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After returning from Etchmiadzin, I wanted to go to see the place where St. Gregory the Illuminator (great name, btw… The Illuminator) was put in a pit. I heard that this was also the best place to view Mt. Ararat. But looking at the mountain from the hostel, we could barely see it. So we decided that possibly the morning was a better time to go.
The next morning, we took a taxi out to the ancient city of Kor Virap.
On the way, the taxi had to stop for gas. Which brings me to this post’s section of “tangent to the story”. There are all different kinds of cars in Georgia and not only in the cities. I haven’t really noticed upscale cars in the villages, but in towns such as Ozurgeti, I’ve seen BMW’s Audi’s and Mercedes. They also have upscale Russian made cars, too. But on the opposite side of the spectrum are the ancient Russian made vehicles of the Soviet area still bee-bopping around. Call me sheltered, but the only way I knew to put gas into a vehicle was to insert a nozzle through the side little intake valve thing. I’ve even seen cars where the intake valve thing is in the back concealed by the license plate.
Well, the taxi pulled up to the gas station, turned the car off and told us to get out. Okay.
It was morning, so I didn’t feel so threatened… nervous, but not threatened. He finally got across to us that we had to get out of the car in case it blew up. I am not making this up. He made the motion for ‘BLOW UP’. You don’t have to tell me twice.
So we got far away from the vehicle as a guy, the gas attendant, came to the car with what looked like hand-cuffs. But upon further reflection, I think they were some type of wretch. I had seen in the trunks of cars what looked like those big propane tanks, resembling the kind in the movie Jaws. But didn’t give a second thought to it. There are MUCH more odd things to pay attention to… like cows in the middle of the road. But standing in the middle of the parking lot of a gas station, I put one and two together. We have been riding in ticking time bombs all this time. Okay.
While standing there, we saw five or six military people hanging about as well. After a while, one comes strolling over. He was smiling and therefore came across as much nicer than the military at the border. He got to us and started speaking in English. He asked if we needed assistance. Nice guy.
As we approached, Mt. Ararat got larger and larger.
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. According to legend, the Carthaginian general Hannibal inspired the founding of the city.
The large St. Astvatsatsin church at Khor Virap was built in the 17th century.
Khor Virap is where 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. (For those of you doing the math, it would seem the church was built after the imprisonment years. That is true. The church wasn’t there back then—the hole was.)
The monastery sits on top a little hill in the very flat Ararat Valley. It’s as close to Mt. Ararat as you can probably get in Armenia.
We started looking around in the compound and the most noticeable thing was this beautiful harmonic singing. We followed it to the main church and saw that an actual religious service was in progress.
It was Sunday.
We were allowed to enter and experience a beautiful thing. An Armenian Orthodox Christian service in one of the most ancient of sites in Armenia.
I really wanted to find this pit.
What I had built up in my mind was a visual like in the scene of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. (For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet. Go see it.) But it wasn’t like that at all. This pit was sinister nonetheless.
In another building off to the side of the Church, was an Alter. You really had to know what you were looking for or you would miss it. In a corner next to the Alter is a non-descript hole. To help people down the hole was an iron ladder. It was a tight fit. One descends this hole for about ten feet, into an underground cavern with an area about 20 feet square. It was tight and dank and horrible to imagine being there for the rest of the day, much less 13 years.
In this building there were two such ‘pits’. The other was much more tight and small (but not as deep in the ground, if that matters). So St. Gregory at least had that to be thankful about. And in testament to his stellar character, if someone put me down that hole for even a week, they could forget about me healing them of anything. I would have reigned down pestilence and hellfire on E’ERBODY. I’m just sayin’.
The postcards don’t do this site justice. It was so beautiful and majestic having Mt. Ararat as a backdrop.
Thus ends my journey to Yerevan.
On the train ride back, for some reason we didn’t pack food for a16 hour trip. Chris and I were fortunate enough to get a compartment with two Georgian ladies. They were on their way to Batumi to vacation. They saw we were some sad looking Americans, so I think they took pity on us and shared their food with us. And in true Georgian fashion, made sure we were stuffed. They also were helpful in making sure we navigated the border crossing. We fortunately didn’t have to get off the train this time.
Goodbye, Armenia. See you later.
“Ooh, he’s leaving
On the midnight train to Georgia, yeah, ooh y’all
(Leaving on the midnight train)
Said he’s going back to find
(Going back to find)
Ooh, a simpler place and time, ooh y’all, uh-huh
(Whenever he takes that ride, guess who’s gonna be right by his side)
I’ve got to be with him
(I know you will)
On that midnight train to Georgia
(Leaving on a midnight train to Georgia, woo woo)
I’d rather live in his world
(Live in his world)
Than live without him in mine
(Her world is his, his and hers alone)”
Midnight Train To Georgia, Gladys Knight