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Armenia: Garni temple

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Garni temple | Armenia | Asia

[Visited: May 2012]

On the very first day in Armenia, after an early exploration of the city, we decided to leave it already and visit the temple of Garni. Easily reached from the city by public transportation, our guesthouse convinced us it would be better to rent a taxi to make a visit of Geghard monastery easier. Our driver turned out not to speak a word of English, but received instructions through his radio to take us east. Getting to Garni is pretty straightforward, and before we knew it, we got off the car, and paid an entrance fee which seemed normal to us at the moment; it was only during the rest of our visit to this great country that we discovered that virtually all sites can be seen for free.

Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Afternoon sun shining on the temple of Garni

We entered through the gate, and immediately ahead of us lied the temple, in a very familiar form. The temple of Garni as built in classical temple style, and especially from a distance, you might well imagine being in Greece. On a raised platform, a rectangular building appears, with 6 Ionic columns on the short side and 8 on the long, a triangular tympanum, a decorated frieze... a miniature Parthenon. Walking towards the almost 2,000 year old structure makes you see there are differences: this one is built with basalt, giving it a less light feel than the marble pearls in Greece. Getting closer, you also appreciate that there are several more ruins of baths, a church, and a cemetery.

Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Basalt columns are the trademark of the temple of Garni

In fact, also the temple of Garni lay in ruins after it was first sacked by Timur Lenk in 1386 and destroyed by an earthquake in 1679, but since most the remains of the temple were preserved, it proved possible to reconstruct Garni temple in the 1970s. The other buildings still are not more than ruins, make the temple stand out even more. For a long time thought to be constructed as a pagan temple by King Tiridates I, some say it might actually have been a tomb of an Armeno-Roman soldier, Sohaemus; in either case, the temple of Garni was constructed in the 2nd century CE. The location is quite dramatic - and we would discover that many other places of interest in Armenia have dramatic sites: right at the edge of a deep cliff. In the distance, green mountains, with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Excavations have revealed that besides the very visible temple which is one of the prime landmarks of Armenia, there is layer upon layer of old civilizations underneath, suggesting that the area was already inhabited 5,000 years ago. Our far forefathers were, then, looking at these same mountains from this same dramatic spot, yet in surely a very different context. This first historic sight of Armenia whetted our appetite - an appetite that would certainly not be disappointed during the rest of our stay.

Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Looking at the temple of Garni from the front
Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Pillars at the entrance of the temple of Garni
Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Temple of Garni once again standing as the only Greco-Roman temple in Armenia
Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Altar and place for sacrifices in the inside of the temple of Garni
Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Detail of the frieze of the temple of Garni
Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Detail of the roof of the temple of Garni with column and frieze
Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Close-up of detail with flowers in the roof of the temple of Garni
Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Ruins of church in the foreground, temple of Garni behind
Picture of Garni temple (Armenia): Snowy mountains and green valleys surround the temple of Garni

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