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près de Garrni, Kotaykʼ (አርሜኒያ)
This hike begins from the Pagan Temple of Garni, and is best undertaken from early spring to late autumn. The Garni temple overlooks the miraculous basalt column formation known as “Symphony of the Stones”, located down in the gorge, on the east side of Garni.
Another natural formation known as “Djutakasar” is also located in the gorge, and seems like an inseparable part of the “Symphony”.
Equally admirable is the Azat Gorge, with birds flying in the gorge and the Azat river flowing and foaming beneath (the most suitable months to enjoy the area are May and June).
The plants, encountered within the Azat Gorge vary greatly, depending on the season: different herbs, and colorful flowers with healing properties stretch along the entire hike.
The hike from Garni to Havuts Tar passes through the Gorge of Garni, near the Azat river. It is necessary to register in the guardhouse located on the way to the Havuts Tar monastic complex, then enter the “Khosrov State Reserve” (Havuts Tar is located in the reserve). After registration, the winding road will lead up to the ancient monastery nestled on the peak of the mountain.
The Temple of Garni is situated on the right bank of the Azat river, in the province of Kotayk. Legend ascribes Garni’s founding to Hayk Nahapet’s (the ancestor of all Armenians) great-grandson, Gegham, who named the temple of Garni after his grandson Garnik. Another legend says that it was also called the Temple of the Sun, dedicated to the sun god Mihr (Armenian deity).
The fortress of Garni was built in the Hellenistic architectural style, on a high triangular promontory, during the reign of King Tiridates I (Trdat, in Armenian) in the year 76. The fortress of Garni was destroyed several times throughout the centuries, but the Armenian kings would always restore it – turning it into a summer residence, a place for the military exercises of troops and even an Episcopal Residence.
Archaeological excavations around Garni have found late Bronze Age tombs, early Urartian and Armenian cuneiform and ceramic inscriptions attributed to King Argishti, and an urban settlement in front of the fortress, the traces of which had been covered by both medieval and modern buildings.
There is also a medieval cemetery on the northern side of the village with carved khachkars (cross stones) and inscriptions on the tombs. Currently the temple of Garni attracts numerous tourists visiting Armenia with its well-preserved majestic architecture and carvings.
The temple is open to everyone throughout all four seasons, and at night it is dressed in the beautiful glow of colored lights.
Havuts Tar is a monastic complex, an architectural monument, situated on the top of the mountain, on the left bank of the Azat River, east of Garni (province of Kotayk). It was one of the cultural and religious centers of Medieval Armenia. Grigor Magistros Pahlavouni built the Surb Amenaprkich Church (St Saviour's church) in the area around the monastery in 1,013.
Havuts Tar was destroyed by an earthquake in 1,679.
The monastic complex consists of two groups of monuments.
The main church (XIII century) in the western monument group, has a cruciform structure in the interior, and a rectangular build along the outer walls, there are also sacristies on all four sides. Numerous inscriptions are carved on the colorful walls (made of polished red tuff) of the church. The dome and the roof of the church have been ruined over the centuries. There are also two one-nave chapels (currently dilapidated) which are adjacent to the church.
In the 1st half of the XVIII century, the eastern group of monuments was thoroughly reconstructed with the stones of the church and the four-pillar narthex of the monastery built by Grigor Magistros. Nearby on the north side, is the Surb Karapet church (the domed hall of which remained incomplete), founded by Catholicos Asdvadzadur (Hamadantsi )in 1,721.
Living quarters are adjacent to the northern walls, with a guesthouse on the southeast.
Currently the monastery is under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture.
Khosrov Forest State Reserve
The Khosrov Forest (including the Urts Reserve and Garni Reserve) was once the hunting ground of the 4th century Armenian king, Khosrov G. Kotak (Khosrov III the Small), after whom it is named. It was during his reign that, according to Khorenatsi, the forest grew noticeably in size. The reserve extends from the Araks River bank (near Dvin) to the Azat River. The Khosrov Reserve is under strict protection by the State of Armenia. At an altitude of 1,600-2,300m, and with an area of 27,000 hectares, the reserve has been under State protection since 1,958, in order to preserve, improve and propagate existing and new species of flora and fauna.
The Kakavaberd Fortress, Geghard, Havuts Tar, and St. Stephanos (Surb Stepanos) monasteries, a church carved into a cave, a medieval bridge and other historical monuments can be found within the Khosrov Forest. The Azat River flows through the forest, with its abundant tributaries forming numerous rapids and magnificent waterfalls.
As mentioned by Khorenatsi, during the reign of Khosrov G Kotak, increased forest management was conducted within the reserve.
The flora within the Khosrov Reserve is plentiful – it includes around 1,800 species of plants, which constitute more than 50% of Armenia's flora, 146 of these are registered in the Red Data Book of the Republic of Armenia.
In the areas between the Garni and Havuts Tar monastery there are a variety of interesting plants, trees and flowers, which vary depending on each microclimate. Semi-desert landscape dominates the lower slopes of the mountains, and forest vegetation covers the mid-altitude slopes, where juniper and oak trees grow.
Other plants include the broadleaf spindle (Euonymus europaeus), guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus), sorbus and Caucasian honeysuckle. Many species of flowers such as cichorium, white chamomile, clary sage (Salvia), valeriana (Valerians), centaurea, nettle, plantain (Plantago), white bryony, and achillea, which are said to have healing properties, can also be seen. Plants like thyme (Thymus) and mint grow here, and are often used as herbs in teas and cooking.
It is quite possible to hike this entire route without seeing any animals. However, the opposite is also true. A primary task of the Khosrov Reserve is the protection and breeding of species, which is strictly monitored and controlled. Usurian spotted deer, for example, was introduced to the reserve in 1,954.
The most common animals include the Armenian mouflon (wild sheep) and Bezoar goat (wild goat) and some species of amphibious reptiles that can be encountered here in great numbers in the summer months, due to the hot weather.
Other, rarer sightings include leopards, brown bears, wild boars, foxes, hares, lynxes, martens, wolves and badgers.
The birdlife is especially abundant, and sightings of black kite, bearded vulture, griffon vulture, eagle, wild pigeon and jay are common. There are also many reptiles, and hikers are recommended to take extra care to avoid unwanted encounters with toxic vipers (Gyurza, in Armenian).
Best period: April -November
Distance: 26 km from Yerevan
Duration: 37 min
Hiking trail length: 11 km
Walk duration (climbing): 3 hours
Altitude from Sea Level: 160-1,400 m
Visible Trail Surface: 100%
How to Get There
In order to reach the route, it is necessary to go to the 1st block of Nor Nork, from there you can take minibus number 268 or another bus and leave for the village of Garni.
If taking a taxi, it is advisable to take one with a working meter (be sure the driver uses it), or agree on a price beforehand.
Safety and Security
Mobile telephone coverage (via Ucom) is available between Garni and Havuts Tar, except during some parts of the winding road.
911 emergency services operate throughout Armenia in case of any accidents.
Be sure to bring bottled water!