Tbilisi wasn't always a capital of Georgia. The first capital of the ancient kingdom of Iberia was in Mtskheta. Today, Mtskheta is one of the most popular and most visited sites in the country. But let's take a non-tourist look at Mtskheta and see how it evolved over time: how a trading town with multiple pagan and Zoroastrian temples became the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church and then almost vanished from maps for several centuries before being renovated and revitalised in the XX century and becoming a UNESCO Heritage site.
The ensemble of Mtskheta consists of some key churches, such as Jvari, the Church of John the Baptist, Svetitskhoveli, Samtavro, and based on their examples, one can talk about the development of the architectural tradition of Georgia in general. These churches not only had a deep symbolic and spiritual meaning, but also set the tone for the architecture of the entire region for a long time.
We will see:
Jvari Monastery, VI century. One of the first tetraconch type churches in the region. We will discuss the different versions of the construction of the church, its significance, the Byzantine influence and the historical context. Let's figure out why Jvari was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Antioch Church, IV-V century. This former three-aisled basilica is the most multi-layered and unusual building in Mtskheta. Its present-day appearance wholly reflects a very complicated history of Eastern Georgia;
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. A beautiful example of a cross-dome church. The main centre of Christianity in the region, whose history and even architecture is very tightly intertwined with the conversion of Georgia to Christianity.
Samtavro Monastery. A wonderful illustration of Georgian architecture of "Golden Age" with a rare bell tower and an unusual foundation story;
Shio-Mgvime Monastery. Once it was one of the most vital cultural centres of Kartli- it housed thousands of monks, had libraries and developed infrastructure. The church of Mother Mary is a very interesting example of an architectural transformation. The domed church was built in the beginning of the Xll century, but after being destroyed several times, it was restored as a simple basilica and decorated with frescoes at the end of the XIX century.
Armazi. A large pre-Christian complex, the former political and religious centre of Mtskheta. We will explore the ruins of the Roman baths, wine cellars, a great hall for gatherings, and a temple dedicated to the bellicose god Armazi.
We will learn:
how the pendentives appeared in Georgian architecture;
why do Orthodox churches have such apses;
how to understand the architecture of Georgian churches
why sometimes it can be so challenging to determine a church's age
where where sacred relics and icons were kept hidden during the invasions;
whowho were the first monks to arrive in Georgia, and where did they come from
where and by whom the largest Orthodox cross in the world was installed.
Time on the tour: 5.5–6 hours. The tour will include a coffee break in the middle.
Where we start: the exit of the Tsereteli metro station
Where we end: the exit of the Tsereteli metro station .
Additional information and useful tips:
We will be visiting active churches, so we ask you to take care of suitable clothing for this (all visitors need to cover their shoulders and knees, women will be asked to wear a hat or a scarf). In addition, field plants and thorns currently dominate the territory of the Armazi archaeological complex. Be careful and choose appropriate clothes.
The cost of the tour includes the usage of radio guides, which are connected to the headphones that will be provided by the tour guide. For your convenience, you can use your own headphones (mini jack 3.5 mm).
We will travel in a comfortable minibus and go outside to explore the objects. Therefore, please wear comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate clothing.
Children of all ages require a ticket, since each passenger needs a seat on the bus.
A sign saying «Tbilisi through an engineer's eyes» will help you to identify our guide.