Church of Cross in Mtskheta moutainValerian Mamukelashvili - "MTSKHETA"

 

 If you travel from Tbilisi along the road to the northwest, soon you will be charmed with most beautiful, brightly colored orchards and vineyards. The latter on, you will be divided by the Georgian Military Road most peculiar with its beauty and variety. The road is of 2101 kilometer long (Tbilisi - Vladikavkaz). It was a bridge connecting northern warriors with the South still in B.C. This road was used to get to the ancient civilized states, namely, to politically powerful kingdom of Iran.
The Georgian Military Road fascinated such persons as: A. Griboedov, A. Pushkin, L. Tolsloy, M. Lermontov, I. Repin, P. Chaikovsky, M. Gorky, V. Mayakovsky and many other famous Russian writers, painters and composers. A. Chekhov wrote to his friend from Tbilisi:  - "This is not a road. it is a poetry, a fine, fantastic story, written by a demon and dedicated to Tamar... I think you have seen the Georgian Military Road. You have not traveled along it yet, then pawn your wives, your children... and travel along it. I have never seen such a beautiful sight."
To the south, on the valley elevated like a palm, your sight will be attracted by the houses with red tiled roofs built by wise strong peasants. This is an old Georgian village Dighomi, mentioned in the old Georgian chronicle "Kartlis Tskhovreba" (Life of Kartli) as dated of the period of the first king of Iberian, King Parnavaz.
In the historical past Dighomi is known as Dighuami or Dighvami. Dighomi Canyon is bordering the village.
On the left bank of the Canyon, at the Georgian Military Road there were found ruins of a bronze roofing of Neolithic period (the 4th-3rd cc B.C., the turn of the millennium). At the bottom of the Canyon, on the slopes the archaeologists excavated multi-layered ruins of a settlement. the major strata of which are of late Bronze and early Iron ages (the 15th-6th cc B.C.). The settlement existed in late Ancient and early Feudal epochs as well. To the east of the hills, on the Dighomi field there were discovered the ruins of the settlement of early Feudal epoch and burial grounds of various periods.
Dighomi field was a place of hunting for the Kings. The village land plots were settled by the court, church and princely peasants.
To the left of the road in 10 km distance, on the slope one can come across a fine building (architect L. Alexi Meskhishvili) of the Georgian Agrarian University. Then a car goes downhill and through the arc of a railway bridge you can catch sight of Zemo Avchala hydro power plant ("Zahesi"). From its turbines there flows out the river Mtkvari water turned into electricity spreading like life light upon the Tbilisi outskirts. ''Zahesi", born in the period of a totalitarian Soviet State, has been regularly working hard since 1922.
On April 3 1927, Tbilisi received its first electricity, thus their dream came true (but in XXI century people of Mtskheta still suffers not having electricity. The problem is our government prefers to sell it in Turkey for better prize:) Justice for all! - Besiki).
To the left over the narrow railway line broad-shouldered beautiful mountains of green velvet overlooked like eagles. The slopes of these mountains are full of caves that sheltered people during the wartime. The caves look like chimneys. At the right bank of the river Mtkvari, near "Zahesi", while building a railway in 1875 the builders found an epigraphic inscription left by the Romans in the 1st-2nd cc AD: "Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus, great pontifex, empowered with the power of a tribune seven times, declared as emperor twelve times, six times consul, seventh time designated, leader of his country censor and emperor Titus Caesar, son of Augustus, five times empowered by tribune powers, four times consul, the fifth time designated, censor and Domicianus Caesar, son of Augustus, three times consul, the fourth time designated to the King of Iberia Mithridates, son of King Parsman and Yamasaspos, friend of Caesar and the Romans and to his people these walls have been tribute."
The inscription witnesses the friendship existing between Roman and Iberian States.
The mountain ridge turns westward to the place where closely populated settlement existed, when Mtskheta was a capital, this is an atomic reactor of the Institute of Physics of the Georgian Academy of Science. And, then suddenly on the mountaintop you see a masterpiece of Georgian architecture - the Djvari Monastery (Cross Monastery).
Djvari Monastery is the summit in the development of Georgian architecture, an implementation of a man's dream, a symbol of Georgian creative talent, intensive energy and endless search. The 6th century small cross-cupola monastery is charming and harmonious with the environment as if born by these very mountains, being a symbol of their eternity and immortality.
Peculiar landscape, most beautiful structure, greatness of the Djvari has more than once inspired Georgian poets. In their verses the Djvari Monastery seems like holy of holiest for the Georgian people.
In his poem "Mtsiri", a famous Russian poet M. Lermontov wrote about beauty of Djvari Monastery thus attaching everlasting immortality to it. "Mtsiri" is a masterpiece of Russian poetry.
There has been preserved a nice legend on the Djvari Monastery in Mtskheta. There was an iron chain between the Djvari Monastery and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in olden times. The monks used it to come down to Svetitskhoveli to pray and went up back as well by it. One of these monk was the most saint and great-spirited of all.
Once, when he was going back to the Monastery by the chain he looked down and saw a woman bathing in the river Aragvi. She was lying like a fairy nymph on the water surface. The monk could not stop gazing at the beautiful body. Something warm, unusual and alien filled him. Suddenly a thunderstorm roared in the sky. the chain broke and the Aragvi waves devoured the monk who had sinned.
As compared with the other historical monuments, the Djvari Monastery has somehow managed to overcome time, attacks, and survived. However, there were many who dared to touch it In the 7th century the Arabs put it on fire. In the 18th century the Lezghins destroyed the village - Djvari located around the Monastery. Despite these various attacks, the Monastery is still alive, standing proudly as a symbol of Georgian national pride.
Djvari and its surroundings are most interesting for the tourists and visitors of Georgia. It is lighted at night and in the pitch dark it hangs in the sky like a fairy castle.
If you walk on, step-by-step, you see how the sight changes. Here and there you see ''Zahesi" water reservoir sparkling in the sun, the river Aragvi joining the river Mtkvari.
At the "Zahesi" water reservoir the Military Road is joined by the road leading towards Karsni, the road winds like a twisted rope along the hills. Here, on the steep slopes of Kartli Mountains, in 1944-1947 the archaeologists discovered Mtskheta castle ruins, towers and buttresses known in the historical sources as Armazi Castle.
