Mtskheta

City of Mtskheta

    Mtskheta is an ancient town of extraordinary importance to the Georgian nation, located about 20km out of Tbilisi, and located at the confluence of the two rivers, the Aragvi, and the Mtkvari on the river terrace surrounded by majestic mountaintops.  

    The city legend says that Mtskheta was founded by the legendary chieftain Mtsekhotos in VIII century BC. There exists an idea that the name ‘’Mtskheta’’ comes from the tribes of Turks. It was the capital of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 4th century BC to the 5th century AD. City was located along profitable trade routes and was part of great “silk road”. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of Mtskheta’s status as a major trading post. Glass perfume bottles, Greek and Aramaic writings, pottery, metalwork and jewelry have all been unearthed during the excavations; many of them are on in the town’s museum.

    The ancient geographer Strabo described Mtskheta as a highly developed city with a water supply system, markets and stone houses. Mtskheta was also the religious centre of the country, with a number of major shrines to Georgia’s pagan pantheon; 

    The archeological excavations showed the city and its environs were a densely populated in the Bronze Age II millennium BC.

    In Mtskheta as well as in the other ancient countries, urban life began earlier. Moreover, the reason why urban life began earlier was that the world significance trade route passed in Georgia that connected Europe with Asia. River Mtkvari was the part of the great caravan route and along the river a lot of cities have arisen. Also in Mtskheta there passed the world significant big Silk Road, which was passing from India to the Mediterranean via the Black Sea port and it connected with the north via Georgian military road. 

    According to historical sources, when Alexander the Great conquered Iran and Asia, his soldiers turned their path to Georgia. They killed the supervisors of Mtskheta, one of the commander in chiefs of Macedonians Azo was installed as a ruler and with his command, and they destroyed the castles and killed local population. As is known, Alexander the Great had never marched in Georgia. It should be noted, at that time Georgia was one of the strongest ally and the foothold for Roman Empire. Moreover, more importantly, it was not required to pay tribute to Roman Empire; it was considered a great privilege. When the Roman Empire was close to collapse the Caesar of Rome sent the envoy/messenger to Georgia to ask for help, which is the evidence of the strength of Georgia. During the centuries ancient city withstand attacks of Roman legions and Persian soldiers. In 65 BC Mtskheta and its citadel (Armaztsikhe) was conquered by Gneus Pompeus. 

    Mtskheta was the site of Georgia’s adoption of Christianity in 337 and still remains the headquarters of the, Georgian Orthodox Church. After Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi, Mtskheta continued to serve as the coronation and burial place for most kings of Georgia until the end of the Georgian kingdom in the 19th century. Due to its historical significance and several cultural monuments, the “Historical Monuments of Mtskheta” became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. As the birthplace and one of the most vibrant centers of Christianity in Georgia, Mtskheta was declared as the “Holy City” by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014.

Jvari Monastery

    Jvari Monastery stands on the rocky mountaintop at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, from here you can enjoy a fascinating and outstanding view of the the old capital of Iberia, Mtskheta.  

    In the early 4th century, Saint Nino and king Mirian of Mtskheta erected a large wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple. Not only Georgians worshipped the cross, but pilgrims from all over the Caucasus. Later, in 6th century, during the reign of Guaram, small church was erected named the “Small Church of Jvari”.

    Cultural, political and economical growth led to building new, larger church. Between 586 and 604, the prince Stefanoz and his brothers Demetrius and Adarnase constructed church directly above the site of the wooden cross, the base of which is still visible inside the church.

    From three sides the complex was fortified by a stone walls and gate, remnants of which still survive. The fragments of the fortified wall still remained and dates back to the XVI-XVII centuries in the northern part from the main church we can notice remnants of tower and small church.

    The Jvari church is an early example of a cross-cupola church. On the base of relief inscriptions and on the chronicle sources the church dates back to 586/604. Mainly facades are built with light pink, in some areas the dark wine colored, well cut sand stone bricks. Church is a tetraconck style, between the four apses are three-quarter cylindrical niches, which are open to the central space, and from above it makes illusion of cross. 

    Jvari interior is no less harmonious: pure, sound and complete classics enchants with its perfection. From the inside the church is decorated by a mosaic which has survived only in fragments. The floor is covered with stone bricks. In the temple’s centre one can see the octahedron on which the first wooden cross was erected by Saint Nino and king Mirian. Architect of this church had special instructions, he received the special assignment, he should have built church around this octahedron and octahedron should have been in the very center of the church. The task was quite difficult to be performed. However, with these difficulties, they successfully built a great temple, which from the 1994 is included to the UNESCO world heritage list.

    Special attention is paid on the east façade of the church, and its decoration. Here we can find the portraits of Georgian kings who built the church. In the center we see Stefanoz kneeled before the Christ, Demetrius on the left and Adarnase with his son Qobuli on the right. Above the Demetrius and Adarnase we can notice two archangels- Gabriel and Michael. On the southern façade, in the entrance, in the tympanum there is the relief of the Glorification of the Cross, the same façade also shows an Ascension of Christ. Up above the relief, on the top of the spawning we can see the image of the family member of the rulers Qobulstephanoz, who is kneed before Stephan the deacon.

