Before the Christian era, Armenia’s landscape was dotted with pagan temples and monuments dedicated to the gods. The early Christians destroyed most evidence of the pagan era, often building churches n the foundations of former temples, but scattered throughout Armenia, some remnants remain of this fascinating period in history. The most significant among these is Garni Temple, the only pagan temple that has been left largely intact in all of Armenia.
Garni is located along the Azat River Valley in Kotayk province, 32 kilometres southeast of Yerevan. The first fortification constructed in this area dates back to the 3th millennium BC. It was conquered in the 8th century BC by the Urartians, who added several structures, including a palace and a bathhouse.
The latter, located in the northeast part of the site, is of particular interest. It has a preserved heating reservoir and an interior floor decorated with a colored mosaic bearing depictions of Greek mythological figures. One of the intact inscriptions is in Koine Greek. It reads: “Without receiving anything we toiled.”
The Parthenon-like temple, the most famous and best-preserved building, was built in the 1st century AD by King Tiridates I of Armenia and was probably funded with the money he received from Emperor Nero during a trip to Rome. It was most likely dedicated to the god Mithras. Garni is made of basalt, a feature that sets it apart from other Greco-Roman temples.
However, it was pillaged several times by invaders and destroyed by an earthquake in 1679, the temple stands today thanks to the reconstruction efforts between 1969 and 1979. Garni is a treasured monument: the sole surviving temple of Armenia’s pagan past.