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The sprawling mosaics of Garni Temple

The mosaic artform dates back to ancient times when a unique method of piecing together finely carved pebbles in a uniform manner would amount to a beautifully laid-out, stony depiction.

While 3D printed “machine-made” mosaics are a brand new phenomenon that was only recently invented in our digital age, ancient mosaics were actually assembled piece by piece solely by the human hand. One specific mosaic that illuminates this millennia-old formula is the Garni temple.

Photo credit: Rick Ney

Lauded as being one of the only remaining pagan temples in Armenia, the Garni temple houses thematic mosaics sprawled across its floors. Sadly, parts of the temple were twice destroyed, first in the midst of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity, and once again by an earthquake that shook the temple’s foundations in the mid-17th Century. But for the most part, the mosaics remain in-tact while giving tribute to Armenia’s rich heritage and culture.   

With human figures alongside Greek gods with oddly oriental-looking features dominating a large portion of the mosaics that will most definitely stand out to the art appreciator, the actual artwork is considered substandard in terms of technique. But although the mosaics don’t hold a candle to greater and more celebrated works, their historical significance in being the only relics of their kind to bring testimony to a once-upon-a-time pagan chapter in Armenia’s history has made them subjects of interest by connoisseurs of the trade.

One of the 3rd-century mosaics that enshrines the most beautiful section of the bathhouse is comprised of a set of stones that were arranged in 15 varying hues. Measuring at 2.91 x 3.14m, the artwork narrates a series of mythological stories, with the sea goddess Thetis alongside other Greek mythological figures animating to life against a faint green light that dominates the backdrop, assumed to be the sea.

Photo credit: Rick Ney

A clever play on the tonal variations of the water surface gives the illusion of wave movement, but what really makes the mosaics a statement in themselves is a melodramatic ancient Greek inscription that runs along the length of the mosaic, reading:

ΜΗΔΕΝ ΛΑΒΟΝΤΕΣ ΗΡΙΑΣΑΜΕΘΑ ΚΑΝΕΝΑ ΝΕΚΡΟ ΔΕ ΜΑΣ ΕΔΩΣΕ Η ΘΑΛΑΣΣΑ ΟΥΤΕ Ο ΩΚΕΑΝΟΣ

Or, which translates to everyday English as: “We receive no dead fish from the sea neither from the ocean”.

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