Visiting Garni, Etcmiadzin and Geghard in Armenia.


Garni, Etcmiadzin and Geghard
For most history-oriented tourists, Armenia is a treasure trove of museums, old churches, temples and monasteries.

Armenia is a small country located east of Turkey on the eastern plains of Mount Ararat, south of Georgia, north of Iran, and west of Azerbaijan.

You can drive from the northern border to Iran in approximately 10 hours on highways built to western standards, but there are many curves that force you to maintain an average speed of 80 km./hours.

Thousands of central Europeans visit Yerevan, the capital, every year to see one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, wonder at the manuscripts in a specially designed museum, and the paintings of the National Museum overlooking the main square.

Although Yerevan has enough sites to keep a tourist busy for one or two weeks, most want to take a day trip to nearby destination of the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox fait.

Armenian King Drates III was the first to accept Christianity on behalf of the nation in 301 A D.

Ten mother church was built in 303 A D after Saint Gregory the Illuminator saw the Holy Ghost descend in a vision on the site.

Etchmiadzin, the city, was the capital of Armenia from 180 to 340 A.D.

The mother church complex (the church and the seat of the primate of the Apostolic Orthodox Faith) is modest by Vatican standards.

It is small, and people stand during mass, as in all Armenian churches in the country. Armenian churches in other countries (and there are many) have pews.

A Zoroastrian Fire temple occupied the site in the third century B C and was destroyed by an earthquake.

It is approximately 20 kilometres northeast of Yerevan and easily reached in 30 minutes. Hire a local guide in Yerevan for the day and a taxi in good driving condition, but negotiate for an adequate price before you board the vehicle. The tranquility of the whole site is impressive, and the church emanates “divinity”. Most people, if not all, buy several candles, as is customary, to light and pray for their family or for something they desire intensely. Candle sales help maintain the church.

A souvenir shop is also on the site and does a brisk business selling religious artefacts, and paintings of the land.

Once you visit the complex, proceed to the nearby Garni that was inhabited since Neolithic times. The temple is dedicated to Helios, the Roman god of sun, and built by King Drtades I in the fist century A.D. with funding from Emperor Nero in exchange for military support against the Parthian Empire.

Garni was destroyed in 1679 by an earthquake, but restored fully from 1965 – 1975.

The Ionic architecture and setting are memorable.

After Christianity was adopted, Garni by royal decree escaped demolition. Later it served as a summer residence for royalty eager to escape the stifling summer heat of Yerevan.

After Garni, drive 10 kilometres to reach the Geghard monastery and church perched above a canyon of the Azat River.

Hermits retreated in the caves even before Christianity was declared the national religion.

Here hermits dedicated their lives to contemplate, pray, write translate and interpret the Biblefor the clergy.

The Monastery of the Holy Lance was built much later, and the Zakarian family financed the rock-hewn Church the Virgin Mary complete with a natural spring source.

These three historical sites can be comfortably visited if an experienced guide organizes the day.

Lunch should be taken in Etchmiadzin city.

There are several tourist agencies offering day tours to these sites, which may be cancelled if sufficient demand fails to materialize.

Hrayr Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?

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