Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as a national religion back in 301 AD, making it the oldest Christian nation in the world. Adding to the religious significance of this region is the resting place of Noah’s Ark, which is in the Ararat mountains. One of the best ways to gain an appreciation for the Christian influence in Yerevan is to take a Monastery Tour. During the warmer months group tours run throughout the week, but since I was visiting in the winter the only option available was to rent a private driver through Hyur Tours. Since I was traveling with a friend this was still very affordable ($20 per person). The Monastery Tour took us to several of the oldest and most well known monasteries in and around Yerevan and thankfully we had a warm car to drive us around because we chose a snowy cold day.
Built in 618 AD, Saint Hripsime Church was built on the site of the martyred Saint Hripsme. When she refused to marry the Roman emperor Diocletian, she was toturted and martyred. There is a small room to the side of the alter that houses her tombstone, along with stones supposedly used to kill her. The traditional Armenian architeture is especially striking since this church stands alone. The staff is welcoming and friendly but don’t speak any English so we were unable to get a lot of information about the church. There is a small giftshop with various souvenirs and some interesting texts.
Built 630 AD, Saint Gayane Church is built for another martyred saint, Saint Gayane. The church is hidden behind surrounding buildings and includes an expansive graveyard. This was especially ominous since the above ground tombs were covered with a light layer of snow.
Zvartnots Cathedral was built during the 7th century only to collapse in the 10th. According to the informational plaque written by The Agency for Conservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments, the church collapsed “either by an earthquake or the Arabs.” Even though the truth may never be told, Zvartnots is a truly amazing place to explore and the highlight of the tour. You are able to wander around the ruins freely, walking pathways created by the partially remaining walls.