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The ancient country of Armenia lies on the southern slope of the Armenian Mountains in the Lesser Caucasus, bordered by Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran. Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is one of the oldest cities in the world, founded nearly 2800 years ago during the time of ancient Babylon.Armenia has a long and fascinating history. It is an ancient Christian kingdom with its own unique language, alphabet and culture. A small and mountainous country, Armenia offers great scenic variety and there are thousands of churches, monasteries and khatchkars (stone crosses erected for religious and symbolic purposes) to be found throughout the land.

In the ancient world Armenia was a major power in the Near East, often in conflict with Persia and Rome. In 301 AD, Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as the state religion, which has played a special role in the development of its history and culture. In 405 AD, the scholar Meshrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet which is still in use to this day. Throughout its history Armenia has alternated between periods of independence and subjection to its stronger neighbours, the Persians, Turks and Russians. Armenia was incorporated into Russia in 1828 and the USSR in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated exclave, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the exclave in 1988; the struggle escalated after Soviet Union in 199both countries attained independence from the 1. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution.

With its fresh mountain air, pure water and diverse flora and fauna, Armenia is a destination that will appeal as much to lovers of nature as those interested in historical sights.

Yerevan, which is nestled in the shadow of the snow-capped heights of the majestic mount Ararat, where the Biblical Noah's Ark first landed escaping the Great Flood, is the capital city of Armenia. With a population numbering over 1.2 million, Yerevan is a bustling city. The central plaza, Republic Square, is designed in the Armenian national style and houses the Government House, the Cabinet and other governmental offices as well as the Erebuni and Armenia hotels.
Also situated on Republic Square are the Armenian History Museum and the Art Gallery of Armenia. Here, one finds informative and interesting models and artifacts of ancient Urartu and Armenia. In the Art Gallery one finds a worthy section on Armenian art from the seventh century AD. Amongst the many other museums in the capital city, the two most interesting house museums are those of landscape artist Martiros Saryan (1880-1972) and twentieth century composer Aram Khatchaturyan.Yerevan is one of the oldest cities in the world. The earliest recorded settlement there dates back to 782 BC. King Argishty I founded a fortress city in the north-eastern part of present-day Yerevan, with the following cuneiform inscription, "With the majesty of God Khald, Argishty, son of Menua, built up this inaccessible castle and named it Erebuni..." You can still see relics from this part of our history at the Erebuni Museum in Yerevan.

Armenia's second city, Echmiadzin, was the capital from about 184 to 340 AD. It is a holy place for Armenians, owing to King Tiridates III's conversion to Christianity there in 300 AD. He had ordered a Christian virgin to be stoned to death, and subsequently went mad. A Christian prisoner named Gregory (later promoted to the title of Gregory the Illuminator) saved and converted him, and the whole country soon followed suit. Echmiadzin today is the site of the most important Orthodox cathedral, founded by the prisoner Gregory, on the site of a former pagan site of worship. It is also the spiritual home of the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Supreme Catholicos.

St Hripsime Church is a fine restored church built in 618, replacing an earlier chapel on the site where Saint Hripsime died. Reputedly one of the most beautiful buildings in its day, the Church of St Gregory (Tserkov Sv Grigoria) was built in 641-61, but it was destroyed during an earthquake in the 10th century and only excavated ruins remain on the site today. Look at the model in Yerevan's Armenian History Museum before you visit it. Take a bus 20km (12.5mi) west from Yerevan's bus station to get to Echmiadzin.

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