Garni Geghard is always the beginning of any tour across Armenia. Every tour starts with a visit to the pagan Garni Temple and the Christian Geghard Monastery, called in short Garni-Geghard.
Garni Geghard is a monastery in Kotayk province of Armenia that was established in medieval time of Armenia. The place has been one of the most places that has attracted tourists in Armenia because the place is magnificent as well as listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why do you need to start your walk across the marvelous land from these spots? Keep reading the article to get the answer!
Interesting Facts about Garni Geghard
Garni and Geghard are so popular for a number of reasons, including fascinating architecture, breathtaking view and ancient history.
Visiting Garni-Geghard is a good idea, if you want to get acquainted with Armenian, both pre-Christian and Christian history, culture and architecture.
Additionally, these sites are convenient to visit, because they are located both not far from capital Yerevan and not far from each other, making it possible for the tourists to visit them during a one-day trip and to come back to Yerevan till evening.
Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery are a stage for multiple interesting festivals and events. The most important festival in Garni is the celebration of Vardavar, a popular religious festival of pre-Christian (pagan) origins.
During the festival, all participants pour water on each other. Vardavar is usually celebrated in July-August (the days varies every year) and is one of the most popular festivals for Armenians.
The square in front of Garni Temple is a site of occasional concerts.
For instance, a major concert was held in July 2004 by the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia, featuring works of Aram Khachaturian, Komitas, Edvard Mirzoyan, Strauss, Mozart, and other composers. Geghard Monastery occasionally hosts small concerts of Armenian religious music.
Basics on Garni Geghard
The Garni Temple is a classical Hellenistic temple, situated 28 km far from capital Yerevan. It was dedicated to Mihr, the god of Sun in Armenian mythology.
The site, occupying 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres), is officially known as the Garni Historical and Cultural Museum-Reservation. It includes the temple, a bath complex with rare mosaic floor, the royal summer palace remnants, the seventh-century St. Sion church and other items.
Near Garni Temple, you can see the Garni Gorge with well-preserved basalt columns, typically referred to as the “Symphony of the Stones”.
In 2011, UNESCO awarded the Museum-Reservation of Garni the Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes.
The medieval Geghard Monastery is located not far from Garni. It is famous for its unique architecture, partially carved out of the adjacent mountain.
The monastery of Geghard is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gregory the Illuminator, the first head of Armenian Apostolic Church, initially founded the monastery in the 4th century.
Garni Geghard: Tourist Information
Tuesday-Saturday 9:00–17:30 (May–November 9:00–22:00), Sunday 9:00–15:30.
How to get to Garni-Geghard?
Garni Geghard: Architectural Style of Garni Temple
The architectural style of Garni Temple is usually linked to Hellenistic art, which is a mixture of Greco-Roman classical architecture and local oriental architecture with distinct Armenian features.
The temple is surrounded by a portico with columns built on an elevated podium. The main material is grey basalt. The temple is supported by twenty-four 6.54 meter (21.5 ft) high columns.
The exterior of the temple is richly decorated with sculptures of plants, geometrical figures and ornaments. The stones in the front cornice have projecting sculptures of lion heads. A fragment of the temple bearing a lion head was transported to the British Museum in 1907.
The staircase has nine high steps; 30 centimeters (12 in) each. On both sides of the staircase, there are images of Atlas, the Greek mythological Titan who held up the earth and was sculpted as if he is trying to hold the temple on his shoulders.
The cella of the temple is 7.132 meters (23.40 ft) high, 7.98 meters (26.2 ft) long, and 5.05 meters (16.6 ft) wide, and can fit up to 20 people. It is possible, that a statue once stood inside the cella.
White marble sculptures of bull hooves discovered not far from the temple could possibly be the remains of a sculpture of pagan god Mihr, often portrayed fighting with a bull. The cella is lit from the rather large entrance and an opening in the roof.
Garni Geghard: Architectural Style of Geghard Monastery
Describing the architecture of Geghard is more complicated, as the monastery consists of various buildings. And each of these buildings has its interesting architectural solutions. The main church of the monastery is the Katoghike Chapel, built in 1215.
