Friday, July 7, 2017

[ARMAVIR] The Oldest Churches in the World

The original plan for Yerevan was simple: Chill for three days. Go out in the morning and the evening for a stroll. Simple! And then I did some research and found out that there are many day trips you can do from Yerevan, and the destinations are not even that far. The Etchmiadzin/Zvartnots combo is an hour west in the province of Armavir. The Garni/Geghard combo is an hour east in the province of Kotayk. Suddenly I had a jam packed itinerary far from the vicinity of the word CHILL.

My first day in Yerevan was reserved for recuperation. Midnight flights are a bitch. Technically, mine wasn’t even a midnight flight. Well, it did leave Moscow at midnight but we landed in Armenia at six in the morning. I was a zombie, and all I wanted to do was snooze. There was no drama at the immigration counter. The guy just wanted to see the printout of my eVisa, which I presented right away. The taxi stuck to the AMD6,000 (~PHP600) fixed rate to the city center. The next thing I knew, I was fast asleep.

The next day started at 11:30 AM. After breakfast, I headed out to find the stop for buses 1, 2, and 3 which are all supposed to go to Zvartnots Cathedral, at least according to the website I checked. Lesson learned: Buses 1, 2, and 3 are NOT Trams 1, 2, and 3. I guess I got too excited and hopped on Tram 1, which cost a mere AMD50 (~PHP5). After it became clear, according to Google Maps, that this was the wrong mode of transpo, I transferred to Tram 2 which apparently was also the wrong one. FML, right?

In the end I just wasted two hours going in circles around Yerevan. Hooray me. Defeated, I flagged a taxi and arrived at Zvartnots after 20 minutes. The damage was AMD4,000 (~PHP400) which wasn’t a bad price to pay for stupidity. The entrance fee to the ruins is AMD1,000 (~PHP100), which is not that steep either considering that the place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even so, the attraction is still but a bunch of columns and rocks to the uninformed. I was uninformed.

At least there is an info board at the entrance with trivia in different languages. I found out that the cathedral in question was constructed back in 600 AD, which makes it quite ancient in my book. It turns out that the cathedral itself didn’t withstand the test of time. Ah shit, why am I stating the obvious. Ruins? Duh? It collapsed in the 10th century as per historians. What you see today is said to be just a reconstruction of the columns, although the materials were excavated from the original site.

There are labels posted on the walls as to what the area used to be, but the columns are the main attraction for most tourists. You can view some reconstructed images of the cathedral itself on the internet, but on the site itself it’s just you and your imagination. And since we already saw similar ruins before, I couldn’t help but get a bit underwhelmed. Sorry, I guess I just expected too much. Unless you have special archaeological interests, the site will not keep you busy for over 30 minutes.

I crossed the road and hopped on a mini van numbered 203. I cannot find Bus 111 indicated on my online source so I took a chance with this one. I asked the driver “ETCHMIADZIN”? He replied affirmatively and in less than half an hour we were already parking outside the church’s premises. The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin is the seat of Armenia’s head of the church. The cathedral itself has the distinction of being the oldest built by a state worldwide. It was constructed between 301 and 303 AD.

The compound has several interesting sites worthy of a photo-op. As for the cathedral itself, it is under construction, which meant no exterior photos for yours truly. I mean, I did get a shot or two but they seem worthless because all you can see is the scaffolding. Videos and photos are not supposed to be allowed inside, but as usual, nobody really gives a damn. And so I just took a quick video and some pictures of the interior, which is big on frescoes and patterns but not much on religious personalities.

I’ve been stalking churches for a week now. It’s getting boring, to be honest. I mean, I appreciate the grandeur and the sociological aspect of it, on how religion has such a huge impact on human beings since time immemorial. How else would you explain how almost all of the great architectural wonders that remind us of the past are all venues for religious worship? Some things don’t change, but at least we get to marvel at these jaw-dropping visual reminders from time to time.

[ARMAVIR] The Oldest Churches in the World

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