About Garni Temple
The Garni Temple is an impressive looking Greco-Roman temple complex probably built in the 1st century AD by King Tiridates I of Armenia with the support of the Roman Emperor Nero.
Likely dedicated to the ancient deity Mithras, today the Garni Temple lies about 30km to the East of Yerevan and the complex hosts a number of buildings including a royal palace, Roman baths, and a 9th Century church.
Destroyed by an earthquake in 1679, the Garni Temple was partially reconstructed in the 1970s and is now made up of both original and replacement masonry.
Garni Temple history
Armenia was the world’s first Christian country, adopting Christianity as the state religion in 301 AD.
The historical records around the earliest days of the Temple of Garni are somewhat limited, yet it is probable that the temple was first constructed upon the orders of King Tiridates I of Armenia sometimes around 70-80 AD.
The Temple of Garni is situated in a very strategic location, on a cliff, overlooking a range of the Geghama mountains as well as the Azat River near the Ararat Plain. The site was inhabited in prehistoric times, and there is evidence that it was also used by the Urartians between the 8th-6th centuries BC. The complex included a Roman bath, a royal summer palace and a 7th-century church.
Following Armenia’s transition to Christianity in the early 4th century AD, the Temple of Garni was spared thanks to the intercession of Princess Khosrovdoukht who was the sister of Tiridates the Great. At the time, Tiridates led a concerted effort to systematically destroy all of Armenia’s ancient pagan temples. Due to its strategic importance, the area around the Temple of Garni was subjected to multiple invasions by Romans, Persians, Arabs, Byzantines, Turks, and the Mongols.
In 1638 AD the Temple of Garni was raided by Ottoman Turks during the Ottoman–Safavid War of 1623–39 which resulted in considerable destruction. Following a catastrophic earthquake in 1679, the Temple of Garni collapsed and was left in ruins for hundreds of years.
Archaeologists began to explore the site in the 19th century and Nikoraios Mar took the initiative to amass and safeguard the stones of the fallen temple between 1909-1911 in the hopes of one day resurrecting the temple.
The temple was extensively restored between 1969-1975 when Armenia was under the control of the Soviet Union.
Garni Temple today
The Garni temple is now the only surviving pagan temple in Armenia and the only classical structure still standing in the country. The site welcomes 136,000 visitors each year, and a handful of those are Armenian Neopagans, who call the site their spiritual capital. Armenian Neopaganism is a relatively new grassroots religious movement that aims to reclaim the pre-Christian Armenian faith.
Visitors are able to walk up the steep steps, enter the temple and walk around amongst the columns. This is remarkable access that also gives views over the Khosrov State Reserve across the gorge. Khosrov State Reserve has been a protected area since 330AD.
Getting to Garni Temple
The bus station where the minibuses go to Garni from Yerevan is located outside of Yerevan’s city centre at 14/3 Gai Avenue. The minibus number is 266 and the journey is around 40 minutes. Visitors can also choose to rent a car.