The remains of Zvarnots tell the story of a temple that defied the laws of gravity and which, at some point, surpassed the Etchmiadzin Cathedral in greatness.
According to Toros Tomaranyan, who was the person who mapped the ruins in 1905, “the building consisted of three polyhedrons, one inside another, which were decreasing in diameter and height and which were crowned by a cone-shaped dome which reached 45 meters high (147 feet)”.
That would be the equivalent of a modern 15-story building. Given that the construction is from the 7th century, the challenge they faced was huge.
The centre was occupied by a circular pool for christenings. It is said that the design pleased the Byzantine emperor so much that he wanted to take the architect to Constantinople, but he never reached his destination because he died on the way.
If you want to see a 3D reconstruction of how the Zvartnots Temple used to be, click on this link.
The current ruins were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2000. However, we were not overly excited by the visit. Of course, if it is a good and clear day, the views of the Ararat are impressive and the panoramic surroundings are unforgettable. The temple was built in the seventh century in the place where they say Gregory the Illuminator was buried.
It has such an advanced design for the time and such was its height that, three centuries later, its structure could not withstand the tremor of a strong earthquake. Some of its columns, a small arcade, and some of the huge blocks that were used for its construction are the only structures that remained.
Next to it are also the ruins of the old palace of the Catolicós and the remains of a winery that supplied the residents. The complex has a small museum where you can learn more about Zvartnots. Near its entrance, there is a huge stone plaque of the seventh century with a text in cuneiform writing that reads as follows: “If someone dares to move this stele, to submerge it, bury it or order someone to destroy it, may a curse fall upon him”.
Opening Hours: from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Price: 700 AMD.
Where to Eat?
Medium Price Restaurant
Tteni Tavern (Manushyan Poghots Street, Vagharshapat)
The Tteni restaurant is the perfect place to eat if you are out around Zvartnots. It is a typical Armenian place, well kept, with a nice garden. and wide outdoor spaces. It is right next to the Zvartnots temple.
They have the typical Armenian oven (tonir) where they make lavash in the traditional way. The khorovats are exquisite and the embers are made with charcoal or vine shoots. The restaurant offers typical regional food at very reasonable prices.
Zvartnots is three miles from the Etchmiadzin Cathedral and 9 miles west of Yerevan, next to the Vagharshapat-Yerevan highway. The best way to get there by public transport is to take the marshrutka that leaves from the Kilikia bus station. You should tell the driver to stop when you are near Zvartnots.
The return journey is easier. Stop any minibus or taxi that is heading towards the capital. We have not been able to find out if there is any marshrutka between the cathedral of Etchmiadzin and Zvartnots. However, it is easy enough to take a taxi. And they should not charge you more than 2000-2500 AMD since the route by car is longer than walking.
Normally the visit to Etchmiadzin and Zvartnots is done on the same day. Do stop by at the restaurant mentioned above. It is a good place where you can replenish your energies.