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Garni 3: The Fortress Walls. Wall construction

The Fortress Walls

The cyclopean stone wall that protects the northern approach is 2 meters thick with stones projecting out of the external side. Originally the wall was 12-14 meters high; what remains are 2-4 meters of finely hewn stone. The cyclopean blocks are held in place with iron clamps and laid without mortar, a construction technique perfected during Roman times, leading some to think the walls were actually built in the Roman period.

In fact this technique was common in the Near East and the stones along the lower courses of the wall were first laid in the 3rd millennium BCE. In the 7th century Arab invaders destroyed most of the wall, but inscriptions by the gate show they were rebuilt in the 10th century.

Wall construction

The art of wall building was first perfected in the Bronze Age, when cyclopean walls were created around settlements, cities and fortresses. The large walls were made with huge blocks of stones, and called cyclopean because early archeologists felt that only the mythical Cyclopes could have moved the enormous stones which made up these walls. The functional purpose became an art form in the Hellenistic era, when cities began to see walls as a decorative part of their landscape. The white faceted walls that encircled Artashat in the 2nd century BCE is a case in point.

The walls at Garni kept their original look, borrowing from the Romans the technique in laying stone without mortar by using iron. In order to strengthen the wall, blocks were placed alternately with the longer side (stretchers) or the shorter side (headers) on the face of the wall (opus quadratum). The result was both appealing and strong. It took 500 years and successive invasions to tear down the walls, which were later rebuilt and reinforced with a gate.

The text was edited by ICOMOS/Armenia NGO.