It was built against the mountain in a form of an equal-armed cross, covered with a dome on a square base. The internal walls have many inscriptions; the southern facade has a portal with fine carvings and the tympanum is decorated with trees, pomegranates, leaves and grapes. Images of doves are placed between the arch and the outside frame.
West of the main temple, there is a rock-attached gavit (narthex) linked to the main church. Four massive columns in the center support a stone roof with a hole in the center for letting light in.
A dome with stalactites crowns the central space. The gavit was used for teaching, meetings, and for receiving pilgrims.
The first cave chamber, Avazan (basin), is located in a cave with a sacred spring. It is entirely dug out of the rock and has an equal-armed cruciform plan. The interior is lined by two crossed arches with a central stalactite dome.
The zhamatun (meeting hall) is a square chamber cut in the rock. In the center, there is perhaps the most interesting sculpture of Geghard. A ram’s head holds a chain, wound around the necks of two lions.
Instead of the tails, lions have heads of dragons.
Below the chain, there is an eagle with a lamb in its claws. This is likely the coat-of-arms of the local Proshian princes.
Can’t really imagine the complicated figure? Better look at the image!
Astvatsatsin Church in Geghard Monastery
Next is the cruciform rock-cut Astvatsatsin church. The dome is decorated with a circular opening in the centre. The walls have relief decoration depicting animals, warriors, crosses, and floral motifs, ornaments of rosettes and various geometrical figures.
Another zhamatun is located on the second level, having an external staircase near the door to the gavit. On the southern side of the corridor leading to this zhamatun, numerous crosses are cut.
The hall downstairs can be seen through a hole in the back-right corner. This chamber is especially famous for extraordinary acoustics.
The chapel of Saint Gregory the Illuminator stands high above the road, a hundred meters away from the entrance to the monastery. It is partly hewed in massive solid rock, rectangular in plan and having a horseshoe-shaped apse. Khachkars with various ornaments are inserted into the exterior walls.
History of Garni Temple
According to the dominant view, the pagan Garni Temple was built in 77 AD, during the reign of king Tiridates I. A Greek inscription, which was discovered in 1945, refers to “Sun God Tiridates, uncontested king of Great Armenia” as the founder of the temple. This is why historians tend to think Tiridates I was the one who built the temple.
In the early fourth century, when Armenian king Tiridates III adopted Christianity as state religion, all known pagan places of worship were destroyed.
The Garni Temple was the only pagan and Hellenistic structure that survived the widespread destruction. It was at the time converted into the summer house of the sister of Tiridates III.
Almost nothing is known about the subsequent history of the temple. And the only thing we know is that the entire colonnade of the temple collapsed in a devastating 1679 earthquake.
Most of the original building blocks remained scattered at the site, allowing to reconstruct the temple three centuries later. A group led by architectural historian Alexander Sahinian began reconstruction works in 1969 and completed them by 1975.
The temple was rebuilt using its original stones, except the missing pieces, filled with blank stones. Garni became the only standing Hellenistic pagan temple in the entire USSR.
History of Geghard Monastery
Geghard Monastery was originally founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator in a cave sacred in pre-Christian times. It was initially called Ayrivank (the Monastery of the Cave), but was destroyed by Arabs, as well as earthquakes.
The main church of modern Geghard was built in 1215 under the auspices of the Armenian brothers, Zakare and Ivane, who liberated most of Armenia from the Turks.
In the mid-13th century, Prince Prosh, vassal of the Zakarians and founder of the Proshian principality, purchased the monastery. Over a short period, the Proshyans built the cave structures which brought Geghard its fame.
The monastery housed many Christian relics, the most important of which was the spear which had wounded Jesus Christ on the Cross, allegedly brought there by the Apostle Thaddeus.
Here comes its present name, Geghard-avank (“the Monastery of the Spear”), first recorded in 1250.
Geghard Monastery is known to be one of the important religious-cultural and educational centers of medieval Armenia.
It had a spiritual seminary, a library and a rich storehouse of ancient manuscripts, many of which can still be found in Matenadaran in Yerevan, as well as in Paris National Library and Berlin Royal Library.
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