Echmiadzin

{ech-mee-uh-dzeen′}

Echmiadzin (Yejmiadzin, Ejmiatsin), officially called Vagarshapat, is a town in the Araks River valley of west central Armenia. It has a population of 56,500 (2005 est.). Echmiadzin produces plastics, building materials, foodstuffs, and wine. The site of defense facilities, it also manufactures military components. The town was the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia from the 2d to the 4th century and has been the seat of the Armenian church since the 2d century, when the country adopted Christianity.

The Echmiadzin Cathedral, established by Saint Gregory the Illuminator in 303, is now enclosed within a walled monastery. This has been the residence of the church's patriarch (katholikos) since 1441. Also in Echmiadzin are the Gayan Cathedral and Ripsin Church, both dating from the 7th century and both extensively rebuilt. Nearby is Zvartnots (Cathedral of the Angels), a complex of ecclesiastical ruins dating from the same period. The churches of Echmiadzin and the archaeological site of Zvartnots, which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, are prime examples of Armenian ecclesiastical architecture. Both had a strong influence on the country's later architectural development.

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