The Temple of Garni is one of the oldest sights in Armenia worth to be seen once in a lifetime.
The pagan temple of Garni was built in the 2nd half of the 1st century during the reconstruction of the fortress (77 AD). After the adoption of Christianity it became the summer residence of Khosorovdukht, the sister of King Trdat III. It was demolished in 1679 by the earthquake. The parts, fragments of graceful columns and wall stones were spread all around the temple. This circumstance made possible the restoration of the temple which took place in 1930s. Taking into consideration the sayings Movses Khorenatsi ascribes the foundation of Garni to Hayk Nahapet’s (Hayk Ancestor) grand-grandson Gegham, in the name of whose grandson – Garnik – was named the temple of Garni. With its general structure the construction is peripteral, the spatial-dimensional structure of which rising from high pedestal is crowned with luxuriously designed façade. It is supposed that the temple was dedicated to Mitra, the God of Sun. As a symbol of light and truth–Mitra was often illustrated in duel with a bull (darkness).
Near the temple a hoof of a bull, modeled with white marble, was discovered, which used to belong to the pagan idol destroyed during the adoption of Christianity. Today, the marvelous monument, in a restored state, continues delighting people and is considered one of the gorgeous diamonds of pagan-time intangible culture of Armenian people, at the same time representing a world value.It is supposed that the temple was built in the 2nd century BC. In the 1st century AD it was ruined by Roman armies. In the 70’s of the 1st century Garni was reconstructed by Trdat I, who called it “inaccessible temple” in his Greek inscription. During the reign of Artashesyan and Arshakunyac kings Garni was a remarkable temple, army station and summer residence, and in the 4th century – also a bishop-residenceThe temple was ruined during the Arab invasions, but the township survived and in the second half of the 9th century developed into a township.
In the beginning of the 10th century under the reign of the king Ashot II the Bagratuni the fortress was also restored. In the 10-15th centuries Garni was one of the biggest and remarkable townships of Armenia.During the archeological excavations of Garni an early Bronze Age settlement of the 2nd half of 3rd millennium BC was discovered. In the 3rd millennium Garni was still one of cattle-breeding and agricultural settlements of Armenia. Middle and late Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC) tombs and archeological materials, Urartu Age and early Armenian (6-4 centuries BC) ceramics and King Argishti’s cuneiform record (where Garni together with its surroundings is called “Giarniyan Land”) were also revealed.In front of the fortress there was a town-like settlement, the traces of which were covered with medieval and new age constructions. On the hills bordering the village from the north is the medieval cemetery with ornamental khachqars (cross-stones) and inscribed gravestones.The present structure of the fortress was established in 3rd-2nd centuries BC.With the succession of 14 rectangular towers and firm fence-walls a powerful defense-dike was created. In the parts were the attacks of the enemy were possible to be forced back with less forces, the towers are built with 25-32m distance from each other, and in the other parts they are placed nearer to each other – 10-13.5m inside, forming an artificial bow, within which it was easier to make the enemy forces vulnerable.The compositional center of the fortress constructions was the column-designated temple, the 24 columns of which symbolize the 24 hours of the day.West from the temple, almost from the edge of the cape used to rise the large structure of the royal building.The Bathhouse consists of 4 rooms, succeeding each other in the same direction. The first room, due to its position and inner more gorgeous design (mosaic floor, a pool created within a curvilinear delve, etc.) was the lobby-cloakroom of the bathhouse. With the same planning sizes and shapes, the second and the third rooms served as bathrooms, the 2nd room – for cold water and the 3rd one – for lukewarm water. Most of the 4th room, which immediately alternates the cold and lukewarm bathrooms and also has their shape and sizes, was the bathroom for hot water. In the north-western part the reservoir was located, and under the ground of the south-western part – the furnace meant for heating the water. Of scientific-artistic interest is the mosaic of the cloakroom, which is a monument representing monumental painting of pre-Christian Armenia .The 15-color natural stone-made mosaic floor of the bathroom is still preserved. The mosaic illustrates various sea images: deities, mermaids , fish-centaurs (a man with a body of a horse and a limb of a fish), a fisher, etc. In the illustrations there are numerous sea-connected phrases (“The Deep of the Sea”, “Sea Peace”, etc.) and names of gods (Glaucus, Tethys, Eros and etc.). In the center of the mosaic the sculpture busts of a men and a woman are illustrated and above the following phrase has preserved: “Gaining Nothing We Worked”. The mosaic was made of 15-color natural stones; the plot, the implementation technique, the style and color characteristics, as well as the bathhouse structure have served as basis for considering the whole monument work of the 3rd century.Although the Temple of Garni resembles the Hellenic-period monuments, it is still an unexcelled sample of Armenian monumental architecture of its times. One can hardly agree with the researches that assign this wonder to the skill of Roman architects. The tradition of handling firm basalt comes from as old as Urartu times, while the Romans used to deal with marble. Besides, the structure of Garni is rich in pure Armenian motives, such as pomegranate, grape, nut-tree leafs, and so on. More likely, masons adopted the Hellenic culture and later on reflected the skill in their own way. The solemn flight of stairs requires a slow, stately pace – it is impossible to run over the high stairs, whereas when counting them one is surprised to find out that their number doesn’t exceed nine. Architects of ancient times perfectly knew the great secret of how to accurately represent constructions.