Khor Virap Monastery


Located 32km south of Yerevan at the foot of Mt Ararat, Khor Virap has been repeatedly rebuilt since the 5th century. Legend says the pagan King Trdat III imprisoned St Gregory the Illuminator (Surp Grigor Lusavorich) here for 12 years. These days, pilgrims 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 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 to roam the forest with the behaviour of a wild 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 at the border with Turkey and overlooks river pastures, stork nests and vineyards. Mt Ararat towers above and is visible even on a hazy day. There are stalls below selling drinks and snacks.

Khor Virap is reached via a 4km road off the main highway, which passes through Pokr Vedi (sometimes also called Khor Virap). Marshrutky bound for Ararat village depart from Yerevan at the Sasuntsi David metro stop on Sevan St at 9am, 11am, and 2pm (AMD400, 40 minutes). Ask to be let off at Khor Virap, but if the driver is only willing to stop at Pokr Vedi, you'll need to walk or hitch a lift the rest of the way.

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