30 kilometres to the east of the capital, on a road that winds along the Vokhdjaberd Mountains and offers majestic views of the Ararat valley on its right side, is the village of Garni. This town is one of the best places to visit in Armenia. It is home to some of the most emblematic historical spots, an excellent atmosphere, hiking trails, picturesque villages, and even a nature reserve.
Although people usually explore the area’s best-known sites on day trips from Yerevan, Garni is also a good place to spend the night and discover all its secrets. To book accommodation or to resolve any other questions, you can contact the tourist office. We leave their contact information a little further on.
What to See in Garni?
The Temple of Garni
Opening Hours: from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (in summer it closes at 11:00 p.m.).
Admission price for adults: 1000 AMD.
In the picturesque village of Garni stands the only pagan shrine of Armenia still standing nowadays. The Temple of Garni is the only remaining witness of a pre-Christian Armenia that worshiped different gods. It survives thanks to the prayers of the sister of King Tiridates III, the same Khosrovidut who had saved Saint Gregory. She asked him not to destroy it.
That was during a time when the desire of Christianity to wipe out any trace of their idolatrous past caused the country to lose much of its cultural heritage. The building collapsed after the 1679 earthquake and the authorities rebuilt it during the communist era, making it the only Hellenistic style temple existing in the entire Soviet orbit.
The temple was also the summer residence of some Armenian kings who called it the ‘Palace of Freshness’ because temperatures there were slightly lower than in the capital.
The Temple of Garni rises on top of a precipice from where the gorge of the Azat River can be contemplated. It is possible to descend through the gorge to the water through its paths, but if you dare to do so, please watch your steps as the locals warn that you can encounter some snakes, especially in summer.
The structure was built in the second half of the first century by King Tirdates I in honour of Mithra, the Sun God. And it celebrated the incorporation of Armenia into the Roman Empire in the time of Nero. It is built in basalt and it complies with the sacred geometrical rules for the Hellenes. Its twenty-four columns are of Ionic style and it rises on a platform of nine staircases leading to the altar where Mithra was worshiped.
It is believed that the place has been inhabited since the third millennium before Christ and that it was a strategic place due to its defensive strength.
In fact, the site is an old fortress from the Urartu Kingdom period. Next, to the Temple of Garni you can visit the ruins of the Roman baths which, via an ingenious heating system on the ground, could provide water heated up to 60 degrees.
We must emphasize its colourful mosaic with marine motifs. In addition, the ruins of the Sion Church, which was circular and tried to emulate Zvartnots, are also found inside the enclosure.
During the summer, the Temple of Garni becomes the perfect place to hold parties and perform plays or concerts of all kinds. When night falls, the lights illuminate the temple and the background sound of the river makes it an ideal place to spend an unforgettable evening.
A Walk through the Azat River Gorge
The Azat River Gorge is spectacular and it is worth walking its course on foot, even if you can only manage a few miles. There is a small path that starts on the right side of the fortress ̶ if you are looking towards the cliff ̶ and which descends to the river. The walls of the gorge offer a wonder of nature, with hexahedrons in the form of organ pipes, known as the ‘Stone Symphonies’.
On the opposite bank, there is a nice path that leads to the ruins of the Havuts Tar Monastery Complex, about three or four miles away. The sanctuary was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1679 and it is located on a promontory that offers a beautiful view.
10 km away from Garni, in a place which was inaccessible for centuries, the enigmatic Geghard Monastery blends with the walls of the Geghardatzor canyon like a chameleon with skin like a rock.
It is definitely the most mysterious religious complex in the country and it would be the perfect setting to shoot a film about the Templars or The Crusades. The walls which surround this sacred place give it more of a fortress look than that of a sanctuary. The dozens of caves that are found in the surroundings, where the hermits once retired into, do not help to dispel the intrigue.
In this isolated place, the greatest Armenian relic was kept for a long time: the spear that pierced the side of Christ. In fact, Geghard means ‘the spear’ in ancient Hebrew. Today, the spear is kept in the museum of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral.
