Garni Controversy: Ministry official says no café construction near Armenia’s only pagan temple

Garni Controversy: Ministry official says no café construction near Armenia’s only pagan temple

Photolure

No café will be built in the territory of the Garni reserve, a senior Ministry of Culture official confirmed over the weekend.

Deputy Minister Arev Samuelyan spoke to Hetq following a discussion hosted by the Ministry on Saturday, informing the online publication that they had given up the idea.

Plans to build a café near the Garni temple, the only pre-Christian house of worship surviving in the territory of Armenia, had elicited an angry response from groups of activists concerned with the preservation of Armenian cultural and historical heritage.

Many of those activists traveled to the territory of the museum in Garni (about 30 kilometers to the east of Armenian capital Yerevan) the previous weekend to protest against the construction project the spot. They, in particular, removed the sand and road-metal from what had been turned into a construction site near the Royal Bath area at Garni. They brought a few sandbags to Yerevan and put them in front of the Ministry of Culture building as a sign of protest.

The Garni Castle dates back to the 3rd-2nd centuries BC, and the Greek-Roman temple built in the first century BC, which is the compositional center of the castle constructions, is the only pagan temple to have been preserved in Armenia after the country adopted Christianity in 301 AD. It was ruined in a 17th-century earthquake, but was restored during 1969-1975.

The Ministry of Culture had explained the construction of a café near the monument by the need to develop tourism, at the same time giving assurances that the revenues made by the café would be directed at the repairs of the paved road leading to the ancient site. Besides, it had said that the café would not be a permanent structure, but would operate only from May to October when most tourists visit Garni.

Many, however, disagreed with the kind of utilitarian approach, arguing that such a café would only diminish the tourist value of the place and, therefore, would put off many potential visitors. At the same time, they also voiced their conviction that the reserve could make enough money even without additional facilities to pay for the needed maintenance work.