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  • Jerome Kocher

79. Symphony of Stones

One of my favorite highlights is something older than Armenia itself - The Symphony of Stones. Tucked away in a canyon an hour outside of Yerevan lies a natural phenomena of basalt stone formed into hexagonal columns. This is not unique to Armenia. I’ve seen this at the Devil’s Post Pile east of Yosemite, a stone cropping that looks like hexagonal cells of a massive beehive. It also exists off the coast of Northern Ireland as the Giants Causeway, a stone path of basalt hexagonal forms, like tiles, that submerge into the coastal water like an ancient freeway that only those elemental giants of old could traverse.

But here in Armenia it also takes on the imagination of giant tubular organ pipes, vertical columns of varying length, that adorn this cliff balcony in Nature’s temple. Hence the term “Symphony of Stones.” 

What also made it astounding is that it is the destination of many school trips. So the absence of imagined musical tones is filled with the excitement and laughter of children. Language is not a problem. For everyone takes pictures of each other. 

A group of men from Iraq were sitting on the beehive stones as if playing musical chairs. Whether Shia or Sunni, it made no difference. At this moment they were all children again. What made this surprisingly delightful was that here there was no celebration of the dead, no mausoleum from Uzbekistan, no church graveyard from Armenia. Everyone was alive, with mouths wide open in amazement. Although the stones were ancient, the sincere Wonder of Nature was fresh. It was like a "baptism by stone” instead of water, some part of you was born again.

Because I was from California, the school children thought I was a rock star, obviously no relation to the rock formations they had just visited. I don’t know if any camel caravans ever saw this canyon, but here The Silk Road was cool! Very cool!

Further on down the road was another “stone wonder.” This one was in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, a Greek Hellenic Temple overlooking a mountain gorge. Only the original foundation remains because in 1988 a terrifying earthquake hit Armenia destroying a large segment of villages and cities. It was so devastating that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev formally asked the United States for humanitarian aid. This Greek temple has been rebuilt to match the original. A professional technique of renovation was applied that mixed original stones with modern replicas. This allows your imagination to actually see the original, true to form.

The same children at the “Symphony of Stones” found their way here as well. Even my “Babushka” with the rose transplant was here. I greeted her and she smiled, surrounded by her two grand children. The simplicity but grandeur of Hellenic architecture rose above us. Inside the temple was an empty space with an altar, not filled with distracting gods or goddesses. Here was a simple interior space left to be filled by the individual. Greece elevated the human form with our own interior life to a sacred space, fully human not just divine.

Did Alexander the Great ever see the Symphony of Stones? Was he humbled by Nature’s design as much as he was by Hellenic culture. All I know is that we were awed. And that sense of Self, whether in Man or Nature is what the Golden Age of Greece celebrated.

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