Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia, has a picturesque landscape dotted with beautiful churches and fortresses that offer a unique glimpse into nearly the entire history of the country. Although Mtskheta was only the capital of Georgia from the 3rd century BC through the 5th century AD, it has retained its importance as the country’s cultural and religious center over centuries. Built in the central part of Georgia (Iberia, Kartli) at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers and directly in the path of The Great Silk Road, Mtskheta was exposed to eastern and western cultural and religious influences.
According to the tradition, Mtskheta was founded by Mtskhetos, the son of Khartlos, the legendary ancestor of Georgian people. Spread in two directions on both banks of the Mtkvari River, the city was the center of ancient Georgian culture and pagan religion: A statue of the highest deity in Georgian pagan religion, Armazi, was erected on the top of the city’s Mount Kartli. Remnants of this advanced ancient civilization still remain in various quarters of the city and have produced rich archeological findings. Such evidence suggests the existence of a highly developed agriculture and viniculture society whose citizens were masters of architecture, pottery, glassmaking, and refined work in gold craftmanship.
The spread of Christianity throughout the area, from the late 1st century through its announcement as an official national religion in early 4th century, played an important role in the history of Mtskheta, which served as a playground for these major events. The beginning of the history of Christianity in Georgia is linked with the event of the burial of Christ’s robe in the royal garden in Mtskheta, and thus the city is considered home to the nation’s most sacred relic and the cradle of Georgian Christianity. The establishment of Christianity brought about important changes in the capital city. Whereas the center of life in pagan Mtskheta had been situated on the right bank of the Mtkvari, after the adoption of Christianity, intensive building occured on the left bank near the burial place of Christ’s robe. The city’s first churches were constructed in this area. In early 6th century, the Georgian capital was moved to the newly founded city of Tbilisi. Subsequently, Mtskheta lost its secular and political importance, though it has continued maintained its significant religious role. The major attractions of the town—Jvari monastery (586-604), Svetitskhoveli cathedral (11th c) and the Samtavro Monastery (11th c)— are among the most outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in not only Georgia but the entire Eastern Christian medieval world.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is the one of the most significant landmarks and sacred sites in Georgia and remains a powerful symbol of Christianity in the country. It has also served as an important burial place since its inception. Representatives of the Georgian royal family, including King Vakhtang Gorgasali, King Erekle II and King George XII, last king of Georgia, are buried on its ground.
According to tradition, the Cathedral is built on the place where the robe of Christ was buried in the 1st century AD., after being brought by Rabbi Elioz to Mtskheta. When Elioz was was met by his sister Sidonia at the city gate, she became so moved upon gripping the robe that she fell dead on the spot. Clasping the robe so tightly that nobody dared to remove it from her hands, Sidonia was buried with it. A church was later built on the site of a cedar of Lebanon that grew from Sidonia’s grave. In 330, the Cathedral was named Svetitskhoveli, Georgian for “life-giving pillar,” when after, according to legend, one of its pillars, made from the wood of Sidonia’s cedar tree, exuded a life-giving balm and amazed everyone with its miraculous radiance. Svetitskhoveli, steeped in such religious tradition, aptly became the first cathedral of Georgian archbishops and after the 5th c of the Catholicoses.
The magnificent Catherdral, inspired by the political and economical flourish of the Bargrationi dynasty, exemplifies the highest peak of development in medieval Georgian architecture, Along with its unprecedented complexity and enormous dimensions, the Cathedral is remarkable for the profound artistry in design and decor of both the interior and exterior of the building. The design’s overall tendency toward decorativeness is seen in Svetitskhoveli’s dynamic perfection of proportions.
Due to the turmoil in Georgia’s historical past, Svetitkhoveli Cathedral has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt throughout the centuries, although the church has maintained its general appearance throughout its existence. The magnificent cathedral of Svetitskhoveli symbolizes the glorious past of Georgia and retains its importance as a great national masterpiece and perhaps one of the most venerated sacred sites in the country.
