Founded in 301 by St. Gregory the Illuminator and rebuilt and added to for over 1,700 years, Echmiadzin now is the heart of the Armenian Church, and seat of the Catholicos of all Armenians. The altar is built over an ancient pagan fire worshiping pit (accessible from the museum behind the altar), the inside has interesting frescoes, altar, lamps, and thrones. The intricate bell tower entrance is an addition from the 1800s, and the surrounding grounds have gardens with examples of khachkars from throughout Armenia and further. Near the new entrance gates are a few exquisite khachkar examples from Jugha (now in Azerbaijan) - which had by far the largest khachkar collection in the world. The thousands of khachkars which remained there were destroyed during this decade by the Azeri government. In autumn 2018 the cathedral interior is a building site, though services continue - this work will probably drag on into 2019. The Treasury is unaffected and well-worth seeing, though the star exhibit, the Roman Geghard or "Spear used at the Cross", is on loan to NY Met Museum until mid-Feb 2019.