffordable, many people try to make their living on tyre and car repair. But the garages sometimes seem to outnumber the cars, so competition is fierce.

Echmiadzin is a rather small town with plenty of space and an important historical background. From 180 to 340 AD, the place was known as Vagharshapat. Highly important not just for the town but for the entire nation was the year 303, when Armenia declared Christianity its state religion - as the first country in the world. The legend connected to this event is quite unusual. King Trdates III ordered that the Christian virgin Hripsime should be stoned to death, because she had refused to marry the king. Eversince, the king had got a problem - he thought that he is a pig. Only one person was able to help him. That was the imprisoned christian Gregorius, who was already trapped for around twelve years in a dungeon. He cured the king, who expressed is gratitude by converting himself and the entire nation to Christianity.

Echmiadzin
Modern entrance to a
very old church in Echmiadzin

Meanwhile, Gregorius had a vision of Jesus Christ showing him where to build a church. He also received the title "Gregorius the Enlighted". At the same time, the town was renamed into "Echmiadzin", which means something like "parturition of the one and only conceived". Before Armenians converted to christianity, the animistic pagan cult was widespread - as in other nations around the region as well. To avoid the return to paganism, the first church of Echmiadzin was conveniently built atop an old pagan shrine. But the shrine was not entirely destroyed, remainings of it can still be seen. Since christianity was introduced in Armenia, Echmiadzin was a holy place and the spiritual centre of the country. A country full of religious places. And Armenian churches are not limited to the present-day country. There are some important churches left in Turkey, with a handful of them concentrating in Ani near Kars, which is just a few kilometers behind the border. Since there's a large Armenian diaspora, Armenian churches can be found in many countries (see also pictures of Armenian churches in →Tallinn (Estonia) and →L'vov (L'viv)).

We decide to go to the church to see what an Armenian church is like. And it's quite a surprise. Coincidentally, there is a service inside. and the way the service is celebrated is amazing. A male choir on the left, a female choir on the right, and all of them wearing beautiful traditional clothes. The ritual in front of the altar is not less impressive - obviously, members of the church performed roleplays taken from the bible and the nation's historu. And so, priests in various colourful garments as well as monks wearing pitch-black robes, resembling the infamous Spanish inquisition, dominate the scene. Additionally, the air is thick with fumes of incense. Many visitors are kneeling on the stone floor fervently praying. What an impressive atmosphere. We feel like being transfered to medieval times. It looks like the re-christianisation after the disintegration of the rather atheistic Soviet Union was successful - in Armenia as well as in Georgia we noticed that almost everyone crosses oneself when passing a church or a priest. There's a souvenir shop in Echmiadzin - and even tourists inside! After a few hours we take the bus back to Yerevan's city centre to finally see the town during the daylight.

Yerevan City Map (selfmade)
Yerevan City Map

Yerevan, also known as Jerevan, Eriwan or Erebuni (named after an old fortress) has around 1.1 million inhabitants, which means that it's by far the biggest city of Armenia. The town dates back to the 8th century BC. Yerevan covers a pocket of the Urartian plateau and is surrounded by hills and gorges on three sides. This offered protection, and together with the fact that present-day Yerevan was a crossing point of several trading routes, it favoured Yerevan's developent as an important city.

Many merchants passed the city on their way from Asia to Europe and vice versa. The town changed hands not just once. In 1828, the Russians took over from the Persians. Around the year 1920, the architect Alexander Tamanian remodelled the city centre. I'm not a fan of remodelled old city centres, but personally spoken, Tamanian deserves a prize. The centre has a clear structure, there's a lot of green and everything is easy to naviagte. As a matter of fact, there are not many historic sites in the city, but it's a convenient and beautiful place to be. Definitely not worth a prize is the Great Cascade. The reason for this megalomaniac and and nowadays partially broken orgy of concrete was the 50th anniversary of introducing Soviet Socialism to Armenia. Water is supposed to run down the giant stairs, but due to an enduring lack of water, the flow was stopped once and forever during the 1990ies. Today, the structure is in ruins. All in all, Yerevan is a very modern and cosmopolitan city and a great place to spend a couple of days or even to live in.

Now we are back to the city centre and look for something to eat first. After a small meal in a street café we go to the market hall at Mashtots Ave. This market is exlusively for food. It's not limited to meat and vegetables - there are also hundreds of types of local sweets, some of them mouth-watering, and merchants specializing in herbs and spices. Markets are always interesting, but in some countries shopkeepers can be very annoying when they see a traveler. Not in Yerevan. They offer us to try some of their delicacies. And they are really good. If I would fly home the next day, I'm pretty sure that I would buy a couple of things. But we have a long way to go and cannot take something with us. It's a pity, but the merchants are not disappointed at all when we try something without buying it.

