The Khor Virap is an Armenian monastery located in the Ararat plain in Armenia, near the closed border with Turkey, about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of Artashat, Ararat Province, within the territory of ancient Artaxata.The monastery was host to a theological seminary and was the residence of Armenian Catholicos.
Khor Virap's notability as a monastery and pilgrimage site is attributed to the fact that Gregory the Illuminator was initially imprisoned here for about 14 years by King Tiridates III of Armenia. Saint Gregory subsequently became the king's religious mentor, and they led the proselytizing activity in the country. In the year 301, Armenia was the first country in the world to be declared a Christian nation.A chapel was initially built in 642 at the site of Khor Virap by Nerses III the Builder as a mark of veneration to Saint Gregory. Over the centuries, it was repeatedly rebuilt. In 1662, the larger chapel known as the "St. Astvatsatsin" (Holy Mother of God) was built around the ruins of the old chapel, the monastery, the refectory and the cells of the monks. Now, regular church services are held in this church. It is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Armenia.
Khor Virap is located on a hillock in Pokr Vedi; the village is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) from the main highway. Yerevan, the capital and largest city of Armenia, is 30 kilometres (19 mi) to the north. It is situated about 100 metres (330 ft) away from the closed Turkish-Armenian border (sealed by barbed wire fencing) and defended by Russian military establishments that guard the troubled border zone.
The monastery is surrounded by green pasture lands and vineyards within the Ararat plain and is in view of Mount Ararat. The Arax (or Arakas) River flows close by, and the monastery is opposite of Aralık, Turkey.
The Nerses chapel, built in the 5th century around the famous pit, was of white limestone.Though plain in appearance, a monastery was built around a large enclosure that surrounds the ruins of the old chapel. This church has a twelve sided tholobate and dome and is dedicated to S. Astvatsatsin. The altar pulpit is well decorated.Though most Armenian churches have an east–west orientation, placing the altar at the east end, St. Gevorg Chapel is oriented northwest–southeast.
The pit where Gregory was imprisoned is southwest of the main church, underneath St. Gevorg Chapel which is a small basilica replete with a semicircular apse. Of the two pits inside the chapel, Grigor's is the farther one, 6 metres (20 ft) deep and 4.4 metres (14 ft) wide. The pit is approached through two unmarked holes. A small chamber, winding stairway, and a ladder lead to a small enclosure in the pit. To the right of the altar in the dungeon is the main room. A long ladder from here descends to a large cell of fairly good size, which was Grigor Lusavorich's prison cell. The climb down the well is to a depth of 60 metres (200 ft). The pit is well lit but the climb down the metal ladder requires sturdy shoes. It is also extremely humid down the pit in the summer months so be cautious and don't bring candles down as this adds to the heat.
The 17th century church built around the pit is a simple structure surrounding a large courtyard which looks like a fort complex.
Archaeological sites were excavated starting in 1970 in the thirteen hills (maximum height 70 metres (230 ft)) around Khor Virap and up to the valley of the river. Excavations in hills 1 and 4, and sections of hills 5, 7 and 8 and of the neck of the land between Hills 1 and 2 are in progress.Some archaeological excavations have also been carried out outside the walls of the church at the site of Artashat, the capital of the Tiridat dynasty.In addition to ancient coins and potshards, excavations have unearthed well preserved mud-brick fortifications on the northern slope of the third hill from the northeast.