Garni Temple

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Temple of Garni
Garni Temple 02.JPG
The temple of Garni in 2013
Basic information
Location Garni, Kotayk Province, Armenia
Geographic coordinates 40°06′45″N 44°43′49″E / 40.112421°N 44.730277°E / 40.112421; 44.730277Coordinates: 40°06′45″N 44°43′49″E / 40.112421°N 44.730277°E / 40.112421; 44.730277
Affiliation Armenian Polytheism
Architectural description
Architectural style Ancient Greek
Founder Tiridates I of Armenia
Funded by Nero
Completed 1st century
The ruins of the temple in the early 20th century

The Temple of Garni (Armenian: Գառնիի հեթանոսական տաճար Gařnii het'anosakan tačar) is a first century Hellenic temple near Garni, Armenia.[1][2] It is the only pagan temple in Armenia that survived the Christianization of the country in the early 4th century.[3][4] It is also the only "Greco-Roman colonnaded building" in Armenia and the entire former Soviet Union.[5][6]

The temple had collapsed in the 1679 earthquake and was reconstructed between 1969 and 1974,[7] under the supervision of Alexander Sahinian.[8]


The first traces of human occupation date back to the 3rd millennium BC and are concentrated in an easily defensible terrain at one of the bends of the Azat River. In the 8th century BC the area was conquered by the Urartian king Argishti I. The first literary testimony to the existence of a fortress on the spur crowning the site of Garni comes from the Roman historian Tacitus and dates from the middle of the 1st century AD. Excavation of the existing remains was conducted for a brief period in 1909–1910 and was later resumed (1949) by Soviet archaeologists. The results have shown that the actual fortification had been erected much earlier, probably sometime in the 3rd century BC[9] as a summer residence for the Armenian Orontid and Artaxiad royal dynasties.[10] The fortress of Garni (Latin: Gorneas) became the last refuge of king Mithridates of Armenia, where he and his family were assassinated by his son in law and nephew Rhadamistus.[11] Several constructions and buildings have been identified within the enclosed area, including a two-storey royal summer palace, a bath complex, a church built in AD 897,[10] a cemetery[9] and the site's most famous and best preserved edifice, a peristyle Greco-Roman temple built in the Ionic order. Of particular interest is the bathhouse located in the northern part of the site. It as a well preserved hypocaust and one of its floors is decorated with a mosaic reproducing a well known late Hellenistic iconographic type.[12] It bore depictions of Greek mythological figures and personifications, such as Tethys, Oceanus, Thetis (Achilles's mother), Aigialos (literally sea-shore, spelled ΕΓΙΑΛΟΣ on the actual mosaic). The accompanying inscription, written in Koine Greek, ΜΗΔΕΝ ΛΑΒΟΝΤΕΣ ΗΡΓΑΣΑΜΕΘΑ ("we worked without receiving anything") implies that the artists responsible for the construction of the mosaic received no fee for their labour.

The systematic excavation of the site has unearthed six successive occupation layers. The earliest traces of habitation date back to the neolithic period. A Bronze Age and a Classical layer followed by three distinct medieval layers complete the occupation history of the site.[9] The fortification circuit is built of large basalt blocks weighing up to 6 tonnes. The curtain wall has been cleared to a length of 314 meters revealing a series of rectangular towers, two of which border the ancient entrance gate.[9]

The peristyle temple is situated at the edge of the existing cliff. It was excavated in 1909–1910 but the full publication of its architecture appeared only in 1933.[9] It has been surmised that it was constructed in the 1st century AD by the King Tiridates I of Armenia, probably funded with money the king received from emperor Nero during his visit to Rome. In 1945, a Hellenic inscription about the construction of the temple was found on the territory of local cemetery by Martiros Saryan. The inscription named Armenian king Tiridates who built this temple. Likely the inscription meant Tiridates I of Armenia, in spite of some historians including Hakob Manandyan assumed that the inscription mentioned King Tiridates III of Armenia.

The actual building is a peripteros temple resting on an elevated podium and was most likely dedicated to the god Mihr in the first century A.D. The entablature is supported by 24 Ionic columns resting on Attic bases. Unlike other Greco-Roman temples, it is made of basalt. According to a different interpretation of the extant literary testimonia and the evidence provided by coinage, the erection of the temple started in 115 A.D. The pretext for its construction would have been the declaration of Armenia as a Roman province and the temple would have housed the imperial effigy of Trajan.[13] A newer alternative theory is that the building is actually a tomb, probably constructed around 175 A.D.[14] This theory is based on a comparison to other Graeco-Roman buildings of western Asia Minor, the discovery of nearby graves that date to about that time, the discovery of a few marble pieces of the Asiatic sarcophagus style, and other arguments such as the unlikelihood that a pagan temple would survive destruction during Armenia's conversion to Christianity when all other such temples were destroyed. If it is the case that the building is a tomb of that era, then it might be the tomb of an Armeno-Roman ruler such as Sohaemus or possibly Aurelius Pacorus.

