The Sun Temple of Garni is 28 kilometres from Yerevan. Once past the monument to Khachatur Abovyan, you turn right and travel up Myasnikyan Avenue. On a high plateau on your right you will see the outlines of the Nork housing development.
Halfway to Garni, on the right side of the road, is a stone arch
on a hill. It
was erected to the eminent Armenian poet Yegishe Charents (1897-1937), who used to gaze on Mt. Ararat from this spot, for the sight from here is breathtaking indeed. It is a sweeping, multi-coloured panorama crowned by the beautiful double-peaked mountain. A few more minutes on the road and you arrive at one of the most ancient structures on Armenian territory—the Garni architectural complex
(3rd century B.C.). What remains of a once mighty fortress is seen on a triangular plateau rising steeply for three hundred metres from the river Azat.
This was the summer residence of the Armenian kings. The mighty basalt walls testify to the power of the lords they guarded, but even they were powerless in the face of treachery. The victim was King Mithdridates who died at the hands of his nephew. Though he had the support of the Roman Empire, the traitor did not reign long, and was overthrown with the aid of Parthia, a rival of the Roman Empire, and the throne went to Tiridates I. The powerful empire could not ignore this affront and sent its legions into the Ararat Valley. They razed Artashat, the capital of Armenia, to the ground. But soon fickle fortune changed sides and, quite unexpectedly, the troops of Tiridates I struck a devastating blow dissipating the Roman legions. But Tiridates realized that he would not survive unless he made his peace with the great Roman Empire, so he accepted Emperor Nero's offer to receive the crown of Armenia from his hands.
The voyage to Rome took nine months and was a spectacular affair—the Armenian king being accompanied by a retinue of three thousand. The mission almost ended in failure, because the proud Tiridates, in violation of court etiquette, refused to disarm in the presence of the Emperor. The conflict was finally smoothed over, and Tiridates returned to Armenia a crowned king, with the 150 million dinars he had received as a gift from Nero, and with the artisans and builders who were to decorate his residence. On returning home Tiridates started building a beautiful pagan temple—the Sun Temple—on the territory of Garni Fortress (1st century A.D.). The temple graced the hillside for 17 centuries, evoking wonder and delight with its perfect form and ethereal beauty until a major earthquake destroyed it in 1679. Almost three centuries were to pass before the prominent Russian orientalist Nikolai Marr and his colleague Yakov Smirnov discovered the ruins of the Sun Temple. In the 1930s Professor Nikolai Buniatov made a faithful reconstruction of the temple after a thorough study of its ruins. Restoration work was launched in 1966 and took ten years of hard work to complete. Alexander Sainyan was awarded the State Prize of the Armenian SSR for drawing up and supervising the project.
The frieze of the temple has leaves twined around lion masks which are so naturally rounded, that it is hard to believe they are carved in stone and not moulded. The architecture and the sculpture are inseparable here. The small square hall with the altar is surrounded by 24 columns with finely carved capitals. An intricately ornamented hipped roof tops this "temple of coolness", which was used as the summer residence of the kings of Armenia after the country was converted to Christianity.
The ruins of the huge palace and baths, built in the 3rd century in the Roman style, are very interesting. The baths were warmed by heated air which passed through ceramic pipes laid under the floor. In the semi¬circular part of the anteroom, a section of the mosaic floor has remained intact. A story from Greek mythology was taken for a design and was laid out in stones of 15 colours. There is an inscription in Greek which never fails to mystify visitors. It says: We worked without remuneration
. Was it the complaint of slaves or was it the statement of master craftsmen who took pride in their work?
Archaeologists are still working on the Garni complex. They have discovered many interesting household items, fragments of antique marble statues, inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic and Armenian. Who knows what mysteries still lie hidden on the triangular plateau above the tumultuous river Azat!