The Jvari Monastery
Built on a rocky mountaintop overlooking the ancient capital city of Mtskheta, Jvari Church (“The Church of the Holy Cross”) is one of the most important masterpieces of Georgian medieval architecture. It was constructed on the very location that, according to tradition, St. Nino erected a large wooden cross as a symbol of newly adopted state religion. The cross was considered to work miracles thus drawing pilgrims from all over the region. The remnants of the cross’s octagonal stone can still be seen in the interior of the church.
In 544 A.D through 586 A.D., a small church, known as the Minor Church of Jvari, was built next to the wooden cross. It was distinguished for its remarkable architecture: a cross-shaped inner space inscribed within a rectangular exterior space. The apse of the church was adorned with a mosaic, confirming that Georgia’s long-tradition of wall painting and mosaic decoration dates back well over one thousand years. The remains of the structure are preserved on the northern side of the Main Church of Jvari, which was built between 586 A.D. and 605 A.D.
The Main Church is one of the most outstanding examples of the architecture of the period. Its constrution was initiated by Erismtavari Stepanoz I, and the stone carved images preserved on the church’s facades are of him and his family. The architectural type of the building - tetraconch (the four-apse domed building) with four additional chambers in the corners - culminates the artistic explorations of previous periods (evolved in the architectural designs of the 5th, beginning of 6th c. churches (Sukhbechi, Dzveli-Gavazi, Manglisi, Ninotsminda) and gives start up to new series of 7th c. monuments of i.e Jvari Type (Ateni, Dzveli Gavazi, Martvili). The distinguishing traits of this new architectural form were harmony of proportions and balance between moderate decorations and tectonic architectural forms. These features become prominent in church design of Classical Period, which lasted from the 6th to 7th century.
Constructed on the cliff overlooking Mtskheta, Jvari, with its exceptional location and integration within the surrounding landscape, is a unique architectural marvel.
Gonio Fortress, previously known as Apsarun, is located 12km south of Batumi on the Black Sea shore. This fortress of rectangular plan has gates at each of its four sides. The wall is reinforced with eighteen turrets. The earliest note on the fortress is in the Greek-Roman sources (1st century). The Roman Empire, Byzantium, and later the city-republics of Italy displayed great interest in the fortress. In the 16th century it was seized by the Ottomans.
Pichvnari lies on the Black Sea coast of Georgia, at the confluence of the Choloki and Ochkhamuri rivers some 10km to the north of the seaside resort of Kobuleti. It was the site of an earlier Colchian settlement occupied by Greek traders from the mid-fifth century BC. Pichvnari means "Place of the pine trees" in Georgian; its name in antiquity is unknown. The site has been studied since the 1960s by Georgian archaeologists from the N. Berdzenishvili Batumi Research Institute of the Georgian Acade
The Church of the Virgin in Martvili
7th-19th cc. Martvili Region, Western Georgia
The Church of the Virgin in Martvili is as one of the oldest and most important religious centers in Western Georgia. It served as the Episcopal Chair of the Georgian Orthodox Church from the 10th century until its abrogation by Russian governors at the beginning of 19th century. Martvili was also the burial site of the Megrelian kings of Georgia.
Several significant buildings are preserved in the monastery, including: The main 7th century Church of the Virgin; the domed tetraconch building belonging to the important group of medieval Georgian churches that were derived from the Jvari Church in Mtskheta; the small church built by the Chikvani princes in 11th century; and the “Sueti” (the column) constructed during the same period. The main church is rich with the relief carvings on its facades and with an array of paintings in its interior that belong to various periods of Georgian history from the 14th to the 17th centuries. The paintings are executed in a combination of both fresco and secco methods, and in the lower level of the Church, portraits of kings and nobles are presented along with images of traditional religious iconography. The paintings at Martvili are particularly outstanding because a number of the marvelous portraits are depicted with a distinctly Georgian combination of Byzantine style and unique individual details.
The ongoing conservation works on the monument are funded by Getty Foundation and The Foundation for the Rescue and Preservation of Historical monuments of Georgia.