The mountaintops along with inner castle protected against the enemy. This mother-castle has protected Mtskheta for centuries, many tried to ruin it to destroy it but it has managed to survive.
Even today, in the of places archaeological excavations, one can see the remains of the 4th-3rd century buildings - a hall with columns, homestead buildings, ritual constructions, water pipeline and bath remains of ancient times.
Recent archaeological excavations revealed another bath of a Roman type, a cathedral complex of paganism and, significant epigraphic monuments. The inscriptions are engraved on well-processed and cut tile-stones and are in Greek.
Up to the first part of the 8th century the Armazi Castle continued its existence, later the Arab commander Murvan the Deaf destroyed it.
Armazi idol overlooked Mtskheta from the Bagineti Mountain. The first King of Iberia Parnavaz erected it and he called it the name of the moon "Arma". Then the idols of "Gatsi" and "Gaimi" were erected beside it. As the chronicler says, here "in front of Armazi idol" there was buried the first King of Georgia Parnavaz, "a wise man, a good brave warrior and hunter, art lover."
To the west of Bagineti, south-eastwards of Mtskheta railway station in 300 meter distance, in 1951, the archaeologists excavated a unique monument - a sepulcher built like a house. It was built in the 1st century AD at the bottom of Armazi rocky mountain steep slope. In specially cut rectangle place (area of 50 m2 depth - 1,6-2m) the sepulcher occupies about 20 m2, the rest being a yard. It was just here that a horse skeleton was found. It was a sacrifice made for the person buried in the sepulcher. There is a low narrow door built in the eastern wall. Two-sloped root of the sepulcher is covered with big fixed tiles with sides turned up. Such tiles are popular and widely used in buildings and burial grounds of the 1st-3rd centuries. They are numerous in number, which is stressed by the 1st century Greek geographer Strabo. The sepulcher was robbed but the robbers did nut lake all.
There were found the bones of a grown-up and a child. There were probably buried there mother and son, representatives of a ruling class of the 1st century Kartli (Iberia).
The Military Road goes along the Mtkvari Canyon. The Kartli Mountains seem to have clouds on their summits. Far away the summits of Kherki (present Saguramo) Mountains are lighted with the sunrays attaching wonderful colors to them. Light and dark intermix with each other. Morning dew hangs like beans on green leaves and falls silently to the ground looking like pale moles on the rocks and stones.
To the right on the left bank of the river Mtkvari, there is located the ancient capital of Georgia - Mtskheta.
Mtskheta is a root of the Georgian nation its tears and joy; a state of Georgia was founded in Mtskheta; the Georgian language spread from Mtskheta Christian religion originated from the Mtskheta font and over the centuries has been its cradle and banner.
Those who come to visit Mtskheta see its monuments, can be well familiarized with the past of our nation, its "seedling and fruit". The walls of these monuments have still preserved the results and traces of the art created by our ancestors.
The small town has been built and ruined for many century, it has seen many enemies and friends, much evil and good, there have come many to this town to destroy its fine palaces, its castles and towers. It's a wonder that Mtskheta has survived. Its fate is like that of Kartli: it was being suppressed but managed to revive; it was being cut but its root did not dry; thousand good seedlings used to grow out of a good root to resist any attacks. Thus, Mtskheta stands like an image of an immortal past, undying star of the nation. Its everlasting monuments sing to the immortality of life.
The capital of Mtskheta has served the kingdom of Kartli for more than 800 years (from the end of the 4th century BC to the end of the 5th century AD). This period is one of the most brilliant pages in the history of the state life and national consolidation of the Kartvelian tribes and peoples. After Mtskheta has lost its leading role among the Georgian towns, it still remained a permanent center for religious life and monastery activities. The 2500 year long history of Mtskheta has been fully told in foreign and Georgian written sources and is witnessed in archaeological, ethnographic and other sources. Though as archaeological excavations showed, Mtskheta and its surroundings have been densely populated still in Middle Bronze age, i.e. in the II millennium BC. Thus we can follow 40-century-old history of Mtskheta as a place where the Kartvelian tribes - Karts and later Meskhs settled as a fully established geo-ethnical and cultural unit.
The authors of "Kartlis Tskhovreba" (Life of Kartli) Leonti Mroveli and Juansher consider the first name of the old capital of Kartli Kingdom as "Kartli". In it there is differentiated the name of the oldest part of the capital - Kartli from the name of the Kingdom - all Kartli. The Georgian historical sources tell us about some other names as well "Mtskhetai", "Old Mtskheta", "Old Town", "Armazi", "Mtskheta" or "Armazi private town".
The historians suppose the name "Mtskheta" was formed from the word "Meskheti" by means of vowel shift: "Meskheti - Meskheta - Mskheta - Mtskheta".
Public life has long been established in Mtskheta as well as in other old towns of Kartli. This was promoted by the trade road of the world importance passing through Georgia, which connected Europe and Asia. The Mtkvari Canyon was a part of this big caravan road and many towns appeared in its basin. These were: Uplistsikhe, Mtskheta. Khunani, Rustavi, Tbilisi, Kaspi, Gori, Urbnisi and so on. There were developed various branches of handicraft (construction, goldsmith art, metal work, pottery and so on) in these towns. They had established intensive trade-cultural and political relations among themselves and with foreign countries. So, by the second half of the I millennium BC they were strong towns to turn into administrative centers on certain territories.
Among these towns, in the 4th century BC Mtskheta occupied a leading role especially after on the territory of Kvemo Kartli and Meskheti there was founded a big political unit of the Kartvelian tribes within which the important part of present-day East Georgia was located. So, Mtskheta gradually acquired greater importance from that time on. The same with its districts. The latter were situated at the cross-roads of the loads leading from West Georgia, Meskheti, Armenia, Azerbaijan (old Albania) and North Caucasus (along the river Aragvi). The trade road of world importance mentioned above also crossed Mtskheta. It led from India to the Black Sea ports.
