Zvartnots Cathedral

Ruins in Vagharshapat

Catholicos Nerses II (known as 'the Builder') sponsored construction of the 'Celestial Angels Cathedral' in the 7th century. Destroyed in the 10th century, its evocative ruins now stand in a semi-industrial landscape near Zvartnots Airport and were included on Unesco's World Heritage List in 2000. It was originally dedicated to – and housed relics of – Surp Grigor Lusavorich (St Gregory the Illuminator), the first Catholicos of the Armenian Church. A model in the on-site museum shows what it may have originally looked like.

The ruins lay buried until the 20th century, when they were excavated and the cathedral was partially reconstructed in a polygonal form with plenty of columns supporting carved arches. There are plenty of interesting sculptural remnants surrounding the main structure – look out for the carved eagle capital in particular.

The recently opened museum in the southwest corner of the site displays artefacts found during the excavation. It also has a series of informative panels about medieval Armenian architecture. Entry is included in the overall ticket price.

Around the cathedral are the ruins of the palace of the Catholicos and the wine press and stone tanks of a massive medieval winery.

Zvartnots is on the Vagharshapat–Yerevan Hwy, near the delightfully named village of Ptghunk, 17km from Yerevan and 4km from Echmiadzin. To get here, take bus 111 (AMD200, 30 minutes) from Yerevan's Kilikiya Avtokayan and look out for a pillar topped with an eagle on the left-hand side of the highway. This was created by noted Armenian sculptor Ervand Kochar and marks the entrance to the site.