Garni & Geghard


Garni is a village in Armenia that hosts a classic Greco-Roman temple of the same name. Garni temple is located 30 km south-east from Yerevan in the valley of Azat river. It is the only pagan Armenian monument to have survived to our days. The temple was built in 66 AD by Tiridate I king of Armenia and it's assumed to be devoted to the God of sun Areg (Mithra) by him. According to a linguist and historian Nicolas Marr, the temple has undergone considerable reconstruction in the 4th century after Armenia became Christian. Garni has served as a summer residence for the sister of King Tiridates III. Roman bath and Greek floor inscriptions are preserved. Remnants of a church near Garni can be seen to this day. In 1679 the temple collapsed as a result of a strong earthquake. The finely crafted columns and carved wall stones were spread around. After the earthquake, the temple was restored to its original architectural style but only after restorations in 1969 - 1975 its current appearance was restored. Interestingly enough a Russian archeologist suggested to further restore the temple in the 1880s but to do it by transporting the stones and columns to Tbilisi. Armenia was then under the rule of the Russian empire. Fortunately, his idea was not carried out.

After Armenia has converted to Christianism all the pagan temples but Garni were destroyed. R. Hewsen argues that the reason this temple was spared is that it was the tomb of a Roman-appointed Armenian king rather than a temple.

There is a deep gorge near the Garni temple called Canyon of Garni. It has such a magnificent view that seems purposefully engineered. The vertical cliffs resemble pipes of a pipe organ hence the name "Symphony of Stones".


Geghard (lit. "Spear") is a 4th-century monastic complex founded by Gregory the Illuminator at the site of a pre-Christian sacred spring in a cave. The spring currently can be seen near the narthex ("gavit" in Armenian) linked to the main church. The church was then carved out into a cave. The fact that this monastery is partly carved inside a cave spawns its second name Ayrivank (lit. "Monastery of a Cave"). The monastery once had over 140 cells where monks had lived. Most of the cells were destroyed because of the earthquakes. The name Geghard (spear) refers to the fact that the spear that wounded Jesus during his crucifixion was brought here by Apostle Jude (Thaddeus). The spear stayed in the monastery for 500 years. Now it is kept in Echmiadzin Cathedral. The main chapel has been established in 1215 but the monastery had been functional long before that. It has been a center of calligraphy, scholarly studies, musical education and a site of pilgrimage soon after its foundation in the 4th century. The monastery is recognized as UNESCO's World Heritage site.

The peculiar-shaped rocks and the gorge of Azat river provide a unique background to this monastery complex where monk cells and churches are fully or partly dug into the cliffs. So it's not surprising that Geghard in par with Garni draws the curiosity of many tourists and locals alike.

During the 13th century following buildings of the complex were built:
  • St Katoghike church
  • Narthex (Gavit)
  • 2 churches dug into the cliffs
  • Chapel-tomb (Zhamatun)

The Legends

14th century Armenia was invaded by Central Asian tyrant Timur (Tamerlane). Having heard about the miracles of Geghard monastery he flooded the area with his troops and mockingly demanded the symbol of Geghard be granted him. When the soldiers raise their weapons to hit the Sacred Symbol a big army dressed in colorful attire appeared from nowhere and attacked the offenders. Terrified by the sudden encounter soldiers faltered and fled away. Timur, scared to death himself, asked forgiveness from the Holy Symbol and promised numerous gifts. He then drew back with his army.

Another legend tells us that there was a treasure hidden in the north wall of the monastery. In reality, the architects designed the wall so that the light falling through the dome onto a part of the wall created an illusion of a diamond. Timur had known about this 'treasure'. He walked towards the wall to grab the 'diamond' but when he was close enough he blocked the sunlight and the 'diamond' disappeared. He stepped back and saw it again. After several times of going back and forth, he gave up the attempts but decided against destroying the monastery. Unfortunately, this architectural feat has been lost to the centuries after 1679 earthquake in Garni.