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Armenia: Zvartnots Cathedral

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Zvartnots Cathedral | Armenia | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

It was a hot afternoon - our last day in the country, when we drove back towards Yerevan. After paying the entrance fee, we walked the straight, wide lane leading to the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral, and despite the harsh light, we could easily see the snow-capped top of Mount Ararat that we had seen all day in the background. Ahead of us, the contours of Zvartnots Cathedral appeared, looking very small with the giant mountain with such strong religious significance in the background. It felt like arriving at the ruins of some ancient culture, but we knew that this cathedral was constructed in the mid-7th century by Catholicos Nerses III, also known as Nerses the Builder. The location was chosen because this is where Gregory the Illuminator supposedly met king Tiridat III here, the king who ended up converting Armenia to the first Christian nation on the planet.

Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Mount Ararat looming high over the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral

While the ruins, with their large chunks of black basalt, suggest a very sturdy structure, fact is that it was actually covered in earth at the beginning of the 20th century. Originally built to be the tallest church of the world at the time, and to last for 1,000 years until the return of Christ to the world, Zvartnots Cathedral has been only partially reconstructed. Walking around the circular platform with columns with decorated capitals, this certainly looks much different from all other religious places we had seen in Armenia, which are all square or rectangular. The original shape of Zvartnots Cathedral is debated, though; some argue the cathedral was a three-story building with a height of almost 50 metres.

Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Decorated basalt columns standing at the site of Zvartnots Cathedral

It is also claimed that Roman emperor Constantine II himself was present at the consecration of Zvartnots Cathedral, and ordered the architect to come to Constantinople to construct the Aya Sofia. Alas, we will probably never know what it looked like in its heyday; much less will we actually be able to see it for real. We have to do with the reconstructed sections as they are now, a roofless area with arches supported by richly decorated columns, around which can be found the excavated ruins of wells, the palace of Neres III, a winery, an obelisk, phallic sculptures, an ancient sundial, Roman baths, and more. Behind it all, a small but very interesting museum with a model of what Zvartnots Cathedral might have looked like. While we walked back, we turned around once more, and thought that the ruins and the mighty Ararat in the background actually make for a great sight.

Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): These columns and arches give an impression of what Zvartnots Cathedral used to look like
Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral: columns in a circle
Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Snow-capped Ararat seen through the arches of the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral
Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Columns made of black basalt at the recontructed part of the Zvartnots Cathedral
Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Circle of columns, the restored part of Zvartnots Cathedral
Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Rusa II stone with ancient script at the site of Zvartnots Cathedral
Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Finely carved column with cross in the restored section of Zvartnots Cathedral
Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Only part of the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral have been restored
Picture of Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenia): Detail of column with eagle at the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral

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