In addition, Mtskheta and its surroundings had must favorable location from the defense viewpoint. It was a most convenient place connected with numerous castles and two rivers Aragvi and Mtkvari difficult to access.
Old Mtskheta was a multi-district town. It was spread on the both banks of the river Aragvi and Mtkvari. Namely, the town was bordered: to the east by the places where there is a railway bridge near "Zahesi ", to the west - Dzegvl and Khekordzula ravine and Nastagisi, to the north - Mukhrani sights, to the south - Satskepela-Didgori mountain ridge; the entire territory is most rich in archaeological monuments of great significance.
Still in BC Mtskheta was mentioned in old legends and stories. It was preserved in folk stories as well as the first capital of the Kingdom of Iberia. It was much loved first, as it was a capital and also the source nourishing the nation's spiritual life, an abode of idols and chapels. Mtskheta was the first "mother-town " of our country and the Georgian people always prayed to God and Saints and highly respected them.
Mtskheta is a cradle of the Georgian language. A historian mentioned about the first Georgian King Parnavaz (his court being in Mtskheta) that he enriched the Georgian language so that no other language was preferred and "he was the creator of the Georgian alphabet". So, Mtskheta taught the Georgian language to the present and future of our country. It was in Mtskheta that epigraphical monuments were being written along with parchments, deeds and charters, there were being translated books from Greek and Roman into Georgian, mainly hagiographic ones within the walls of Svetitskhoveli, Samtavro, Zedazeni and Shiomghvime monasteries. Mtskheta has inspired Georgian poets Simon Gugunava, Grigol Orbeliani, Nikoloz Baratashvili, a famous Georgian writer Constantine Gumsakhurdia dedicated one of his best novels to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. The most popular and famous poets of Georgia Galaktion Tabidze, Giorgi Leonidze dedicated their beautiful verses to Mtskheta and Svetitskhoveli, a well known Georgian writer Vassil Barnov was often amazed by the beauty of Armazi, outstanding Georgian poets Titsian Tabidze and Paolo lashvili used to wander along streets of Mtskheta, also renown Georgian writers and poets Simon Chikovani, Giorgi Kuchishvili, A!io Mirtskhulava, Shalva Apkhaidze, David Gachechiladze, Ioseb Noneshvili. Mtskheta has become a burial ground for the noblest Knight of the Georgian prose Levan Gothua. Saguramo has appeared in the last stories of our most beloved Georgian writer Nodar Dumbadze. Mtskheta, Svetitskhoveli, Djvari has been a source of inspiration for wonderful verses of Shota Nishnianidze, Tamaz Chelidze, Jansul Charkviani, Anna Kalandadze, Medea Kakhidze, Moris Potskhishvili, Otar Chiladze, Mukhran Machavariani, Silovan Narimanidze, Zaur Bolkvadze, Ilo Beroshvili, Grigol Julukhidze, Irakli Arabuli, Enver Nizharadze and all those who value and respect high sky, wonderful nature of Georgia. The districts, streets, houses of Mtskheta are most dear to them.
Famous Russian poets and friends of Georgia sang to the beauty of Mtskheta: M. Lermontov, N. Bazhan, N. Tikhonov, E. Mezhelaitis, V. Beekman, B. Akhmadulina, M. Sinelnikov, N. Hassan-Zade, O. Kazakov and many others.
Let's follow the motorway beside the railway line to the west. It seems near the railway station that the Kartli Mountains stand up looking arrogantly over Mtskheta. Near the mountain top one can see a basilica where, according to the legend, Nino of Cappadokia (St. Nina - Besiki) arranged her first abode.
Below there are pavilions of the Tbilisi experimental factory workshop #3 (does not exists anymore - Besiki), after that the road moves down. There on the both banks of Mtkvari an alley of green trees spreads like green velvet along the river. The place was called Armazi when Mtskheta was a capital (the Greek and Roman sources say: Harmozice, Harmastus).
Fifty years have passed since the period when the history tells us about Dzevakh and Bersuma Pitiakhshs, Sharagas Eristavi and the most beautiful Scraphita. From destroyed palace and mute burial grounds there were heard sounds of gold adornment, necklaces, bracelets, brooches, diadems, belts, ear-rings, pins, beads, medallions, silver cups. It was on the blessed territory of Armazi that the father of Georgian historiography Ivane Djavakishvili touched the Georgian values. Systematic and planned research started in Armazi from 1937. 8 archaeological excavations were conducted. After them the area has been thoroughly studied. The monuments discovered there are dated within the 1st century AD - Middle Ages. Though there also were ruins of earlier period of Neolithic and bronze era. The principality residence (that of Pitiakhsh) is dated of the 1st - 4th cc AD. The ruins of a palace, bath, wine cellar and other buildings are dated of the same period. The samples witness that ancient Asia Minor and Syria have preserved approximately the same traditions of bath building as later enters Tran Caucasus the Romans borrowed the same idea from eastern architecture. The ruins of similar bath are discovered in Bagineti as well, in the village Dzalisi (Mtskheta district), on the north coastline of the Black Sea, on Kerch peninsula and in some other places.
The bath excavations proved a high level of developed construction technique and sanitary-hygienic culture corresponding to the luxury of royal aristocracy living there.
Along with the ruins of dwellings and facilities there were found burial grounds of different periods, the most interesting among them being rich burial grounds and sarcophagi of the rich Eristavi princely house. Special attention should be attached to the portraits and inscriptions engraved on them.
For example, in the burial ground of Asparug Eristavi along with other rich articles there was found a dark red ring with sardonic. A portrait of a man is engraved on the gem most masterfully, around it a Greek inscription is engraved in thick nice letters. The research workers consider that it is not an adornment but a sign of the Eristavi authority - an insignia. The inscription "Asparug Eristavi" points to the fact of its being a seal.
In the same burial ground there was found a gold-buckled belt of the Eristavs with an inscription on one of the gems of the buckle in Greek "Karpak, my dear". The inscription on the portrait of a young couple, probably, being Zevakh Eristavi (or Javakh) and Karpak, probably, his wife. The belt should have belonged to Zevakh Eristavi which later has become a property of Asparug. It seems he has inherited it (according to acad. S. Djanashia, Asparug should be Zevakh's son). Asparug's bell is most unique and is considered to be a typical insignia of Eristavi. The burial ground of Bersuina Erislavi was rich in adornment and utensils buried in it. It was most peculiar with the articles, inscriptions and portraits engraved on them.
