Echmiadzin. Church spires rise here against the backdrop of the most fertile valley in Armenia and the crest of Mount Ararat. Some of the first Bronze and Iron era civilizations of the ancient world are recorded here in archaeological ruins alongside modern sculpture collections and medieval religious architectural masterpieces. Possibly the most visited city by both pilgrims and tourists, Echmiadzin in eastern Armenia is said to be the holiest city in the country; the "Vatican of Armenia". Twenty kilometers west of the capital city Yerevan, it is the seat of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The first church was built on the site of a pagan temple, ruins of which are under the altar. Constructed in the 4th century it is said to be on the spot where St. Gregory the Illuminator dreamt that Jesus descended from heaven to show him where the church should be. The main entrance to the cathedral is intricately carved, the interior walls and domes painted with geometric shapes and the treasury holds an incredible collection of Christian relics. On the grounds can be found beautiful khachkars, or carved cross stones. Near the cathedral is the Gate of Saint Tiridates into the Armenian patriarch's palace complex and the Alex and Marie Manoogian Museum. Besides the cathedral, the first Christian women martyrs under Roman rule are honored with their own churches: Saint Gayane and Saint Hripsime from the 600s. Along with the church of Saint Shoghakat from the 1700s, all are in an incredible state of preservation. The cathedral and churches of Echmiadzin are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites, as is the nearby archaeological site of Zvartnots. A 7th century cathedral that was famous for its circular design, but destroyed by an earthquake in 980 AD, Zvartnots was destroyed by an earthquake in 930 A.D. and lost to history until its discovery in the early 20th century. All of Echmiadzin's major sights are within walking distance of Komitas Square, but you'll need more than just a day to take in all this city has to offer. Visit this Old World city of mystery and religion, the Cradle of Armenian Civilization.