The buildings here have been repeatedly rebuilt since the 6th century. Legend tells us that the pagan King Trdat III imprisoned St Gregory the Illuminator (Surp Grigor Lusavorich) here for around 12 years. These days, pilgrims queue to climb down a metal ladder into the well where the saint was incarcerated. To join them, wear sturdy shoes and head to the small church in the compound's southwestern corner (the well is to the right of the altar).
After his cruel treatment of the saint, the king was cursed by madness (or, in a more colourful version of the tale, cursed by sprouting the head of a boar) and was miraculously cured by St Gregory. Historians contend that Trdat may have switched allegiances to tap into the strength of Armenia’s growing Christian community in the face of Roman aggression. In any case, the king converted to Christianity and St Gregory became the first Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He set about building churches on top of pagan temples and teaching the faith.
The main Surp Astvatsatsin Church dates from the 17th century. Look for the carving of the saint curing the possessed King Trdat on its eastern facade, facing visitors as they enter the compound.
Just outside the monastery walls are some excavations on the site of Artashat, Trdat’s capital, founded in the 2nd century BC.
The monastery is on a hillock close to the Araks River, overlooking river pastures, stork nests and vineyards. It's reached via a 4.5km road off the main highway, which passes through Pokr Vedi (sometimes also called Khor Virap).