It is not known for sure when religious life began in this place, but it is thought that this place was already sacred in pagan times due to its springs. Some experts think that Christianity may have been present here since the fourth century and that an ancient temple was gradually built. Six centuries later, in 923 the Arabs looted that temple and burned it. As a result, many manuscripts were lost and hardly any vestige of its past was left.
The current complex of Geghard was built between the 12th and 13th centuries and it consists of various churches and chapels, some of which are carved in the ground. The main one is Katoghike, which dates from 1215.
Geghard was bought by the Proshyan family during the Middle Ages and they enlarged it and made it one of the main pilgrimage centers. That is why you can see some tombs of this dynasty inside the central building.
Geghard has been for Armenians a place with special energy since the beginning of time. The small Avazan Church is a very good example. It literally means ‘pool’, and there, rituals linked to the worship of water are still practiced.
Avazan was built in 1240 and it was excavated in the rock next to a natural spring.
It is said that if a barren woman drinks water from its source and she believes with all her strength, she will get pregnant.
Outside the walls, there are some trees with dozens of handkerchiefs tied to the branches. It is said that they have magical properties and that if you tie one and then you go around the tree seven times, a wish will be granted. It is also very typical to buy some cat cake or sujuk (a sweet that looks like a string of sausage on the outside, but which is made of nuts and caramelized sugar) outside the monastery.
King Josrov Natural Reserve
1,700 years ago, King Josrov decided to plant a forest for hunting purposes on the southern slope of Gegham Mountain. Since then, the place became the exclusive preserve of the aristocracy who introduced new species from Persia and neighbouring countries.
The reserve was created in 1958 and it extends along 29,196 hectares, a third of which is covered by lush forests. Represented here are half of the plant species growing in the country and there are grey bears, lynxes, Armenian mouflons, Asian leopards, and other mammals.
The park also hides some caves, canyons, oak groves, and mountain pastures. If you want to visit, you have to contact the tourist office of Garni. Overall, the area is a good place to “disconnect” from the busy world. Feel free to get lost in the paths of this beautiful natural park.
Practical Information for Your Visit to Garni and Geghard Monastery
www.garnigeghard.com – This website will help you find general information about the area. It has a database with all the restaurants and accommodations in the area. They give you a few options for tours as well.
Where to Sleep in Garni?
Lodging Medium Price
HyeLandz Eco Village Resort
Address: 3rd house on 6th Street (Guegadir).
Phone: ✆ + 374 98 333 322// +374 98 333 399.
HyeLandz is a uniquely beautiful place. It mixes life on an organic farm with the comfort of a big hotel. It is located 6 miles from Garni, in the small village of Geghadir, and is situated in a unique natural setting. Definitely, a perfect place to relax as a couple or as a family and to learn the secrets of life on a farm without giving up the comforts of modern life.
The eco-village resort grows its own food. They have chickens, donkeys, horses, cheeses, beehives, etc. They also organize tours. They have rooms of different categories and prices range from 40,000 AMD for a double standard to 75,000 AMD for a suite. For more information: www.hyelandz.com
The marshrutka 266 and the bus 264 leave every 50 minutes from the GAI street stop (just behind the Mercedes-Benz dealership in the Nor Nolk district) from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. They stop on the road which crosses Garni (not far from the temple) and they continue a few more miles until they reach the last station in the village of Gogh.
From Gogh to the Geghard monastery, there are 3 miles that you can cover on foot or hitchhiking. Be careful! You should check out the return time from Gogh since they change often and according to our last information the last one was at 5:15 p.m.
What can we recommend to budget travellers? The most efficient way is to take a marshrutka from Yerevan to Garni. You should visit the Garni temple leisurely. In Garni, you should hire a round-trip taxi to Geghard, with an hour wait (3,500 AMD). Back in Garni, you should take the first marshrutka which heads towards Yerevan.