We made overnight in the 4th-largest city in Armenia, Vagharshapat (known as Etchmiadzin), located on the plain of the Aras River about 18 km west of the capital Yerevan. It is the seat of the primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is the place where Surp Grigor Lusavorich saw a beam of light in a divine vision and where he built the first Mother Church of Armenia. Etchmiadzin originated in the 7th century BC as the town of Vardkesavan and was renamed Vagharshapat in about 140 when the Parthian king Vologases III made it his capital. Upon the conversion of Armenia to Christianity in about 300, Vagharshapat became the residence of the Armenian patriarch. In 344, the town ceased to be the Armenian capital, and in 453, the patriarchal seat was removed elsewhere. Still, in 1441 the catholicos Kirakos returned the seat to Vagharshapat, which remained the home of the “catholicos of all Armenians.” The main cathedral, Mayr Tachar, stands in a quadrangle of hedges and lawns surrounded by 19th-century buildings. The original Church was consecrated between AD 301 and 303 when the Armenian nation first adopted Christianity, but later fell into ruin and was rebuilt in 480–83. More work and expansion occurred in the 600s, the 1600s, and 1700s, and significant interior restoration was being undertaken recently. The three-tiered bell tower at the entrance of the Church is richly carved and dates from 1654. The grounds include the Palace of the Catholicos, the home of the present Catholicos, Karekin II, who was crowned in 1999. He is the supreme prelate of the 1700-year-old Armenian Apostolic faith. The Cathedral Museum (🎫1500 AMD) contains precious items obtained by the Church. The gardens of Mayr Tachar have a 1915–23 Genocide Monument and many fine khachkars assembled from around the country. There are also several contemporary churches, seminaries, and libraries in the compound, the most notable of which is the Holy Archangels Church next to the main gate. This was designed by Jim Torosyan and consecrated in 2011.

Parking location – Vagharshapat: 40.160427N 44.294372E