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.
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