The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
The Armenian Fire Temple of Ani
foundations of this unusual
structure were uncovered by Nikolai Marr's excavations before the First World
War, during his 1909 season (above picture). Since those excavations
ended, the fire-temple has been mostly knowingly ignored by Turkish authorities
and omitted from maps and descriptions of Ani.
is thought to be the remains of a Zoroastrian fire temple, dating from between
the early 1st century to the middle of the 4th century CE. Although
some claim that it may be
an early Christian martyrion from the fourth or fifth century, but in Armenia
there are no known examples of an open-air one.
its purpose, it is probably the oldest surviving structure in Ani, and, if it is
a fire-temple, it proves the existence of at least one substantial building at
Ani from before the Christian period. At a later period the structure was
converted into a chapel by the insertion of curved walls between its four
columns (fig. left).
1998 and 1999 (fig. left) the fire-temple
by Professor Beyhan Karamağaralı, director of the Turkish excavations of Ani.
Unfortunately, the term "excavation" is being used loosely. For much
of the time archaeologists were not present - only labourers and a foreman
(destroying evidence that modern archaeology should seek
to preserve and study) - hence the vagueness in parts of her summary report .
Most of the work consisted of clearing the debris that had accumulated over the
site since Marr's excavation, and reassembling the columns that had fallen
Byzantine coin (fig. blow) from the reign of Justin I (518-527AD) was
found by the labourers. It may be the only known coin from this emperor to have
been found at Ani .
remains of the fire-temple consist of four squat, circular columns with a
diameter of 1.3 metres, resting on cylindrical bases. These columns are set 1.8
metres apart and are placed so as to form a square. The columns are not
monolithic, but are constructed from smaller blocks of stone. They carry plain
capitals that are also constructed from smaller blocks (three or four pieces).
No evidence of the structure's roof was found by the Russians (or the Turks).
However, the massiveness of the columns suggests a stone roof. An altar (see the
coin depicted at the bottom of this page) would presumably have been sited under
this roof, in the
centre of the square. The Russian excavators drew up a conjectural
reconstruction showing what the fire-temple may have looked like. A flat roof is
equally possible (fig. right).
an unknown date the structure was converted into a small chapel by the
construction of four exedera between the columns. These walls were rather
crudely built, and little now survives (although at the time of the Russian
excavations they reached as high as the capitals). There is a door in the
southern wall, and the floor level betwen the eastern pillars is raised to
create a bema. The front of the bema is ornamented with a blind arcade of four
Turkish excavation uncovered parts of some surrounding structures (see the plan
below, adapted from the plan in Prof. Karamağaralı's published excavation
report). These consist of the remains of poorly constructed walls, none
surviving to more than half the height of the columns (but at the time of the
Russian excavations they also reached as high as the capitals). The difference
in building quality indicates that they are from a late period, from a time
after the conversion to a chapel. These walls were also constructed at different
stages - a fact not recorded on Karamağaralı's plan, which is drawn as if they
were all from a single building period.
walls in front of the chapel entrance seem to form a small courtyard. Another
room (rather than a road) seems to have preceded this courtyard. This suggests
that it may have been a private chapel attached to a house. It may also have had
a funerary purpose: scattered (?) human bones from several individuals were
discovered under (or beside?) the wall that runs south from the altar apse.
pillars are constructed from a very gritty, black basalt stone. This is the only
apparent example of this type of stone being used at Ani - with one exception.
In the citadel wall there is a tower built entirely of re-used blocks of the
same stone. These may have been taken from other parts of the fire-temple
complex (an enclosure wall?) or from another building of the same period.
Hollows cut into the ends of these blocks indicate that they came from a
structure built using the ancient masonry technique where large sized blocks of
stone are held together by iron "dove-tail" cramps set in lead.
existence of Zoroastrian temple structures in the form of a domed square on four
pillars in Armenia may have encouraged the evolution of the centrally planned,
domed church that is so typical of Christian Armenian architecture.
Coins of Shapur I, the Great (240 - 270 CE)
B. Karamağaralı, 1998 Ani Kazisi, KST, vol. 21, 1999, p431.
For a list of coins found during the Russian excavations see
Bilan Comparé des Découverts Numismatiques à Ani et à Dvin, REA, vol.
XVIII, 1984, p.461-469.
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