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Khor Virap Monastery

Khor Virap Monastery

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Khor Virap

Armenia has no access to the sea, and this might be a killjoy for many people, but Armenia has its blue pearl, which is a treasure Armenians will never trade for anything. That pearl is Lake Sevan. This lake is the pride of the Armenian people and it’s where almost all Armenians head to, to spend their memorable summer vacations. Every Armenian has at least once been there since it’s the one and only and when there is little of something people as a rule, always appreciate and treasure it.

As you look at the lake it seems as if you are delving into an eternity where no one is there but you and where every piece of you seems to be concentrated on the lake, while the magic of the lake takes you beyond boundaries you might have never been before it’s your own world in which only you are soaring with your own thoughts and it seems to be fully harmonized with the sounds of the lake’s transparent water and the breeze blowing on your face and the beautiful nature around. In brief, the lake is awesome and amazingly cool.

Khor Virap

For Armenians, the Khor Virap Monastery Choir is one of the most important religious and cultural sites in the country. The monastery, which was also visited by Pope Francis in 2016, is located only about 40 kilometers south of Yerevan, making it a must for tourists in Armenia.

Not only the monastery complex itself but also the surrounding nature and the view of the holy mountain Ararat make a visit to Khor Virap a unique experience. The summit of Ararat, where Noah's Ark is said to have once been stranded, is often veiled by clouds. But if you are lucky, there is hardly a better place to admire the mystical 5飡 meter high mountain. Although the Ararat is now on Turkish territory (the border runs within sight of the monastery), the five-thousand-meter peak has remained a national symbol of the Armenians to this day.

Legend of the «deep dungeon»

Like Ararat, the monastery Khor Virap is a special place for the locals. Translated Khor Virap means «deep dungeon». And at the latest when one descends within the monastery complex through one of two holes in the ground and over a long ladder into the underground prison, one realizes why the monastery is called so. St. Gregory is said to have been imprisoned in these cave cells by King Trdat III for 13 years towards the end of the 3rd century in order to dissuade him from his Christian faith. Whether it is really the underground dungeon where Khor Virap stands today, or whether it happened in another nearby cave, nobody knows with one hundred percent certainty.

Neither imprisonment nor torture could harm Gregor. And so King Trdat III, who was meanwhile suffering from an incurable skin disease, released him after 13 years because he hoped to be cured by the unbending Gregor. But not only that: in 301 the king decided that the Armenians should be the first people in the world to officially adopt Christianity as the state religion.

Other buildings worth seeing in the Virap Monastery are St. George's Chapel, built-in 642 and subsequently restored several times, and the Church of Our Lady, built in the 17th century.

Khor Virap private tours

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Khor Virap Monastery

In Armenia, there are several large cultural sites that once had an important role. One of these attractions is the Khor Virap Monastery, which played a dramatic role in the history of the adoption of Christianity in Armenia.

The monastery complex Khor Virap is located in the Ararat region, 40 km from Yerevan. Khor Virap is located near the historical city of Artashat, which was founded by King Artashes 1 in 180 BC. After the capital moved to Dvin, Khor Virap remained a prison (Virap is translated as a pit). The pits were filled with snakes and insects the prisoners were left in pits do die.

The role of Khor Virap became a crucial moment for Armenia, when King Trdat 3 learned that a certain Grigor teached Christianity on his land, and jailed him in Khor Virap. Grigor spent 13 years in the pit. While Grigor was imprisoned, Trdat persecuted Christians. According to legend, the cruel king falls in love with the young girl Hripsime, who rejects him, after which Trdat becomes demented. The healers were powerless against his disease. At this time, the king’s sister has a dream telling that only Grigor can save the king. Grigor saves the king by curing him, after which the king adops Christianity and in 301 proclaims Armenia an Orthodox country.

In 642, a chapel was built over the dungeon, which resembled the temple of Zvartnots. Later the chapel was destroyed. The church was rebuilt in 1661 and restored after the earthquake in 1879. The pit in which Grigor the Illuminator lived for as long as 13 years is located in the chapel. The depth of the pit is 6 meters, a steep staircase leads to the pit with 25 steps.

The monastery complex also includes the Church of the Holy Virgin of the 17th century. The monastery complex is surrounded by a fortification wall. The complex also includes cells, cribs, guest houses and other buildings. On the territory of the monastery there is a grave with the relics of Grigor the Illuminator and Nerses the Builder, who built the first chapel on the place of the prison.

The monastery is built on a high hill, where the most beautiful view of the holy mountain Ararat opens. At a distance of a kilometer from the monastery there is the border of the Republic, Turkey is on the other side of the border.

Every year in the monastery complex of Khor Virap the liberation of Grigor the Illuminator is celebrated as a religious holiday. For the New Year the fire lit in Khor Virap is taken to the Cathedral of Grigor Lusavorich in Yerevan.

Khor Virap is one of the most popular sights and thousands of tourists visit it every year.