For example, a silver tray in the middle of which there is a six-sided star encircled by a fifteen-winged "Borjghali". The latter is a symbol connected with the cult of the sun in Georgia.
Archaeological and ethnographic materials prove that the sign connected with the cult of the sun was spread in the East in far-off times from where it entered Caucasus and, namely, Georgia as well. It has come down to us in the ornaments of wooden architectural monuments and was the main motif for decorating the hall of the oldest type dwelling, namely, its middle column (in Georgian it's called "dedabodziti, i. e. mother-pillar).
On the silver tray there is engraved a Greek inscription: "I, King Flavius Dades dedicated this tray to a Greek Pitiakhsh". According to this inscription the scholars prove the burial ground belongs to Bezsuma Pitiakhsh.
The burial ground of Seraphita is not so rich in the articles. However, the gold adornment is unique from the viewpoint of goldsmith art level. Most interesting are epigraphic monuments - Greek and Arabian bilingual inscription engraved on the stone of the sepulcher: "I (am) Seraphit, daughter of Zevakh Pitiakhsh of King Parsman, wife of lodmangan - powerful and victorious high ranking courtier of Khsepanrug, son of Agrippa, high ranking courtier of King Parsman. Suffering of sufferings. That which (that who) was, unfulfilled (i.e. young) and so kind and beautiful was that no one was of (his) similar beauty and died at the age of 21."
Armazi and Seraphita have become the source of inspiration for many famous Georgian poets, giving new impulses to the Mtskheta topic.
Only an Aramean (Armazian) inscription is engraved on the stela. These inscriptions and in general, all the monuments discovered in Armaziskhevi burial ground are significant materials for determining Kartli (i. e. Iberia) Kingdom state order, socio-economic, literary and political situation in the Ancient times.
According to these materials the scholars proved the existence of developed goods production in Kartli and lively commercial relations of Kartli Kingdom with its neighboring states.
Acad. S. Djanashia mentions that based just on this handicraft and trade development Mtskheta, the oldest agricultural type settlement became a town in the I millennium BC.
Through archaeological discoveries of Armaziskhevi burial grounds, the cultural heritage of Georgian people dated of 1st-4th cc has become more evident.
We leave Armazi and return to Mtskheta. The road goes along the right bank of the river Mtkvari. At the square it joins the Georgian Military Road. In case the Zahesi water reservoir is emptied, you'll see the ruins of the ancient bridge of Mtskheta, in the river Mtkvari.
The old Georgian historical sources suppose it was built long ago when Mtskheta, built, on both banks of the river Mtkvari, was the most important trade center for Georgia's home and foreign trade and the town needed to be connected.
The most convenient place for building this bridge was there, as both banks of the river Mtkvari were the closest there.

In the Georgian historical sources the bridge was first mentioned from the 1st century BC, when Kartli Kingdom and its capital Mtskheta the Romans destroyed in the year of 65 BC, by the army commanded by Pompey. The bridge was then burnt by Kartli King Artag, to impede the Romans in crossing the river to its left bank. The Romans restored the bridge to occupy the town. The information on the bridge is in the sources of the 5th century AD as well.
King Vakhtang Gorgasali initiated the new variant of the bridge. It was more perfect than the old one in all respects. The new bridge has been preserved up to the 30-40s of the last century, though it was many times repaired. After Georgia joined Russia and the road passing Mtskheta acquired great military strategic importance, the Russian authorities have ordered to change the bridge. It was before the war started between Russia and Turkey. The old parts of the bridge were changed, stone capital engineering construction was built which met military strategic requirements of that period. The works were conducted by engineer - Germin.
The Mtskheta bridge was mentioned in old historical sources under different names: first it was "Magi Bridge" (Magician - Besiki), as very near to the bridge, in old Mtskheta there was a district of Magi (The Magi were priests invited to Georgia from Persia to spread fire worship and as privileged caste they settled near the central part of the town).
After Georgia was converted to Christianity and the Magis were withdrawn from Mtskheta the bridge was called the Old Bridge. However, from the 20s of last century it was mentioned as Pompey Bridge (The bridge even now called as "Pompey Bridge" by natives - Besiki).
It should be mentioned that before Pompey came to Georgia the bridge had already existed. He only restored the bridge burnt by Artag. So it's not right to call it Pompey Bridge. It is connected with the wrong conclusions of one Swiss traveler, a woman named Greigant. She wrote that the first bridge was built when the Romans were there. Though her supposition was ungrounded.
After "Zahesi" was built and the Mtkvari was blocked, the water covered the old bridge. In 1927 in this place a new bridge was built which served both Mtskheta and the Georgian Military Road. This is also a monument to Arsena (sculptor Elene Machabeli. 1949). Arsena Odzclashvili, Arsena of Marabda (born 1797 in the village of Marabda). The monument is for the Georgians a symbol of courage, victory over injustice, a supporter of peasants suppressed by serfdom. Arsena was an enemy to those who were selling serfs, or used them as presents, he bravely fought against the mountain people which raided the peaceful population, against the officials implementing colonial policy, against merciless merchants.
A brave young man fighting for kindness was surrounded by great love. He was still alive when a folk epos "Arsena's Verse " was created. Folk poets, singers cited and sang songs to honor him in towns and villages.
Arseva was killed in 1842 in the village Mukhatgverdi. From there he was taken to Mtskheta and buried there.
Walking along the central part of modern Mtskheta you suddenly come across a beautiful sight in the middle of the town. This is Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.
From there CathoIicos-Patriarch - head of Georgian Orthodox Church - executed his supreme religious rights in Georgia over centuries. At the Mtkvari weir a car turns and a wonderful sight attracts our eyes. From there you can see better the change of colors on the cathedral. One can remember here the lines by a famous Georgian prose written by Konstantine Gamsakhurdia: -"It is always amazing to gaze at the Cathedral. In the morning it is green as a lizard, lighted by the bright sun, in the twilight it is golden and at the approaching of night in autumn when the starlit sky it seems to be harmonious with me surrounding dark".
