When researching what to see and do in Yerevan, I was surprised to find out that there was a Roman temple just 15 miles away.
To get there, I took a bus from the center of Yerevan to the eastern side of the city and managed to hop into a crowded Garni-bound marshrutka (minibus) right before it was about to leave. The ride took about half an hour, during which I was able to catch a glimpse of the countryside around Yerevan. This part of Armenia is lower in elevation than most of what I rode through en route to Yerevan from Georgia. That northern part of Armenia is higher in elevation and very green, whereas Yerevan and everything south of it are more arid. The landscape I saw as we drove toward Garni reminded me a lot of southern California’s hills in the summer—rolling and yellow.
I hopped out of the marshrutka in Garni and walked a few hundred yards down the road to the temple. The site where the temple is has been occupied since 3000 BC, and there was a fortress there in the few centuries BC. According to Wikipedia, the temple itself “was constructed in the 1st century AD by the King Tiridates I of Armenia, probably funded with money the king received from emperor Nero during his visit to Rome.” The temple was sacked by Timur (aka Tamerlane) in 1386 and toppled by an earthquake in 1679. The structure there today was rebuilt in the 1960s and 1970s from many of the original stones.
The temple was neat, but there were lots of people there. I don’t much like being in crowded touristy places for very long. I poked around a bit before hiking down into the canyon behind the temple, Garni Gorge. My goal was to hike up to the base of what is impressively called the Symphony of Stones. It’s a beautiful cliff of hexagonal basalt columns. To get to the base of the cliff, though, I had to cross the small river at the bottom of the gorge. I walked up and down the river, trying to find a dry way to cross over on stepping stones, but couldn’t find one. I ended up taking off my shoes and socks and rolling up my pant legs. I just barely managed to get across without falling in.
It was neat being there at the base of the cliff and to think that people have been looking and sitting at these cliffs for several thousand years. On top of that, I had the place all to myself; I didn’t see anyone else the whole time I was in the gorge.
The return river crossing was slightly more… wet. I lost my footing and plunged deeper into the water than I wanted to, and my rolled-up pants got soaked. It looked like I peed my pants. I sat at an old picnic table and dried out for half an hour or so before walking back up the side of the gorge to find a taxi to take me to Geghard.
I’d like to think that I extended the long line of people that have been falling into that river for thousands of years. That’s living history.
Side note: The gorge used to be one of Armenia’s premier rock climbing destinations but climbing there was banned a couple months ago. Check out this video of some of the climbing. It shows how beautiful the place is.
Nuts and Bolts
I took the 51 bus from near the Opera Theater to the small marshrutka lot on GAI Avenue (150 drams/$0.37 USD). The marshrutka from there to Garni might have been numbered, but I didn’t notice if it was. I just asked someone standing outside the marshrutka if it went to Garni. The ride to garni took 30–40 minutes and was 250 drams ($0.61). Entrance to the temple was 1000 drams ($2.44). Falling into the river will cost you nothing but your pride.