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As a Turkish traveler, I visited perhaps the most significant Armenian Orthodox Monastery in Armenia. Having been located 45 km away from Yerevan and a couple of hundred meters from the Turkish border, Khor Virap was one of the most breathtaking sites I have ever been to!

Khor Virap is one of the most popular spots in Armenia. Two prime reasons behind its popularity are its location and religious significance. The Monastery is located a couple of hundred meters away from the Turkish-Armenian border right near Mount Ararat, it is so close that you can easily discern Turkish soldiers and homes in Turkish soil.

As you might think, the view is… SPECTACULAR. However, what really makes Khor Virap quite prominent is a religious-historical Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the saint who is known to be the first Armenian Saint who converted to Christianity and made Armenia the first Christian nation in history, was presumed to be imprisoned in the dungeons of Khor Virap for 13 years.

  • Khor Virap is one of the holiest sites in Armenia and it represents vital importance for the nation. Moreover, Surp Astvatsatsin Church is an active place of worship. As a result, during your visit, dressing moderately is suggested.
  • Getting there early is important to avert crowds and being able to take pictures and walk around comfortably.
  • Take a tour to Khor Virap and combine your visit with different touristic spots.
  • The village of Lusarat near Khor Virap has some shops where you can get food and water.
  • Even though the tunnel is very narrow, visit the underground pit where Saint George the Illimunator had been imprisoned for 13 years.
  • Some locals will approach you and will offer you to release doves for a small fee. They will tell that this is a spiritual practice and doves are hoped to fly to Mount Ararat. It is not a scam however, some see this as animal cruelty.

Today, aside from its touristic purpose, Khor Virap is a common spot for traditional Armenian weddings, baptize ceremonies and pilgrimage. Upon visiting here, you might as well see some monks and Armenian Orthodox priests living and practicing their religious ceremonies.

Brief History of Khor Virap

The first structure of the Khor Virap monastery complex was built in 642 CE. The main church Surp Astvatsatsin Church was built in the 17th century and it has been serving as the main symbol of the monastery complex.

The iconic dungeon where the first Armenian saint George the Illuminator had been imprisoned for 13 years is still intact on the bottom of St. Gevorg Chapel.

You can go down 200 feet to see the small dungeon room where the saint was held, however, it is a very suffocating place so if you are claustrophobic, be cautious.

Where Is Khor Virap Located?

Khor Virap is located 45 kilometers away in the remote suburbs of Yerevan. Also, it is only a couple of hundred meters away from the Turkish border, which indeed adds an intriguing vibe. The three most common ways of transport are taking a cab, going to my marshrutkas (minibusses) or taking a tour there.

Going all the way there by minibus is the least comfortable and convenient option. I, personally went there by a tour which can be around the same prices as taking a cab.

Argun Konuk is a 24-year-old travel, history and language enthusiast who resides in Ankara, Turkey. He speaks Turkish, English, Russian and Swedish, and has been to more than 50 countries and 200 cities. He works at Swissotel Ankara as an Education Coordinator.


The main church, St. Astvatsatsin, dates from the end of the 17th century. The smaller St. Gevorg Chapel was originally constructed in 642 by Catholicos Nerses III the Builder, but has been repeatedly rebuilt. St. Gevorg was built over the pit of imprisonment of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. This prison pit is where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years before curing King Trdat III of a disease. As reverence for Saint Gregory's act of healing and kindness, the King converted Armenia into the first officially Christian nation in the world in the year 301.

In the mid-1990s, volunteers for the Canadian Youth Mission to Armenia helped renovate/restore the cathedral.

Khor Virap Monastery

The Khor Virap (meaning «deep dungeon») monastery is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Armenia. It stands before the snowcapped flanks of Mount Ararat offering a spectacular view of the mountain, the national symbol of Armenia.

It is where Grigor Luisavorich (St. Gregory the Illuminator) was imprisoned for 13 years before curing King Trdat III of a disease. This caused the conversion of the king and Armenia into the first officially Christian nation in the world in the year 301. To this day you can visit the underground chamber he was imprisoned, located in the nondescript St. Gevorg Chapel apart from the main church.

There are two holes which can be climbed down but are unmarked. There is one smaller chamber by the door which has some stairs and then a twist and a ladder leading to the small room.

There is another hole in the main room, to the right of the altar, with a long ladder leading down into the larger cistern where Grigor Lusavorich was imprisoned.

It is actually impressive in size for an underground prison cell, and due to candles and a lack of air circulation was very stuffy, much like the other smaller chamber.

You can also see the green belt along the Araks River which denotes the boundary with Turkey from the monastery and there are some military lookout posts around this area. At night there are lights visible on Mt. Ararat, these are American listening posts and Turkish bases.

The large St. Astvatsatsin church at Khor Virap was built in the 17th century and is typical in design, but with a lack of virtually any decorative carving or elements. It is located in a fort like complex with a nice courtyard.

The hill of Khor Virap and those adjoining were the site of the important early Armenian capital of ancient Artashat or Artaxiasata, built by King Artashes I, founder of the Artashesid dynasty, around 180 BC.