Adventures of Svetitskhoveli are closely interrelated with the Georgian historical past. Building of the first cathedral was connected with adoption of Christianity by the Kingdom of Kartli in the very first days of feudalism. Then the Cathedral experienced all the adversities that country had ever faced. It has been many times destroyed but always managed to revive as it was a symbol of the vitality, spiritual strength.
The name of the Cathedral - Svetitskhoveli - is connected with a legend (better to say "story" - Besiki). It is the place where there was buried a woman from Mtskheta Sidonia. She was buried there together with the Christ's shirt which her brother Elioz had brought from Jerusalem. Then an enormous tree - the cedar of Lebanon - grew up on her grave. When in The 30s of the 4th century King Mirian adopted Christianity, he decided to build the first church on the grave of Sidonia, as Nine instructed him. The chronicle says that the cedar was cut down on Sidonia's grave to build the church. Seven pillars were prepared for this, one of them turned out to be a wonder-working one. It hang in the air and only then came down to the pedestal when St. Nino had prayed for the whole night. The pillar exuded chrism. All those who came there, especially, those having different diseases, were instantly cured. The pillar was considered to be granting life (in Georgian - sveti tskhoveli). And the cathedral was named after it - Svetitskhoveli. In reality, there was the cedar of Lebanon in this place still before Christianity and the Georgians considered it to be a holy tree in the period of paganism, a tree of life. It is supposed that after adopting Christianity this holy tree has become a basis for naming the Christian cathedral. So, it was "Svetitskhoveli", i. e. "pillar of life ". "a live pillar" (as in old Georgian the word "tskhoveli " means alive). This is witnessed by the recently conducted restoration works in the cathedral interior, namely the fragments discovered. In the 5th century. during King Vakhtang Gorgasali's reign, there was built a three-cupola basilica instead of it. Some parts of it have been preserved up to this day, namely, stone pillar bases and capitals.
Present day Svetitskhoveli was built in the first half of the 11th century (1010-1029). The building was initiated by Catholicos of Kartli - Melkisedek. Building of Svetitskhoveli is witnessed by the inscription on its wall and one interesting evidence.
On the eastern facade of the cathedral, under the middle decoration arch, twelve disks are engraved side by side and arc easily noticed. The inscription on them is read as follows: "God, glory to Catholicos of Kartli Melkisedek, amen, built this holy church through the hands of Arsukidze. God, save his soul". This inscription is most significant as it names the author of this wonderful architectural piece Arsukidze, who can be attributed to the rank of great masters of Georgian art in the Middle Ages. Arsukidze is also mentioned in the inscription on the northern facade (it is in the center): there is engraved a hand with a goniometer and an inscription beside: "A hand of Arsakidze. Have mercy upon him". The picture originated a well known legend. It says about the Svetitskhoveli builder who surpassed his teacher in mastery and whose right hand was cut off. In reality, a hand with a goniometer should be a construction emblem of the cathedral architect and the inscription - to immortalize his personality.
The first half of the 11th century, when the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was being built, is the historical period when Georgia was bravely and successfully fighting for forming a united national state; the period when the Georgian culture reached the summit of its development; when there were built or rebuilt the greatest churches and cathedrals (Alaverdi, Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi, Samtavro in Mtskheta, Samtavisi, Nikortsminda, Manglisi. Iskhani and many others); silver and gold icons were made, crosses, wall paintings and frescoes; manuscripts were written; all this work was being done in Georgia and beyond its borders as well, on Atoni and Sioni mountains, in Palestine, on the Cyprus where along with the original works the translators worked hard.
Svetitskhoveli is the most remarkable monument of the epoch, being one of the most characteristic features of the medieval Georgian architecture in its flourishing period. It should be mentioned here that it was built when there still Arab emir was ruling in Tbilisi. And the fact that near Tbilisi there was being built such a cathedral witnessed that Arabs were becoming weaker and the Georgian statehood was gradually becoming stronger.
In the end of the 13th century an earthquake damaged the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. In the 14th Tamerlane insulted and destroyed the Cathedral. The cupola was damaged along with the inner western part, some fragments of the facade as well.
This happened in 1400 during Tamerlane's sixth attack. Though Svetitskhoveli has many times been destroyed during the numerous invasions, this one by Tamerlane was the most devastating. They made it into ruins, robbed the font decorated with gold, the library and the treasures preserved in secret rooms. They also decided to ruin the cathedral itself. With this aim in view. Tamerlane ordered to dig under the foundation, but the cathedral did not ruin, only the cupola was destroyed. The latter was restored in the first half of the 15th century by King Alexander I. He also reinforced the damaged foundation, but it was now thicker, though less beautiful. It is seen even today how different the foundations of the 11th and the 15th centuries were and what the difference was between them. In the 11th century the arches were higher and the foundation pillars more refined and beautiful. It is seen well that from the western arches only two were left. So, if before that the distance between the arches were equal, in the 15th century after the restoration it was no longer so. The part of the cupola, facade and ornaments, the restored pans of the western side (restored in 15th century) are just of the 15th century. There are evidences that in the mid-16th century Svetitskhoveli was raided by Iranian Shah Tamaz. In the 17th century the cupola restored in the 16th century by King Alexander fell down. It was restored by Kartli King Rostom and his wife. Queen Mariam Dadiani in 1756. In the end of the 17th century Svetitskhoveli was repaired and redecorated by Catholicos Nukoloz Amilakhvari. In the 18th century, during the reign of Erekle II, the greatest part of the present fence was built. Such fences were built during the reign of Erekle II on his order in Kartli and Kakheti in order the population could be well sheltered while the Lezghins raided these regions.
In the first half of the 19th century on the order of the Russian church authorities the cathedral surrounding small buildings were broken; it is true they were built in different times, but contained a lively history of the Cathedral. It was in the same period that the painted walls were ordered to be plastered, and some parts of the old painting were so "restored " that had fully lost their original shade.
