Armenia's greatest attraction looked a little smaller than I expected, and it had about 10 visitors. There were more old ladies outside the gate selling dried fruits than there were tourists inside, and no taxis were waiting. The temple was built in the 1st century to the sun god Mihr (years too long ago to imagine). The site was turned into a summer residence for a princess, complete with hot sulfur baths. It somehow escaped destruction by the early Christians and a church was built next to it instead, on top of the palace ruins. The place toppled in a 17th century earthquake and has now been reconstructed.
From Garni our driver took us on to Geghard Monastery. It was cold, windy and the road went uphill. I was very glad weren't trying to get there on foot. There has been a monastery built into the side of the mountain at Geghard since the 4th century. The monks lived in caves in the hillside, often in isolation. The main church, built around 1200, wasn't like any I'd seen. It was a series of dim, cold chambers, silent except for a trickle of running water. The only light came through windows carved in the rock and a few candles inside. The side altars were completely dark until you came close enough to see crosses carved into the walls. In one of the rooms, an old woman in a long coat squatted beside the spring, fussing with her plastic bags and cups. I didn't know whether she was collecting holy water or washing her dishes from lunch.
I walked up the stony steps to the next chapel, a music hall famous for its perfect acoustics. As I read the sign outside, the old lady walked by with her cups and bags. She said something to me in Armenian and gestured that I should come inside. I followed. The chapel was round, supported by thick pillars and lit by a single hole in the roof. The lady set her bags down and poured her cups of holy water into a basin in the corner. She tightened her coat and strode to the middle of the room, face lit by the weak light from above. And then she sang. Her voice was light and steady and young, and that moment it was the most beautiful voice in the world. She sang the songs which have probably been performed here for a thousand years. Now, with her loose coat and disposable cups, she performed in front of a couple of shivering tourists standing in the dark.