According to legend, the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who spent his twilight years in flight from a vengeful Rome, inspired the founding of the city.

Haghpat and Khor Virap Monasteries

Haghpat Monastery

The oldest building of the Akhpat monastery, the Church of Surb Nshan (Holy Sign), appeared in 972. Local residents passed on from generation to generation, the legend about a beautiful Queen Khosrovanush, the wife of Ashot III Bagratuni, who ordered the founding of this small Lori village monastery in honor of her sons Smbat and Kyurike. Not stingy, crowned spouses were discharged from Ani, the then capital of Armenia, the best architect named Trdat, the author of several outstanding buildings of the city of 1001 churches.

After the fall of the Bagratuni dynasty , the monastery of Haghpat remained in disrepair for some time, but in 1064 it was given as a gift to the Zakarian princes, who revived its former glory. Under the patronage of the Zakarian Haghpat has got a bell tower, a library and a spacious refectory. Inside the Church of St. Nshan appeared beautiful frescoes, and the monastery complex was expanded more than three times.

Haghpat was also known for its only printing house in the district. The latter was not even

his eternal rival Sanahin monastery, which is only six kilometers away. Just like Sanahin, Haghpat is inextricably linked with thename of the great Armenian ashug Sayat-Nova . But if the poet and composer spent the first years of his life in Sanahin, then in the Akhpat monastery – the last. In 1786, the Georgian king Irakli II, whose Sayat Nova had served as a court singer for many years, suddenly subjected him to disgrace. According to some reports, Sayat Nova was the victim of slander, on the other-the poet had a passionate affair with Princess Anna, the sister of Irakli. One way or another, ashug was tonsured a monk and sent to Haghpat, where he spent the last twenty years of his life. Among the inhabitants of the village there is still a legend that contrary to the popular version, Sayat Nova never left the monastery, and his real grave should not be sought in Tbilisi, namely in the Akhpat monastery, near the weeping willow in the backyard of the Church of Surb Nshan.

Khor Virap Monastery

Khor Virap, so called the Church of the Holy Virgin, is located near the Artashat city, right on the border with Turkey. Tourists come here not only to enjoy the best view of the mountain, but also to visit the place where Christianity began in Armenia. The word “Khor Virap” in translation from Armenian language means “deep hole”. The Church was built in the XVII century. Initially, this place really was a deep hole, where later the King Trdat III imprisoned criminals sentenced to death. According to the description of the historian Agathangelos, the pit depth of about 6 meters was full of different reptiles, and the air was so foul that to stay alive the prisoners there was not a single chance. However, one person lived in Khor Virap for about 13 years, and this person was Gregory the Enlighter.

Gregory the Enlighterr sat in Khor Virap for 13 years, and only thanks to the efforts of a woman who lived nearby, he remained alive. Every day she lowered into the pit one bread. Later on the pit the Monastery was built, which was named as Khor Virap.

Khor Virap Monastery

Khor Virap Monastery is located near the city of Artashat, south of Yerevan.
The monastery was built on the site of a former royal prison, where death row prisoners were thrown, but from the 4th century onwards this place is considered a sanctuary, because the Armenian king Trdat, a pagan idolater, was informed that his scribe Gregory was a Christian. The king betrays Gregory to inhuman tortures, forcing him to offer sacrifices to idols, but Gregory remains unshakable. Enraged, Trdat orders to throw Grigor into the abyss of the aforementioned prison, and in this deep pit, where snakes and scorpions crawled, the man quickly died.
However, by God’s predestination, Grigor lived for 13 years in a deep dungeon. At that time, 70 nuns from Rome, headed by Gayane, arrived in Armenia. 37 of them, including Hripsime, whom King Trdat wanted to marry, was tortured by the order of the king for refusing to become his wife. After their brutal murder, King Trdat fell ill with insanity. His sister Khosrovidukht had the same dream several times, in which it turned out that only Grigor, who was in the prison, could cure the king.
After St. Gregory is pulled out of the prison, King Trdat repents and apologizes for his evil and converts to Christianity. St. Gregory becomes the Armenian patriarch, and already devout Trdat proclaims Armenia the first Christian state in the world.
Although Khor Virap has been a sanctuary since ancient times, a monastery on this site was only built in the 7th century. The entrance to the virap is also in the Church of St. George.
In 1255, in the Khor Virap monastery, the great Armenian vardapet Vardan Aygegsi founded a secondary school, where people to study even from Cilicia. Among the students of Vardan Arseltsi were Isaiah Nchetsi, Hovhannes Erznkatsi, Gorg Skratsi, Nerses Mshetsi, Grigor Paluetsi, Grigor Bnetsi, and other famous thinkers.
Khor Virap monastery was the center of writing, which produced more than a dozen manuscripts.
The monastery is still considered a wonderful place of pilgrimage, where people from all over the world travel.

Khor Virap Monastery is located near the city of Artashat, south of Yerevan.

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