The temple was eventually sacked in 1386 by Timur Lenk. In 1679 it was destroyed by an earthquake.[15] Most of the original architectural members and building blocks remained at the site until the 20th century, allowing the building to be reconstructed between 1969 and 1975.[10]

After the adoption of Christianity some churches and a katholikos' palace were also constructed at the fortification site, but these are now in ruins like most of the other buildings except the temple.

Other sites of Garni outside the fortification site include churches of Surb Astvatsatsin, Mashtots Hayrapet Church, a ruined 4th century single-aisle church, a ruined Tukh Manuk Shrine of Oshakan, Saint Sargis Shrine, and a Queen Katranide Shrine. Nearby is the Garni Gorge with well preserved basalt columns, carved out by the Goght River. This portion of the gorge is typically referred to as the "Symphony of the Stones". Across the gorge is the Khosrov State Reserve, and a little further Havuts Tar Monastery (which may be seen from the temple). The village also lies along the road to the well known Geghard monastery (further 7 km southeast).


On September 25, 2014 Maksim Nikitenko, a Russian tourist in his early 20s, defaced the temple[16] by spray painting "В мире идол ничто" (literally translating to "In the world, idol is nothing".[17][18] The painting was cleaned days later.[19]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burford, Tim (2002). Georgia with Armenia: the Bradt travel guide (2nd ed.). Bradt Travel Guides. p. 279. ISBN 9781841620534. Set on a cliff above the River Azat, the temple is totally Hellenic in style... 
  2. ^ "Travel to the USSR" (116-127). Pennsylvania State University. 1987. p. 57. The Garni Temple, a relic of Hellenic times (1st century A. D.), has been restored by Soviet artists... 
  3. ^ Hacikyan, Agop Jack; Basmajian, Gabriel; Franchuk, Edward S.; Ouzounian, Nourhan (2000). The Heritage of Armenian Literature: From the Oral Tradition to the Golden Age 1. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 80. ISBN 9780814328156. The obliteration of pagan vestiges was so complete that almost no architectural remains or temple records have survived ... The only exception is the Temple of Garni... 
  4. ^ Berman, Michael (2008). The Shamanic Themes in Armenian Folktales. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 34. ISBN 9781847186218. ...Armenia's only remaining pagan temple, at Garni... 
  5. ^ Charles W. Hartley, G. Bike Yazicioğlu, Adam T. Smith, ed. (2012). The Archaeology of Power and Politics in Eurasia: Regimes and Revolutions. Cambridge University Press. p. 65. ISBN 9781107016521. ...the unique temple-tomb at Garni, just east of Yerevan - the only Greco-Roman colonnaded building anywhere in the Soviet Union. 
  6. ^ Nersessian, Vrej (2001). Treasures from the Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 100. ISBN 9780892366392. The pagan temple of Garni, dedicated to the god Mihr (Mithra), is the only surviving Hellenistic building built by King Trdat I about 77 BC. 
  7. ^ Abrahamian, Levon; Sweezy, Nancy (2001). Armenian Folk Arts, Culture, and Identity. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 43. ISBN 9780253337047. The temple fell in the earthquake of 1679, was restored in 1969-1974... 
  8. ^ Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies (vols 1-2): 11. The architect A. Sahinyan, who made a thorough study of the ruins of Garni's pagan temple, supervised its complete reconstruction. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Mongait, A.L., Archaeology in the U.S.S.R., translated and adapted by M. W. Thompson, Baltimore-Maryland (1961), pp. 214–216
  10. ^ a b c "Garni, Armenia" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Timothy Darvill. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  11. ^ Cornelius Tacitus, Annales XII, 45, 7–10[...]
  12. ^ Sara M. Wages, A Note on the Dumbarton Oaks "Tethys Mosaic", Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 40, (1986), p. 120: the Garni mosaic is classified as the easternmost example of the type
  13. ^ Report by C.V. Trever cited in Henry Field and Kathleen Price, "Archaeological News, Russia", American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 54, No. 4 (Oct – Dec., 1950), pp. 427
  14. ^ Wilkinson, R.D. "A Fresh Look at the Ionic Building at Garni," Revue des Etudes Armeniennes, n.s. XVI (1982), pp. 221–244, cited in Anne Elizabeth Redgate, The Armenians Blackwell Publishing, 2000, p. 102, footnote 39, ISBN 0-631-22037-2, 978-0-631-22037-4
  15. ^ Sergiei Balassanian, Armando Cisternas, Mikael Melkumyan, Earthquake Hazard and Seismic Risk Reduction, Springer 2000, p. 309, ISBN 0-7923-6390-6, 978-0-7923-6390-3
  16. ^ "Iravunk: Investigation into Russian tourist case continues". 3 October 2010. 
  17. ^ Турист из Москвы исписал языческий храм в Армении. (in Russian). 26 September 2014. 
  18. ^ ՌԴ քաղաքացին պղծել է Գառնու տաճարը. A1plus (in Armenian). 26 September 2014. 
  19. ^ Գառնիի տաճարի վրա ռուս զբոսաշրջիկի գրառումը մաքրվել է. (in Armenian). 1 October 2014. 


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