In the shadow of Mount Ararat (just across the border, in Turkey), Echmiadzin dates from the sixth century BC and was the capital of the country for almost two centuries. Today, Echmiadzin remains the spiritual capital of Armenia, as it is the home of the Supreme Catholicos, the spiritual leader of the Armenian Church. Start by visiting the Church of Hripsime and the Church St. Gayane, then head to the main cathedral (so you can save the best for last). The cathedral has a beautiful interior and contains an amazing array of apocryphal religious artifacts in the museum behind the altar, such as a thorn from Christ's crown, the lance that pierced his side and a piece of Noah's ark. Also in this museum is a door that leads a few steps down under the altar, with a well-preserved fire-worshipping pit over which the altar was built. The first church was built on this site in 301 AD. If you can, visit during a Mass (Armenian choral music is beautiful). 12 mi/20 km west of Yerevan.

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