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Other sights around Garni

The area has several other sights, notably the churches of the Mother of God and St Mashtots as well as the Monastery of Havuts Tar and the striking rock formations in Garni Gorge. Allow at least four hours to walk from Garni to Havuts Tar and back. The Mother of God Church in the centre of the town is a 12th-century basilica with a small porch incorporating a belfry. The more elaborate Church of St Mashtots is in the eastern part of the town. It is a small square single-aisle church with a 12-sided tambour. The pink cupola and roofs contrast attractively with the grey stonework of the walls and tambour. The tambour is surprisingly elaborate with much geometric carving and windows in lour of the sides.

There are two main ways down into the gorge. The easiest way to follow is by taking the path which leaves from in front of the entrance to the temple and slopes down on the left-hand side as one faces the temple. The first part of the path is paved; when you come to a private gate take the path which goes right. Keep descending and, if in doubt at intersections, always keep going down. You eventually reach the dirt road along the bottom of the gorge. Turn left. The road passes astonishing rock formations - regular columns of basalt which are similar to those of the Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and Fingal's Cave, Staffa, Scotland. They are also similar to those further east in Armenia along the Arpa Gorge near Gndevaz. The gorge has a flora of drought-tolerant shrubs including Spirea crenata, willow-leaved pear (Pyrus salicifolia) and the rare yellow Rosa hemisphaerica. Herbaceous plants include Campanula, Verbascum and spiny Astragalus (goat's thorn).

Continuing upriver a medieval bridge is reached. Cross it and go uphill, following the occasional signs to the visitor centre of the Khosrov Reserve. If going to Havuts Tar turn left here onto a path which follows the side of the gorge - the ranger from the reserve is happy to point it out. The path gives marvellous views both down into the gorge and also of Garni Temple on the opposite face. Havuts Tar Monastery is about 3km along this path and, at an altitude of 1,590m, is some 200m higher than Garni Temple. The extensive site comprises two main groups of ruins, eastern and western, though there is evidence that there were once structures, or possibly graves, between them. The path approaches the eastern group. Although dating from the 11th to 13th centuries the monastery was very badly damaged in the 1679 earthquake and much of what is now seen supposedly dates from its rebuilding in the early 18th century. It must be wondered how much rebuilding actually took place as the appearance of the site is such as to give the impression that Havuts Tar was effectively abandoned in 1679.

The eastern group of buildings was surrounded by a fortified wall which still stands to a considerable height on the north and east. The entrance is an arched doorway at the southeast corner. The main church is relatively well preserved. The western facade and the interior uses a mixture of red and black tuff to striking effect and the interior is notable for its carved niches with birds appearing in several. The church once had a gavit but few traces remain. On its north side work commenced in 1772 on the construction of a new church but it was never finished.

The west group is dominated by a cross-dome church whose walls are again constructed in a chessboard pattern using alternately red and black tuff blocks. This is probably the Holy Saviour Church founded in 1013 by Grigor Pahlavuni (c990-1058), founder also of Kecharis, although some sources state that Holy Saviour is the church in the east group. On the south side of this church is a small vaulted chapel built at a later date.

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