“Garni” historical-cultural museum-reservation is located 28 km east of the capital of Armenia Yerevan in the southwestern part of the same name village of Kotayk region, on the southern foot of Geghasar in the Geghama mountain range; it is situated on a triangular cliff surrounded by deep gorges. According to the decision N 380 of the Soviet of Ministers of USSR on July 14, 1988 Garni was included into the “Joint directive on the protection of the historical environment and the historical-cultural museum-reservations” under the state of the General Department for the protection of historical and cultural monuments at the Council of Ministers of the Armenian SSR; on March 7, 2003 due to the decision N312-N it was functioning as part of the “Service for the protection of historical environment and cultural museum-reservations” SNCO and from July 8 2004 till nowadays due to the decision N 979-N, it oparates as one of the historical-cultural museum-reservation branches of the “Service for the protection of historical environment and cultural museum-reservations” SNCO.
Museum-reservation occupies an area of 3.5 hectares and includes a number of historical and cultural structures with high cultural values; such as Garni fortress (III-II centuries BC), pagan temple (77 AD), bathhouse with mosaic floor, the buildings of a palace and related economic structures, ruins of St. Sion Church (VII century) and adjacent chapel, the dragon stone (“vishap”) monument with cuneiform inscription, the stone with Greek inscription, etc.
The temple: The most significant building of the fortress of Garni preserved in the territory of Armenia is the unique pagan temple built in the Hellenistic style. The walls of the temple are made of large (up to 1.5 m long) polished basalt stones, without any mortars, which are joined to each other by metal links, the knots are filled with lead. The temple is designed as a peripteros on a high platform, the plan represents a rectangular hall (“cella”, “naos”) with an entrance (“pronaos”), which are externally surrounded by columns of Roman-Ionic order, six in the front and back and eight on the sides (the corner columns are listed twice).
The building has the north-south orientation with the frontispiece to the north, where is situated the main entrance. Throughout the entire width of the main facade, there are nine massive stairs (0.30 m high), which give the building solemnity and splendor. On both sides of the staircase there are special pedestals, where there are sculptured two bare atlases kneeling on one leg, with holding up hands in a way seemingly trying to hold the sky. Sacrificial tables are believed to have been situated on the pedestals.
The bathhouse is located about 50 m northwest of the temple. The main facade of the building is directed to northeast. The plan has a distinct composition of four rooms situated in the same direction. The first of the four rooms in the Garni bathhouse is the lobby (the dressing room), the second is the cold-water, the third is the warm-water, and the fourth is the hot-water bath with the part of the water heater. The mosaic depicted on the floor of the first room from the scientific point of view has a great artistic value; as we know so far it is the unique masterpiece of the monumental painting of pre-Christian Armenia.
St. Sion Church. Due to the excavation carried out here the central dome church with four semi-circular apses is dated back to the early medieval period, and was built in the 7th century. The interior of the cruciform walls form is four semi-circular apses, with annexes between the entrances into the wings of the cross. The church is located on the western side of the Garni temple. Testimonies about the church have been preserved in a manuscript records of 1346 testifying that the church was built in 681 in the territory of Garni with the allowance of the Curopalate, by order of Nerses priest. It is made of tuff stone; it has the same circular appearance, three-storey base and cross-shaped pillars and is considered to be Zvartonts type structure.
The system of palace buildings is consisted of several structures. Excavations have uncovered the remains of a royal palace more than 40 meters in length and 15 meters in width. In the southeastern part there was a large arched hall in the symmetry of 1 to 2, while in the other half there were numerous rooms of various sizes and significance.
The ancient accurate information about Garni is found in the cuneiform inscription of Urartian king Argishti I, found in 1963 not far from the antique temple of Garni (781-760 BC). The next testimony was given in I century AD by Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus. During long-lasting archaeological excavations in Garni, it was stated that it was an ancient settlements of the local tribes of the Armenian Highland, where life was continued from III millennium BC up to the Late Middle Ages.
Being constructed thousands of years ago and preserving its existence to our days Garni in its own way reflects the centuries-old long way of the Armenian people through its various historical, social, political, economic, cultural and ritual stages.
Garni has always been the north-eastern stronghold of defense of the Armenian capitals in the Ararat valley being conveniently located and with a powerful fortified system of high constructiveness of that period; it was the military base, and the summer residence of Armenian kings during the Yervanduni, Artashesian, Arshakuni kingdoms. In IV-V centuries Garni has become an important spiritual center. Garni was destroyed by numerous raids of foreign invaders in the XIII-XVII centuries and was finally gone to ruins by an earthquake of 1679.
The study of the monument began at the end of XIX century. Due to the periodical excavations in 1909-1911 led by academician N. Marr and in the 1950s by B. Arakelyan the remains of a number of monuments have been excavated in the area of the complex and valuable archaeological materials have been uncovered. Based on the researches, the remains of some of the complex’s monuments (the church, bathhouse, building of the palace, walls, etc.) were conserved, and in 1968-1974 the pagan temple was completely reconstructed by the project of the architect A. Sahinyan.
In 2002-2003 reconstruction, improvement and other works were carried out at “Garni” historical-cultural museum-reservation in the frame of “Lincey” Foundation. The whole area of the museum-reservation was radiolabeled in 2009, and a system of artistic lighting was installed around the Garni temple, which enabled to highlight the architectural, dimensional, sculptural and artistic ornamentation of the monument in the evening with the accompany of music and vibrant light effects.
On April 28, 2011 UNESCO Headquarter awarded “Garni” historical-cultural museum-reservation of the “Melina Mercouri international prize for the safeguarding and management of cultural landscapes” for measures taken to preserve and to manage its cultural vestiges.