Khor Virap is as much a popular travel destination as St. Echmiadzin Cathedral, pagan Garni temple and Geghard Monastery. It has its own place in the history of Armenia due to the legend about Grigor Lousavorich (St. Gregory the Illuminator) – the first Armenian Catholicos. Literally translated from Armenian, Khor Virap means “deep pit”, or “deep well”.
The monastery has a rich history behind. During the reign of the king Tiridates III Great, Gregory the Illuminator was trying to spread Christianity in Armenia, which was not approved by the pagan ruler. But anyway Gregory did not obey the king and refused to worship pagan Gods. And the former ordered to tie his hands and throw him into a deep well. King Tiridates left him die in the dark dungeon imprisoned. He spent long 13 years in that dark, damp and small place, but finally survived. When Gregory the Illuminator was still in prison, the Tiridates cheerfully followed the lead of his friend the Emperor Diocletian in savagely persecuting Christians. God ultimately punished Tiridates' misdeeds by depriving him sanity. Tiridates III adopted the behaviour of a wild boar, aimlessly wandering around in the forest. In her sleep Khosrovidukht, Tiridates’ sister had a dream where appeared to her a vision from God telling her to get back from the prison Gregory who will teach you the remedy for your ills. This vision repeated five times. But no one believed that Gregory would be alive after so many years passed that he was put down there, at the very sight of the snakes.
Ultimately Khosrovidukht dared to tell the brother her vision. The king immediately ordered to took Gregory out of the miserable dungeon. After Gregory was brought to Tiridates III, he was miraculously cured of his illness in 301. Thus, Gregory was rewarded with the official conversion of Armenia to Christianity. Thus Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religionin 301 AD . Gregory was sent to Caesaria to be consecrated a bishop, and he and his children and descendants became the hereditary catholicoses of Armenia. Sometime after Tiridates III’s baptism, Gregory baptised Tiridates III’s family including Ashkhen, his entire court and his army on the Euphrates River.
Later in 642 Catholicos Nerses built a chapel over the jail-dungeon. From here the most wonderful view of the Mount Ararat can be admired. The monastery of Khor Virap is an attractive spot for a very large number of tourists throughout the whole world.
The hill of Khor Virap and the territory adjoining it were the site of the important early Armenian capital city of ancient Artashat, 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. On the upper slopes of the hills, extensive excavations have revealed the foundations of residential and other structures, along with Mediterranean-style art and other traces of a rich Hellenic culture. Ancient coins and potsherds can still be found, showing links with the whole ancient world. Gregory the Illuminator led the destruction of Artashat's famous pagan temples to the goddess Anahit and god Tir in AD 314.