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Only 25 km from Yerevan is located the only preserved pagan temple in Armenia, which attracts thousands of tourists every year. Garni Temple has a unique and interesting history.
How did it happen that the temple was preserved until today, to whom was it dedicated, what are its architectural features, etc.? You will find answers to questions in our article.
There are several options to reach Garni. Since it is very close to the city, you will not have any problems, just a few minutes and you are already there. You can go by your own car or use the public transport to Garni.
Before reaching Garni, make sure to stop at the Charents Arch. It is located on the right side of the road. Beautiful views of the Ararat valley and Artashat open from the Charents arch. Well, the main symbol is Mount Ararat rising majestically in the distance with all its charm.
The Roman historian Tacitus mentions the castle for the first time under the name Gornea. There was a temple in Garni in BC. From the 3rd millennium. The Armenian-Roman war, which started in the first century, became the reason for the destruction of the temple. The temple is destroyed by the Roman general Corbulon. However, in 64 AD, the Armenian king Trdatus I managed to defeat the Roman troops, after which the Roman Emperor Nero, recognizing the kingdom of Trdatus, invited him to Rome and along with great gifts gave him a large war fine, with one part of which he restored the destroyed Artashat, with the other part The temple of Garni.
The temple was dedicated to Mihr. Mihr was the god of light and purity in Armenian mythology. As a symbol of light, he was often depicted in the form of a bull fighting against darkness. The cult of Mihr was widespread in ancient Armenia. The 8th day of each month of the ancient Armenian calendar was named after him, and the seventh month, which corresponds to the current month of February, was called Meheka. The common name of ancient Armenian pagan shrines Meheka also originates from Mihr’s name.
The temple stands on a high plinth and is surrounded by 24 pillars. There are 9 steps leading to the temple, but they are so high that it is not possible to climb them quickly. When climbing, a person involuntarily bows. In 301 AD, after Christianity was declared as the state religion in Armenia, the temple was used as a summer pavilion intended for the kings.
In 1679, due to a devastating earthquake, the temple was razed to the ground. In the 60s of the 20th century, the restoration works of the temple began, and in 1974 it was already rebuilt. The small size of the shrine indicates that only the statue of Mihr was in it, and the religious activities took place in the area in front of the temple.
The castle includes several separately located buildings:
The ruins of the Church of Saint Sion have been preserved next to the temple. It was built in 659. The consignor was Catholicos Nerses G. Shinogh. The church is an all-shaped structure with a cross central dome. The four identical altars form an isosceles cross, between the wings of which are placed one storage room with a quadrangular plan.
The two-storied fort was located on the western side of the temple. Its southern part was the main hall, and the northern part was residential. The area of the lower, basement floor was used for economic purposes, in particular, wine warehouses were located here. In one of the rooms traces of dark red plaster have been preserved, suggesting that the rooms of the palace had rich decorations.
The bath is located on the northern side of the castle. It was built in the 3rd century and consists of five buildings: a dressing room, a bath with cold water, a bath with lukewarm water, a bath with hot water, and furnaces for heating the water. The brick floor was heated by hot water vapor and hot smoke from the fire. The hot steam and smoke coming out of the furnaces first passed under the floor of the hot water bathroom, then under the floor of the lukewarm water bathroom, and finally reached the cold water bathroom. In other words, everything is designed so that there is no loss of heat. Such a heating system is called a “hypocaust” system. The “hippocaust” system was widely used in Roman baths.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of the bath is the mosaic on the floor dating back to the third century. In the center of the mosaic, on a light green background, male and female figures are depicted. Around them are images of fish and sea deities. The Greek inscription is especially interesting, where it is said: “We worked without getting anything.” The secret of that writing has not been deciphered. There is a popular opinion that the inscription was written by Greek slaves working on the construction of the bathhouse. According to another opinion, it can be a fragment of an epic poem that has not reached us.
The article was compiled based on observations and materials collected by the ArmLand club.
Author of photos: Artyom Martirosyan