However, now, special attention is attached to the monuments of the material culture created by people's artistic genius. The example of Svetitskhoveli is a good evidence of this. The Cathedral has many times been restored - the roof. the fence merlons, the cupola and small windows, the facade were restored through industrious high-skilled work of the Georgian architects. It acquired its original beauty and new vitality during the many centuries - old history of its existence.
A great amount of money was spent on the restoration of the so-called "Melkisedek Catholicos Gate", i.e. to give it its original appearance, on its clearing and restoration works, so that not to cause any damage to the entire architectural ensemble of the fence, the entrances and gate were decorated. The Georgian restorers cleaned off the white layer from the entire inner walls and the wall paintings were restored.
The most important is the restorer's work was that they restored the original look to give possibility to the visitors to have a general impression on the buildings before the Svetitskhoveli was built.
Polychrome can be noticed on the Svetitskhoveli facade making it look more wonderful. Many colors and their harmony made a famous Georgian prose writer Konstantine Gamsakhurdia say that "immortality itself is the art and the master cannot be visited by death. Millennia will pass taking away with them nearly everything. Only Svetitskhoveli will stay as Jacob fighting its fatal fight with God and death".
In some hundred-meter distance from Svetitskhoveli where the rivers Mtkvari and Aragvi cross each other, there is an architectural monument consisting of several buildings. The three walls and the gate of this monument are built of sandy stone and southern wall and a defense tower of the later period are built of cut stone, cobblestone and brick.
A hall like church has its entrance in the western part. A small window is built in a circular apse and there are small niches on its both sides. On the side of an apse there are left fragments of iconostasis, in the northern wall there is a small window; an arch supporting a vault is on the southern console and on the north - on a pilaster.
The church is built on a one-step socle and is roofed by a one-sided roof. From the west there is a two-storey gate the entrance of which is on the ground floor of the northern side. A small window of the western wall is closed. The walls are plastered. From the defense tower only a small part with embrasures. Antioch was called in honor of the center of churches in the East on the river Orientes, old Syria. It should be mentioned that the Georgian Patriarchate was subject to Antioch in the 4th-5th cc and used to send catholicoses and missionaries from there.
The church on the right bank of the river Aragvi has faced many misfortunes, destructions, and barbarous attacks of the enemies of other religious belief. In the mid-8th century, Murvan the Deaf robbed and destroyed it, then Tamerlane and other invaders did the same.
In 1998 the church was restored, the roof was replaced by a new one, the walls were cleaned and plastered with new lime solution, a new ambo was arranged, tiles decorated the floor, a font was arranged, a fence was built. "The Georgian Bank" employees take great care of it.
To the northwest of Svetitskhoveli there opens a beautiful sight. It is a splendid Cathedral of Samtavro. As the chronicles say there was a principality residence to the north of the town, hence the name of the Cathedral (in Georgian principality is "Samtavro").
The Samtavro ensemble was rather complex at first. Over the centuries the invaders devastated it but a cupola cathedral from the complex of buildings survived along with a church bell tower, a minor church (St. Nino's chapel) and a gate tower.
The main building of the Samtavro ensemble is a big cathedral built in the first half of the 11th century. The Cathedral has been preserved in a transformed, changed form though one can clearly see its original appearance. The Cathedral interior is simple, moderate, but southern and northern facades amaze visitors. There are many masterpieces in Georgia but such magnificent ornaments accumulated in one place cannot be seen anywhere. The most refined among them, most masterfully engraved is the one on the southern facade. One can even say that the upper part of the facade is a summit of Georgian creative art.
The northern facade, at a glance, looks like that of the southern side. However, if you look at it more carefully, you will easily see the difference. To the south there is much light, so the master works here like a jeweller. And to the north where the source for light is weaker, the master turns to a higher relief.
The eastern and western facades are simple and not so creative attaching less attention. The cupola was damaged in the end of the 13th century by an earthquake. It was restored in the first half of the 14th century. This is the period when the Georgian construction culture declined a bit in result of the Mongols invasion.
That is why the cathedral cupola of later period is rather crude and decorated with rough ornaments. The Cathedral walls were painted but time had faded them. The fragments preserved now are of a later period. The iconostasis is also of a later period, of the 13th-14th centuries.
The legend says that inside the church in the southern-west corner there are buried the first Christian King of Georgia Mirian and his wife Nana. According to the existing rule, they should have been buried in Svetitskhoveli, the holiest place but they did not consider it relevant to be buried there, probably, proceeding from the Christian moral "be modest, obedient and so on". That was why they chose a place rather far from the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and were buried there. Later the Georgian church canonized them. In the early days of the Georgian church the holiest liturgy was conducted on the graves of saints. Later churches used to be built in these places. So, it's easy to guess why the Samtavro Cathedral was built there. There are buried King Mirian, Queen Nana as we have said and also St. Abibos of Nekresi, "one of the 12 Assyrian Fathers" who had been stoned in the end of the 6th century on the order of Marzapan.
A small church was in the east from the big cathedral. It was built in the 30s of the 4th century, at the turn of breaking pagan religion and rising of Christian religion, lt is connected with the name of St. Nino, enlightener of Georgia. The church was repaired in 1879 in the period when its outer look was most damaged and required restoration. In 1978 restorers managed to return its original look to a minor church.
Except these two church buildings the ensemble includes a three story church bell tower of the 15th century.
Chronologically oldest monument on the territory of the town is the Samtavro burial ground. It involves cultural strata from the Middle Bronze age (II millennium BC) to the Early Feudal age (the 7th-8th cc AD).
The Samtavro burial ground is a region of serious architectural excavations. It was discovered in the 70s of last century, when Georgian Military Road direction was being changed on the territory adjacent to Bebris Tsikhe. The excavations were being conducted by an Australian naturalist Bayern who had opened more than 600 burial grounds. However, his conclusions were not scientific. The scientific and systematic research of Samtavro started in 1937-1938 and the works were headed by academicians Iv. Djavakhishvili and S. Djanashia.
The Samtavro burial ground is characterized by density of graces, variety and different types; there are represented several layers of graves belonging to different burial grounds: stone boxes (the most widely spread type of burial grounds, comparatively rich in buried articles) dated of the 5th-8th centuries; the burial grounds of the 4th-1st centuries; and the hole-graves and burial mounds of different periods starting from the II millennium BC to the mid-I millennium.