The Church of the Virgin at Gelati
12th-18th cc. Kutaisi, Western Georgia
An UNESCO World Heritage site
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Gelati Monastery and Academy are one of the most important cultural landmarks in Georgia. The construction of the Gelati monastery by the King David, the Builder, took place during a period of political and economic development in Georgia, during which time a centralized and strong feudal monarchy was established. Since then, the monastery has served as an important cultural, educational and religious center, as repository of many significant works of art and as a burial place of Georgian Kings.
Consisting of several buildings from different periods, including the main Church of the Virgin (12th c.); the Academy (12th c.); The Church if St. George (13th c.); the church of St. Nicholas (13th c.); the belfry (13th c.); and the defensive wall and dwellings (19th c.), the Gelati Monastery displays the stylistic diversity Georgian church architecture and secular design.
In addition to its architectural variety, the monastery is filled with paintings executed during different historic periods and in various mediums, such as mosaic and fresco. Amongst these paintings, those of the main Church of the Virgin are most significant. Dating back to 12th through 17th century, these murals offer a unique glimpse into a significant portion of the region’s history as well as into important stages in the development of Georgian mural painting. The iconography, style and historic resonance of Gelati’s paintings provide valuable material not only for the study of medieval Georgian art but for the culture of the entire Eastern Christian medieval world.
Kutaisi is one of the oldest cities in the world.
Today it is the second biggest industrial and cultural centers of Georgia, a most attractive city whose name is linked with many glorious traditions of our country’s history.
The numerous cultural monuments that exist to this day in Kutaisi and its environs patently demonstrate the social, economic and cultural position of this area at different stages of historical development. The Bagrat Cathedral is the most important of the ancient monuments of architecture of feudal Georgia’s culture.
The magnificent Bagrat Cathedral towers over the city as though observing it from Mount Ukimerion. Built by the first king of unified Georgia Bagrat III in the late 10th and early 11th centuries, the cathedral stood intact till the end of the 17th century. The inner space was ornamented with mosaic. It was devastated in 1692 during a war against the Turks. Only ruins of the cathedral reached our days. But even now visitors are amazed by its size and splendor. Many beautiful carved stone fragments are scattered around the building. The lavish decor of facades and especially of the porticoes vividly demonstrates the wonderful achieve of Georgian architecture in the stylized depiction of flora and fauna.
Near the village of Ubisa in Western Georgia there are ruins of an ancient monastery with an old single-nave church (the IX century). A bell tower is still surviving but the subsidiary monastic buildings are almost completely destroyed by time. Next to them there are the ruins of the belfry of a later period. The tower - or the "pillar" - opposite the east facade of the church, bears an inscription in Georgian on its south wall and dates the monastery and the tower itself to 1141. According to the long-established local tradition, the vault and the walls are covered with painting almost down to the floor. The historical and artistic analysis of Ubisa Church paintings and the technique points to the fact that this monument marks-off some definite stage in the development of the local artistic traditions as typified by Georgian paintings of the XIII and the early XIV centuries. The author of the church's internal paintings was Damiane (a famous Georgian painter of the XIV century).
Uplistsikhe (The Lord's Fortress), the town cut in rocks, one of the oldest Caucasian habitations and town center is located in 10 km to the east from town Gori, on the bank of the river Mtkvari. For the first time in written sources it is mentioned in VII century. In Uplistsikhe and its surroundings the group of archeologycal and architechtural monuments is preserved, of which the oldest are of the Bronze Age. From the first half of the first millenium A.D. the architectural complex of Uplistsikhe was being created. There are several complexes cut in rocks during the Medeival period. The insides of the town, which represent the compositional center of the whole monument, are comperatively better preserved. The insides of the town are crossed by lots of streets cut in rocks; the caves are located in separate groups, some of them connected with each other by wide corridors. On the territory of the former city of Uplistsikhe there is the baselic comprising of three churches attributed to IX-X centuries. Its initial appearance is almost entirely preserved. The importance of Uplistsikhe as the strategical military place was over in the period of Mongholic envasions. Afterwords it was used by the population of nearby region as a temporary shelter during the hard times.