• Michael Knock

Azerbaijan & Georgia - 20 Day Explorer (Virtual Tour) - Day 14

We were due to be heading to Aerbaijan & Georgia @ this time of year, however, COVID-19 restrictions have required us to suspend all tours for the rest of 2020.

On this virtual Tour, you can travel with us as we explore two emerging countries - Azerbaijan & Georgia. On this Tour, we fly into Baku, Azerbaijan and out of Tbilisi, Georgia and bus, hike & funicular our way around these amazing cultures.

Day 14 Tbilisi/Mtskheta/Kutaisi

We leave Tbilisi behind, for now, and travel about 20 minutes northwest to the city of Mtskheta. Mtskheta was the ancient capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom from 300BC to 500AD, it was also the location where Christianity was proclaimed as the kingdom’s official religion and continues to function as the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The city is very small but is incredibly rich in culture.

To give you an idea of where we will be travelling in the next week, check out our map....

We will have 1 night in Kutaisi, 3 nights in Mestia, 1 night in Ushguli and 2 nights in Batumi before heading back into Tbilisi.

(I must admit to getting excited when I saw the Gelati Monastery but it was not what I was thinking!)

Bagrati Cathedral, Kutaisi

To give you a sense of the importance of Mtskheta, UNESCO documents it as follows:

"The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta are located in the cultural landscape at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers, in Central-Eastern Georgia, some 20km northwest of Tbilisi in Mtskheta. The property consists of the Jvari Monastery, the Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral and the Samtavro Monastery.

Mtskheta was the ancient capital of Kartli, the East Georgian Kingdom from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD, and was also the location where Christianity was proclaimed as the official religion of Georgia in 337. To date, it still remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church.

The favourable natural conditions, its strategic location at the intersection of trade routes, and its close relations with the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire, Syria, Palestine, and Byzantium, generated and stimulated the development of Mtskheta and led to the integration of different cultural influences with local cultural traditions. After the 6th century AD, when the capital was transferred to Tbilisi, Mtskheta continued to retain its leading role as one of the important cultural and spiritual centres of the country.

The Holy Cross Monastery of Jvari, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery are key monuments of medieval Georgia. The present churches include the remains of earlier buildings on the same sites, as well as the remains of ancient wall paintings.

The complex of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the centre of the town includes the cathedral church, the palace and the gates of the Katolikos Melchizedek that date from the 11th century, built on the site of earlier churches dating back to the 5th century.

The cruciform cathedral is crowned with a high cupola over the crossing, and there are remains of important wall paintings in the interior. The rich sculpted decoration of the elevations dates from various periods over its long history. The small domed church of the Samtavro Monastery was originally built in the 4th century and has since been subject to various restorations. The main church of the monastery was built in the early 11th century. It contains the grave of Mirian III, the king of Iberia who established Christianity as official religion in Georgia.

The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta contain archaeological remains of great significance that testify to the high culture in the art of building, masonry crafts, pottery, as well as metal casting and processing, and the social, political, and economic evolution of this mountain kingdom for some four millennia. They also represent associative values with religious figures, such as Saint Nino, whose deeds are documented by Georgian, Armenian, Greek and Roman historians, and the 6th-century church in Jvari Monastery remains the most sacred place in Georgia."

Samtravo Monastery

We then moved on to Kutaisi, Georgia's 2nd city, for lunch and more examples of how varied Georgia is.

Kutaisi is also called “the city of roses”, is one of the 16 most ancient cities in the world and the third-most populous city in Georgia, traditionally, second in importance, after the capital city of Tbilisi. Situated 221 kilometres west of Tbilisi, on both banks of the Rioni River, it is the capital of the western region of Imereti. Historically one of the major cities of Georgia, it served as political center of ancient Georgian kingdom of Colchis, in the Middle Agesas capital of the Kingdom of Georgia and later as the capital of the Kingdom of Imereti.

From October 2012 to December 2018, Kutaisi briefly was the seat of the Parliament of Georgia as an effort to decentralise the Georgian government. It is when exploring locations such as these that you get a real sense of the history of the country - Kutaisi is in Western Georgia, Tbilisi is in Eastern Georgia but yu could be forgiven for thinking, on occasion, that they were separate countries.

Kutaisi Parliament building juxtaposes the present with the incredibly ancient.

As mentioned above, Kutaisi was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Colchis. Archaeological evidence indicates that the city functioned as the capital of the kingdom of Colchis in the sixth to fifth centuries BC. It is believed that, in Argonautica, a Greek epic poem about Jason and the Argonauts (of the Golden Fleece fame) and their journey to Colchis, author Apollonius Rhodius considered Kutaisi their final destination as well as the residence of King Aeëtes.

On the lower southern slopes of the mountains of the Northern Caucasus, Gelati Monastery reflects the 'golden age' of medieval Georgia, a period of political strength and economic growth between the reigns of King David IV 'the Builder' (1089-1125) and Queen Tamar (1184-1213). It was David who, in 1106 began building the monastery near his capital Kutaisi on a wooded hill above the river Tskaltsitela. The main church was completed in 1130 in the reign of his son and successor Demetré. Further churches were added to the monastery throughout the 13th and early 14th centuries. The monastery is richly decorated with mural paintings from the 12th to 17th centuries, as well as a 12th century mosaic in the apse of the main church, depicting the Virgin with Child flanked by archangels. Its high architectural quality, outstanding decoration, size, and clear spatial quality combine to offer a vivid expression of the artistic idiom of the architecture of the Georgian “Golden Age” and its almost completely intact surroundings allow an understanding of the intended fusion between architecture and landscape.

Gelati was not simply a monastery: it was also a centre of science and education, and the Academy established there was one of the most important centres of culture in ancient Georgia.

Gelati Monastery, Kutaisi

Kutaisi spills over both banks of the Rioni River and our home for the night, the Sanapiro Hotel, enjoyed an enviable spot on the River and close to the centre of town. Great for wandering these ancient cobbled streets and fantastic to wake up to.

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