If you are staying in the capital of Yerevan, you must take a trip to the village of Garni to check out the remains of Armenia's classical past. The nearby sights, such as the Temple of Garni, are totally worth it and it will only take you about 30 minutes to get there.
Reflections of Armenia's Greek and Roman past
The Temple of Garni was built in the 1st century by King Trdat I as a pagan temple dedicated to the Armenian God of Sun, Mihr. When Armenia converted to Christianity in the 4th century, the structure miraculously survived the massive destruction of pagan temples. It was not until 1679 that the structure collapsed after a severe earthquake. The temple you will observe today is a reconstruction made between 1969 and 1975, after several excavations in the area were accomplished. Alexander Sarhinyan was the leader of the restoration project when Armenia was still under the Soviet Union.
The building represents Armenia's classical past, tying it to its Greco-Roman roots. It is, in fact, the only Greco-Roman structure standing to this day in Armenia. It is often compared to the Parthenon. The design follows the sacred geometry of those days based on the theories of Pythagoras and Platon. This geometry was used to construct buildings in Rome and the Garni temple illustrates an advanced example of it.
The area that surrounds Garni used to serve as a military fortress in ancient times. Later in the 4th century, it was surrounded by Roman baths, suggesting that this area could have been a summer resort in Late Antiquity.
What to look out for
The structure is made out of gray basalt, which could be found in the region, and built on top of a podium looking to the north. It has 24 Ionic columns of 6.5 meters each. Archaeologists believe these columns represent the 24 hours of a day and were brought in from Asia Minor. In general, the temple is decorated in imperial Roman style; however, in some parts, you will observe Arabic graffiti from the 9th and 10th century—a demonstration of how the structure was often disrespected. Elsewhere, look for the vishap—a carved dragon stone in the ruins of the church.
Good to know
The temple is located 30 km from Yerevan on a cliff overlooking the Geghama mountains. You can get there by bus or taxi. Entrance to the temple is free on the last Saturday of every month.