Every advertisement for Armenia includes an image of Khor Virap Monastery's silhouette against snow-capped Mt. Ararat.
Khor Virap Monastery can be considered the site of origin of Christianity as Armenia's state religion. At the end of the 3rd century, the pagan King Trdat III imprisoned Gregory the Illuminator for 12 years in the pit of a well. The story goes that the king was so moved by Gregory's survival and his ability to cure the king's madness that he converted to Christianity and deemed it the state religion in 301 A.D. Armenians will take every opportunity to remind you that their country was the first Christian nation.
Christian history aside, our visit was highlighted by the blessing of a chicken about to be sacrificed. Children carried their live chicken upside-down and circled around the church several times while the priest prepared for its blessing. Meanwhile, the baking sun took its toll and grandmothers began to dance and sing, throwing their arms about in a heat-induced jig. They even invited us to take part in their celebratory feast. Unfortunately, we had to politely decline in favor of a packed return marshrutka (minibus).
At the foot of the hill leading up to the monastery, a black sheep bucked in frantic protest, for it was his turn to get blessed. He must have known what was in store.
How to get to Khor Virap: Catch a marshrutka at 11 AM from behind Yerevan's main train station. Flag down the return marshrutka on the main road at Khor Virap several hours later (confirm the return time with the marshrutka driver when he drops you off).
Note:Yerevan's Tourist Office on Nalbandyan Street (behind Republic Square) is the best Tourist Office in the Caucasus. In addition to offering glossy brochures, the center's employees are well-informed and equipped to answer any question, from public transport options to available tours. Many of the Armenia's more popular sites can be enjoyed as day trips from Yerevan, allowing you to get your dose of history and culture during the day while returning for a taste of the cosmopolitan at night.