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Thursday, 02 December 2010 07:19
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Garni is on the road to Geghard and both can be comfortably seen on the same day. Halfway to Garni however, take a few minutes to look at the Charents Arch. The arch itself is not what you stop for, but for the great view of Ararat which it frames on a clear day. Truly a Kodak moment. When you get to Garni, it will remind you of a somewhat plain Parthenon. It was built in the first century A.D. by the Armenian King Tiridates with the money he received after visiting Emperor Nero in Rome. The temple was destroyed in 1679 in an earthquake, but was reconstructed in Soviet times. (You can recognize the new stones by their lack of carving, which allows you to appreciate the originals.) It is an excellent reconstruction and a very worthwhile place to visit. You can even see carved graffiti in Arabic... There are also ruins of mosaic ancient baths and residences in Garni. If you came in a car (not bus) or can hike, take the time to go down to the very worthy Garni Gorge, and maybe hike up to the extensive and virtually unvisited ruins of Havuts Tar Monastery.

The structures of the fortress of Garni are in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature. The fortress is situated in a picturesque mountain locality and commands a broad panorama of orchards, fields and mountain slopes covered with motley carpets of varicoloured grasses, of the jagged and precipitous canyon of the Azat river.

The fortress of Garni stands on a triangular cape which dominates the locality and juts into the river. A deep gorge and steep mountain slopes serve as a natural impregnable obstacle, and therefore the fortress wall was put up only on the side of the plain. It was put together of large square-shaped slabs of basalt placed flat on top of each other without mortar and fastened together with iron cramps sealed with lead. The evenly spaced rectangular towers and the concave shape of the middle of the most vulnerable northern wall, which increased the effectiveness of flank shooting, added much to the defense capacity of the fortress and, at the same time, enhanced its artistic merits.

The temple stands on a high podium with a two-step base and is surrounded with 24 Ionic columns. A broad nine-step stairway leads up to the podium. The sides of the stairway are decorated with bas-relief, placed symmetrically relative to the main axis of the building, showing kneeling Atlantes with uplifted hands who seemed to support the torches which used to stand higher. This sculptural motif is flown from later monuments of East Roman provinces, such a Niha in Syria (the first century A.D.). In front of a rectangular stone-floored naos there is a shallow pronaos with antae and an entrance-way framed in a platband. The small size of the sanctuary shows that it contained only a statue of the deity, and that worship was performed in the pronaos.

The richly ornamented entablature is distinguished by the overhanging upper part of the architrave and frieze. This feature is also to be seen in the later monuments of Syria (2nd century) and Italy (4th century). As distinct from these works of Hellenistic art, however, the ornamentation of the entablature of Garni temple is more variegated. The frieze shows fronds of acanthus combined with flowers and rosettes of various shapes and outlines. Besides acanthus, it also features laurel and oak leaves, as well as grapes, pomegranate and other floral motives characteristic of the Orient. The cornice is ornamented with dummy spillways shaped as lions’ heads with bared teeth. These, along with oxen, often occurred in Urartu murals, on arms and seals. Contrasting with the flat bas-relief leaf ornament of the cornice, they created the rhythm of the crowning details of lateral façades, connected with the columns.

On the fortress grounds archeologists found fragments of various works of art. Among them a marble torso of what looks like a man’s figure in anitique attire merits special attention. The torso is harmoniously proportioned. The folds of an engirdled tunic draped around a calmly standing figure are well rendered. The figure has much in common with a marble woman’s figurine found in Artashat and dating back to the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the first century B.C.
Also well preserved is a great number of superbly executed fragments of column bases, plasters, window and door plathands, cornice stones, etc., which undoubtedly belonged to various monumental buildings. Judging by the remnants, one of these buildings was a four-apse Christian temple of the 7th century built in place of the ruins of the palace’s presence-chamber. Numerous structures on the territory of the settlement adjacent to the fortress as well as handicraft articles indicate a high level of Christian art which flourished there in the 4th to the 17th centuries.

The monuments of Garni show that although Armenia’s Hellenistic architecture was connected with the architecture of Hellenistic countries, it had distinguishing features all its own.

1. pagan temple
2. seventh-century church
3. pillared hall
4. palace
5. bath-house
6. outer gate
7. curtain wall

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