Khor Virap is one of Armenia’s treasures. It’s an old monastery that has extreme religious importance to the Armenian people, but it’s also stunningly located in front of the massive Mt. Ararat, the traditional resting place of Noah’s ark.
From Yerevan, I hopped in a marshrutka at the train station for the 40-minute ride southward. Also in the marshrutka were an Italian living in London and an ethnically Chinese guy living in Brussels. They were traveling together and spoke French to each other. Some of the Armenians in the marshrutka started asking us questions in Russian, which I translated for the Belgian and Italian. It was a fun little international assembly.
From where the marshrutka dropped us off, it was about a 20-minute walk to the monastery itself. Along the way, we were treated to the beautiful view of Khor Virap with Ararat in the background. It was generally a nice day, but unfortunately the summit of Ararat itself was mostly surrounded by clouds when I was there. Also, it was a bit hazy the whole week that I was in Armenia, so that affected the view a bit, too. Still, it was beautiful.
The reason that Khor Virap is so important to the Armenians from a religious point of view is that it’s where Gregory the Illuminator—aka St. Gregory, the guy who brought Christianity to Armenia and who was the first head of the Armenian church—was imprisoned for 12 years. He was actually kept in a pit for all that time (during which a local Christian woman brought him bread to keep him alive), and that pit is today the main attraction of Khor Virap. You walk into a small and assuming building within the walled Khor Virap compound and there’s a ladder in the corner, leading 20 feet down through a very narrow (narrow to the point that most of America’s population wouldn’t be able to fit through) opening down into the subterranean pit. There’s not much down there—just an icon and some lights—and it was uncomfortably humid, but interesting all the same.
The views of Mt. Ararat from Khor Virap are amazing. Mt. Ararat has long been been a symbol of Armenia, but it is currently located in eastern Turkey. The Armenia-Turkey border is less than a mile away from Khor Virap, and you can see the border’s fence and lookout towers from the monastery. The border is closed to everyone—to get from Armenia to Turkey, you have to go all the way through Georgia.
There really isn’t much else to see or do at Khor Virap. It’s pretty much just a great place to gawk at Mt. Ararat from.