Market Hall in Yerevan
Herbs & Spices in the market hall of Yerevan
During our long walk through the city we discover the main post office, where we can finally get rid of all our post cards. € 0.5 for an international postcard is not too expensive. We also have a look at one of many groceries. A bottle of the famouse Armenian cognac shall be a fine souvenir. It's a little known fact that even Charles de Gaulle let the Armenian cognac import regularly - for his own pleasure. I can understand him. It's an excellent drink, but even in Armenia it's not a bargain - a 0.5 l bottle of 10 years old cognac costs around € 10. After exploring the entire old city centre, we move to the Genocide Memorial. Since it's boring to simply follow a road, we choose a rather adventurous way through the deep and dry gorge. Halfway we pass the quite modern stadium of Yerevan. Not far from the stadium there's a huge market full of clothes, fridges, VCR's, plastic lighters and more - almost all of it made in China. Another stop on the modern silk road between China and Europe. Not far from the market, on the top of a hill overlooking the city, we finally find the Genocide Memorial.

The memorial consists of a big obelisk, which can be seen from everywhere around, and an open structure with several segments, representing the lost provinces of Armenia, with an eternal flame inside (for an image of the monument see →History of Armenia). The memorial is surrounded by a memorial park with countless commemorative plaques, honouring the visits of worldwide famous politicians. The genocide, which happened during the transitional period from crumbling Ottoman empire to modern Turkey, is still a hot issue and a national trauma of Armenia. The debate whether it should be called a Genocide or not, and the fact that Turkey keeps on denying everything related to the massacre, leaves a bitter after-taste. Coming to terms with the past is heavily required in that area.

We walk some hundred meters further away from the monument and discover a strange-looking, huge building. This turns out to be the Palace of Culture. It's an interesting but unfortunately crumbling example of modern Soviet architecture. Many of the dusty windows are broken, the doors are locked with planks and chains and parts of the facing are missing. I'm pretty sure that the building is abandoned, but later in the evening Anait will tell me that there are still concerts and other events taking place inside.

Republic Square
Republic Square in the centre of Yerevan

At seven in the evening we have an appointment with our nervous Armenian friend we met two days ago. That's why we go back to our accommodation at around six to relax a few minutes before going out again. We don't have much time for that, because he already turns up before half past six. As I soon find out, he studies history and is highly interested in the history of Europe and the Far East. He's trying hard to talk in English all the time. But somehow he's weird. I decide to test him a little bit and ask him for the name of the first German emperor. Indeed, he knows the name. After a while we start talking about Germany. Before, he understood "German emperor". Now he doesn't have a clue what the word "Germany" means.

"Germany!"
"What?"
"Germany! German country!!!"
"Sorry, I no understand! Little English!" ...Say what! And so I say the name in Russian.
"Germaniya!"
"Aaah, Germaniya! That's Germany in English, right!?"

and so on and so forth. Selective knowledge so to say. At around seven we go out and walk up the cascade - a nightmare in concrete and in ruins.

After a while we enter an amusement park. Parks like this can be found everywhere around the former Soviet Union. Somewhere we buy some ice-cream. In an instant, our friend throws away the cellophane into the next bush. I tell him that this won't make the park look better - the bush would certainly look better without all the wrapping. With a smile in his face, he replies "Well, we Armenians do not really care about the environment". At least he's aware of that...

Little later, we stand in front of "Mother Armenia" - a giant monument. In contradiction to "Mother Georgia" (see →Day 5: Tbilisi), all she has in her hand is a sword. No wine. I prefer Mother Georgia. And the monument is surrounded by loads of war equipment. By the way, Mother Georgia's and Mother Armenia's sister can be found in →Kyiv (Ukraine), last picture.

It starts to rain and we are hungry. He leads us to a simple restaurant. The young waitresses seem to be pretty interested in us and start asking about this and that. Obviously, our friend very much enjoys the attention. He doesn't let me answer directly - althoug I get the questions. Could it be that he brought us here to show off!? It's only a faint idea, but... Our dinner is something typical Armenian and also a pizza, the latter is extraordinarely bad. Needless to say that we want to pay his dinner, as well. For him, this seems to be clear as day. He doesn't even say "thanks" or something. After the not really satisfying dinner, we walk back to our apartment. Halfway, we get short and strict commands when we cross streets etc: "Now go!"..."Stop, stop!"..."Come here! Quick!". Now I'm really annoyed, and all I want to do is getting rid of him. At a kiosk, I want to buy a bottle of wine for Anait to thank her for the good time we had. The most expensive one costs € 3, which is of course comparetively expensive. Our friend doesn't know anything about wine, and still he's trying to assist us. "Who's that for anyway" he asks, and I tell him that it's for Anait. "I see, for a woman. In that case, the cheapest one will do, right!?" ••• I'm very happy when we finally arrive our apartment. Yes, our Armenian is friendly. But very weird and very annoying. I'm pretty sure that Armenians think the same of him.

Unfortunately this is our last night in Armenia. Way too short. Again, I'm talking with Anait about many different things for hours, and I agree that we would have to come again to Armenia.

Continue reading: →Day 9: Yerevan → Tbilisi

 

 

  • Bus No. 111 goes straight to Echmiadzin. One of the bus stops is on the corner of Mashtots Ave and Lusavorich St, the fare is 220 Dram. It takes less than one hour. Of course, there are also marshrutkas.
  • The Genocide Memorial is quite far away from the city centre, so it takes a while to walk there. There are also marshrutkas running from the opera to the memorial. Among them is marshrutka No 70.

 

 

  • I'm not sure if there are any hotels in Echmiadzin. Yerevan is nearby, so I guess that most visitors are day-trippers. For accommodation in Yerevan see Day 6: Yerevan.

 

 

 

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