Khor Virap Monastery
Date of foundation:
Khor Virap Monastery is an important religious site mainly related to the adoption of Christianity, but it is also one of the best (if not the best) locations to capture Mount Ararat in its greatness! Keep your camera with you and hope for sunny weather to get the perfect shot. Because of these two characteristics, Khor Virap has become a popular tourism destination.
Armenians converted to Christianity in 301 AD, thanks to Gregory the Illuminator. He was the advisor to pagan King Tiridates III, and initially, the king imprisoned him due to his Christian faith. The dungeon where Gregory was jailed for 13 years is currently on the premises of Khor Virap Monastery. When he was released, and Armenians adopted Christianity, the site of Khor Virap gained significant religious importance. No wonder it is now one of Armenia's most visited pilgrimage sites!
Khor Virap means deep dungeon, referring to the church lore where Gregory the Illuminator was kept after professing his Christian faith.
You will need approximately 40 minutes to reach Khor Virap from Yerevan, depending on the traffic. Take a public bus to Artashat city or Pokr Vedi Village, get off at the junction, and walk for around 20 minutes until you reach the monastery. Renting a car or joining a group tour are two other convenient options.
Tip for planning the trip: A visit to Khor Virap Monastery is an integral point when traveling to other southern sightseeing places, such as Noravank, Jermuk, or Tatev. But if you are in a hurry or want a short drive, you can combine it with the visit to the Holy Mother See of Etchmiadzin and enjoy two of the most important religious sites in Armenia.
The monastery is located in the Ararat Valley in Ararat province, near the border. It is within the territory of an ancient city called Artaxiata – an important archaeological site and state reserve.
Look to your left on the way to Pokr Vedi village; the silhouette of Khor Virap Monastery will appear in front of you. In 10 minutes, you'll get another great shot! On a sunny morning, the beautiful Khor Virap complex will blend in with the biblical mountain in the background. Make sure you ask the driver to stop nearby so you can photograph the breathtaking view.
Take another 5-minute walk to get in front of the 17th-century fortress walls of Khor Virap. As you enter through the gates, you will see the main St. Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) church standing from the 17th century. Interestingly, before the adoption of Christianity, a pagan temple once stood in the place of the church. As you walk forward, you can see a sundial on the southern wall of the main church. Adjacent to the church from the western wall stands the bell tower built of black-stone. You will notice that the church and the bell tower were recently renovated, and the complex is well-taken care of.
Other interesting structures in the complex include the cells for the monks, auxiliary buildings, the St. Gevorg chapel, and the underground cells, one of which is where Gregory the Illuminator spent 13 years of his life. The St. Gevorg chapel was built in the 17th century, but in 642 AD Armenian, Catholicos Nerses built a round-shaped chapel that did not survive to the present day.
As you enter the chapel, make your way to the altar. A stairway to the right of it leads down to the pit where Gregory was kept. It has a depth of about 6 meters. Another small cell has survived to the present day.
After exploring the monastic complex, walk towards the northern exit, turn left, and walk up the hill to the Armenian flag. Before you leave, take in the breathtaking views of the monastery, Mount Ararat, and the entire valley. This breathtaking scenery will be the highlight of your visit to Khor Virap Monastery.