The Samtavro burial ground gives us evidence on different sections of Mtskheta population, mostly, of a middle one and the poor, their life and everyday activities over 3-thousand year long period from the period of the primitive communal order fall to that of early feudal epoch.
There is no field of material culture to which these excavations have failed to give rich and new material. The excavations witnessed existence of glass and ceramics production, their development.
There seems to be a wide assortment of bronze and iron articles, especially of war ornament, utensils of everyday life and adornment, different types of gold, silver and precious stone jewelry, mainly, dated of the 1st-3rd centuries AD. They are of both local and foreign produce. They witness existence of developed local production and close relations of Mtskheta with the countries of the Mediterranean Sea basin and Near East. The bones of domestic animals found in the burial grounds witness a high level of cattle-breeding development.
Stone teeth for a thrashing-board of thrashing-machine type, found in the burial ground dated of Bronze Age makes us think that from the 8th-6th centuries farming has been highly developed. And the epigraphic monuments (Hebrew inscriptions, an epitaph on the gravestone of Avrel Akolis) present rich, indispensable material for the history of Iberia Kingdom, namely, ethnic composition of the town, or for construction activities of Kartli Kingdom. The Hebrew inscuptions are connected with the Jewish colony in Mtskheta formed in the end of the 6th century by the Jews exhaled when King of Babylon Nebuchadanezzar raided the Judean Kingdom. The epitaph on Avrel Akolis's gravestone, dated of the 4th century AD. inform us that he was chief architect and artist of the old capital witnessing a high level of town building in the Kingdom of Kartli.
To the west from Mtskheta where earlier the village Kodmani was situated a narrow motorway is winding its way along the church of St. Barbara, St. Demetre and Kaloubani. The beautiful road leads to the most important monument of Georgian material culture - Shio Mghvime monastery ensemble. It was founded in the second half of the 6th century by St. Shio, one of the Assyrian Fathers and thus is named after him.
St. Shio was one of the thirteen Syrian Fathers. The Georgian hagiographic literature gives us scanty evidence on the missionary activities of these Syria fathers.
St. Shio was one of the founders of monastery building in Georgia. He came to Georgia from Antioch together with St. John of Zedazeni and his other pupils. There all of them preached asceticism in monastery activities. They all were pupils of St. Simon the Miracle-Maker (521-596).
The supposition expressed by acad. K. Kekelidze is most interesting. According to it the so-called "Thirteen Syrian Fathers" and St. Shio among them mentioned in the Georgian history were Georgians conducting their activities abroad, who after returning back to their home country introduced there new foundations of monastery activities. This is witnessed by St. Shio's activities. St. Shio along with the others was a founder of the monastery full of the spirit characteristic to Syrian monastery activities of that period.
St. Shio devoted to such strict ascetic practice, selects a desolate, remote, uninhabited place to found a monastery. The 10th century edition of "Life of St. Shio" tells that it was a very inconvenient place to live.
For a long time no one knew about St. Shio living there. Some time later he was joined by nuns and monks. The time of his turning is considered to be when he took Evagre as his pupil. The latter deeply respected and worshipped God, was educated and son of Christians, the owner of the region.
From that time on the Monastery expands its activities. The people knew about it and many of them came to live there.
When their number made up 25, there appeared the need to build a church for praying together on Sundays.
St. Shio advised to start building the first church building near the caves where the monks lived. It was in the second half of the 6th century. The church was being built in honor of St. John the Baptist.
Time passed and Shiomghvime has become a strong monastery complex, especially in the Middle Ages.
The Georgian Kings took great care of the Shiomghvime Monastery, e.g. the contributions of Giorgi II, David Aghmashenebeli (King David of Builder - Besiki) and Queen Tamar. During the reign of Giorgi II, the King gave them certificates on owning many villages and estates. David Aghmashenebeli built a church building of the Virgin for the monastery complex in 1103-1123. And in 1202 Queen Tamar ordered to build a water pipeline from village Skhalta to the monastery which supplied it with water and satisfied requirements.
Shiomgvime Monastery became stronger every day but in the mid-13th century the Khvarazmians raided it. The Geoigian princes contributed much in restoring it but in next centuries Shiomgvime was again raided, It is supposed that during the Mongols invasion the enemy visited and raided it.
From the 14th century, on the instructions from Giorgi V (the Glorious) Shiomgvime Monastery is owned by the Zedgenidze family and remains owned by them till 1561 when Svimon I gave it to the Amilakhvari family. Great construction and repair works of 1733 are connected with the name of Givi Amilakhvari, one of the representatives of their family. Erekle II, Giorgi XII, Prince David have largely contributed in favour of the Monastery. However, the monastery failed its power and even become empty in result of the Lezghins numerous raids. In the 80s of the 19th century when the monastery was headed by Bishop Alexandre Okropiridze the situation improved. He has fundamentally repaired and rehabilitated the buildings of the monastery complex.
The Shiomgvime Monastery was also the oldest center for the Georgian literature. Intensive literary activities were conducted within its walls. So, it is most interesting and important from this viewpoint.
The ruins of Bebris Tsikhe preserved in the northern outskirts of Mtskheta are most interesting by its original function and significance.
There is an interesting legend preserved which explains the name "Bebris Tsikhe". Long time ago this place of land belonged to Prince Simon. He built a fortified castle in the narrow canyon where a road guard had his seat. Simon had a kind daughter Makrine and a cruel son - Mamuka. After the father died Mamuka fixed a big tax for the peasants. He brutally tortured those who were unable to pay it. Kind-hearted Makrine used to beg her brother to have mercy upon his subject, but in vain. In the end cruel Mamuka imprisoned his sister in the tower.
One day dinner of poor quality was being proposed for the serfs. Suddenly some ravens fell into the pot. The peasants poured their dinner away. Mamuka got very angry on seeing this and rushed to beat them. Suddenly snakes crawled out of the pot and surrounded him. Makrine saw everything from the tower window. She fell on her knees praying to God for saving her brother. God had mercy upon her. Her brother after that distributed all his property among the peasants and was consecrated. He became a monk and started walking to search for mercy, to beg. On the money collected through begging he decided to build a church. Makrine was consecrated at Mtskheta.
70 years passed, Makrine died. On the day of burial a white-bearded old man came. He fell on his knees, kissed the dead on the forehead saying: "My dear sister, we have fulfilled our vow." On saying These words he died. After that the monument was called Bebris Tsikhe ("Beberi" means "old, elder"; "Tsikhe" "Fortress", in Georgian. Besiki).
There are no exact data when it was built but judging by each detail, historical evidence it can be dated of early Middle Ages. Bebris Tsikhe had its great importance in the Middle Ages as well. lt seems it had played the role of a castle. The son of a famous Georgian King David Aghmashenebeli - King Demetre I - died there in 1156 and then was reburied in Gelati, his family burial ground.
Bebris Tsikhe is one of the most important among the early Medieval Georgian defense buildings. Its ruins witness high level of construction culture in that period.
To the north-west of Mtskheta on the top of Saguramo mountain ridge, the outlines of the Zedazeni Monastery are seen. The chronicler says it was founded by St. John, the leader of Thirteen Syrian Fathers. Here the first church building is dated of the 6th century. Earlier there stood a pagan idol of Georgia - Zaden (the idol of war). The Zedazeni Ridge was named after it as well as the monastery - the Zedazeni Monastery. In the Middle Ages the monastery was an important center of literary activities. Later it played an important role as a fortified castle for defense.
The road to the Monastery passed Saguramo. It winds up through deciduous wood as if making a horizon line with the sky with the fence wall.
Zedazeni is the most beautiful place to have a look over the surroundings, most beautiful with then carpet of deciduous trees up to the Djvari Monastery. A narrow line of the river Aragvi sparkles like silver below. Blue surface of the Tbilisi Sea resembles emerald. A thin mist surrounds the environment like a dream.
Till the end of the 5th century Mtskheta is the capital of Iberia. It was King Vakhtang Gorgasali who started building Tbilisi and his son Dachi finished it. "Kartlis Tskhovreba" says that King Vakhtang transferred the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi. From that time on Tbilisi is the capital and Mtskheta was an abode of Catholicos.
Transfer of the capital to Tbilisi stimulated the hope that the invaders raids would reduce. But in vain.
In 736-738 Arab Commander Murvan the Deaf raided Mtskheta and destroyed Bagineti and Armazi. After that historical chronicles do not mention Mtskheta as a town. In the 10th century the Arabs put the Djvari Monastery to fire. In the second half of the 13th century the Khvarazmians raided Shiomgvime. In the end of the 14th Tamerlane damaged Svetitskhoveli. The Mongols destroyed Shiomgvime Monastery complex. In 1735 Nadir Shah seriously damaged Shiomgvime. In the first half of the 17th and 18th centuries Mtskheta was made uninhabited by the Lezhgins who had frequently raided it. In the first half of the 18th century there still existed the village Djvari near the Djvari Monastery, the village Ghartiskari to the west of the Mtskheta, the village Kindzara near Gori and some more.
A historical document of the 18th century mentions that Mtskheta was abandoned by the population. Erekle II ordered a representative of the local gentry, Gedevanishvili to restore Mtskheta and to bring landless peasants from different regions of Georgia to settle there. In the first half of the 18th century the entire population of Saguramo was killed in result of numerous raids of the Lezhgins.
A famous French writer Alexander Dumas mentioned about poor condition the old capital Mtskheta was in. The same situation was during the tsarist Russia. Only 1500 lived in Mtskheta in that lime, there was only one elementary school and no medical institution.
A new life started for Mtskheta from the 20s of XX century, when the question was put forward on electricity in Georgia. It was just in Mtskheta, namely where the river Mtkvari and Aragvi join, that the great period of electrification started for Transcaucasus.
There were more days of war than of peace for Mtskheta. But it started its revival. The vineyards were restored where there grew revived unique species of the grapes.
In 1956 it regained its status of a town. There was built a bridge over the river Mtkvari. There appeared new buildings in the villages of Bagineti, Armazi. Kodmani, Ghartikari, Tsitsamuri, and a new life started in them. A ship "Mtskheta" is crossing the ocean. There was restored ceramics production, which successfully participated in the international exhibitions. So, the project designed for Mtskheta restoration has been implemented. The villages of Kodmani, Djvari and Tsitsamuri joined Mtskheta territory as there no longer were any villagers. Mtskheta now has a sports ground, a stadium, and many fine places for rest, parks and so on. Mtskheta was declared a charity town - The Mtskheta Revival and Development Foundation along with the UNESCO World Heritage Center has worked out a complex program for socio-economic and cultural development of Mtskheta. It foresees support to Mtskheta as a monument of world cultural heritage and a center of Georgian Orthodox Church.
On April 17- May 3, 1995 Paris hosted in the UNESCO headquarters a meeting of UNESCO member countries representatives. It was officially declared there that Mtskheta, a town-reservation, would occupy its honorary place among those 440 unique exhibits that were enlisted as world treasures.
A great Georgians writer Grigol Robakidze mentioned about Mtskheta as a holy town where in old limes the Magi chose to worship the sun and the fire; here the Georgian were christianed, here St. Nino put her cross of wine, here the Kings of Georgia were crowned ... "Mtskheta is an unwritten poem of divine and human relations... all that is in Mtskheta represents sparks of Georgian genius and a chapel in Svetitskhoveli is an icon embracing divine clemency, being a cradle of the first prayer uttered by the people believing in God... My wish is: when I am no longer in this world, a Georgian mother will come here in this chapel on my birthday to light a candle and to pray for me. I do want nothing more from Georgia."
The centuries-old town leads a new life. Archaeologists, architects, art critics and builders work hard here to make Mtskheta most attractive for the visitors, to immortalize centuries-old history of our country, to glorify its present and future.


"Mtskheta" by Valerian Mamukelashvili.
Web site brought to you by Besiki Sisauri
Translator- Lali Tkeshelashvili;  Corrector- Marina Sabashvili and Besiki Sisauri
The book was printed in the Joint Stock Company "Pirveli Stamba", 1999.

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