Svetitskhoveli

    One of the most sacred places in all of Georgia, the Cathedral of Sveti-tskhoveli (1010-1029) is located in the center of Mtskheta. The complex of Svetitskhoveli contains the following buildings: the temple itself, which is built in the name of 12 apostles, the fence, the gate, the tower-bell, the palaces and the clergy houses. According to a legend, 4 Jewish from Mtskheta went to Jerusalem to attend the Christ’s crucifixion. When he came to Jerusalem unfortunately Jesus had been already crucified. Elias bought Jesus’ robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha and brought it back to Georgia, to Mtskheta. Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia, she was a special believer in god, she was very religious and when she saw the robe of Christ, she touched it and hugged it with all her heart, by touching the robe she immediately died from the emotions, because it was such a sacred object. It was impossible to separate the body and the robe, so she was buried with it. Later the cypress tree was originated in her grave, from which Saint Nino and king Mirian made 7 columns for the construction of the church. 6 of them have been successfully set up, but the last one hang in the air and nobody could move it form the place. Saint Nino was praying whole day and night and in the morning the miracle had happened: The 7th column was based on the bottom itself, without any help of the people. Afterwards the chrism flowed from the seventh column, which cured people from all of the diseases. This magical column was named the life-giving pillar and the name of the cathedral derives from this column’s name.

    An icon portraying this event can be seen on the second column on the right-hand side as you enter. Reproduced widely throughout Georgia, it shows Sidonia with an angel lifting the column into heaven. St. Nino is in the foreground; King Mirian and his wife, Queen Nana, are to the right and left.
In 5th century, during the reign of Vakhtang Gorgasali the wooden structure was replaced by a stone basilica, it functioned until 11th century, and in 1010-1029 years with the command of the patriarch Melkisedek it was replaced with big cathedral church.

   During the existence of this cathedral, it has often been threatened by destruction; in 1283, the earthquake destroyed it. The cathedral suffered serious damage during the invasion of Mongols at the beginning of the 15th century. The last king able to reign over both east and west Georgia, Alexandre 1 (1412-1443), was responsible for restoring the cathedral. He repaired the cupola drum. In 1656 the cupola and roof were again restored. Mainly the cathedral was restored many times. During the reign of Russia in Georgia, Russians exploded the tombs in the courtyard and a large part of the frescoes were whitewashed. Since the cathedral nave basilica fundament, the central part of it have the shape of three nave basilica and in the bottom of the columns, under the glass, the fragments of fifth-century basilica is preserved.

    As we can see, the peacock is represented in the center of the north façade. This bird is considered to be a symbol of immortality in Christian religion. In the Middle Ages according to the popular legends, after the death the meat of the peacock, remains incorruptible, just like Christ’s and the feather, which is updated every spring is equated with the Easter.

    On the top of the peacock’s image, there is a stone with the relief of gonio. There is also a legend: The architect of Svetitskhoveli Arsukidze overpowered his teacher in craftsmanship, so in order not to build another better cathedral, they chopped off the right hand of Arsukidze.  

    Now let’s move to the east façade of the cathedral. Down below we can see the inscription which is written down in 1674, the builders of the church and restorers are named here as well. Up above the inscription we can see the sculptural images of the bull heads, between them there is the Deesis composition (between Jesus Christ, John the Baptist and Virgin Mary). This composition dates back to the 11th century, but the sculptural images are a bit earlier. As for the south façade here we can see the composition raising of the cross, a bit above, on the left side, we can see the images of lion and an eagle. The lion, an eagle, the bull and angels, all of them create unified semantic circle, which symbolize 4 Evangelists. In the center we can the relief of the tree of life, with an unusual form. The South façade is really very interesting, because here we can see the figures of the different color and size and form: In the lower register we can see 2 lions, which is not similar to each-other. The symbolic meaning of the lion is interpreted in many ways in Christianity. The early period of the Christian text ” Physiologius ” contains symbolic stories about this animal: While wandering in the desert the lion is removing his footsteps with his tail, just like Jesus Christ hides his deity. According to the natural legend, the cub the lion is born dead, after 3 days, when the parent lion breathed in his soul, the cub is getting alive, in Christianity it is associated with Resurrection of Christ.

    In Christian art, the lion is an ambivalent (dual) symbol, except for the positive meaning; it is used as a symbol of the satanic kingdom or as a symbol of the dark apostle. Negative value of the symbol is based on the words of St. Peter: Be sober, be alert, because your adversary the devil walks like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour. On the right, above the head of the lion we see an angel and a crucifixion.

    Between the grapes we see the figure of St. George, the patron of Georgia, the next image represents two pigeons. In Christian art, the pigeon is a symbol of purity and peace. In the Old Testament, this bird is associated with the flood. It was the bird that brought Noah an olive branch. This bird is also used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

    The decor of the western facade retained its original appearance. Around the central Spawning there is a rich, ornamental and decorative decoration. On the left and on the right we can see symmetrical images of grapes of a large size. In the center, Christ is sitting on the throne, who blesses with his right hand and in the left holds the gospel. On both sides of Christ, there are figures of flying angels; one of them holding a vessel, the second is holding the bread, Communion bread. This composition represents the scene Communion/Eucharist.

    The symbolic vessel points to the wine-blood of Christ, and bread-to the flesh of Christ. In the lower part of the facade, to the right, a carved cross made of red stone is dated to the date of construction of the temple.

    During the construction of Svetitskhoveli, it was important to take into account the existing general laws and rules for the construction of the temple and first of all, it was meaning to protect the proportion of the building. At first sight it is difficult to notice, but if you look closely, you will notice the asymmetry of the temple. The number of arches and spawning grounds, as well as their height on the facades are different.

    The temple was built of rusted stone, sandstone of gray-yellow and green colors, and also of tuff. To emphasize some architectural elements used stones of green and wine color.
Inside the temple, near the southwest wall there is a model of the chapel of a small church, which should personify the temple standing over the Tomb of the Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. It was built in 15th century.

    Throughout the centuries in Svetitskhoveli there is a crypt of Georgian kings. Tombs in front of the altar belong to the Georgian monarchs. Here you can see the tombs of the last king of Georgia – George XII, Erekle II and the founder of Georgia Vakhtang Gorgasali. The tombstone has been changed in recent years; this one is made of white marble.

    The temple is built on the foundation of the 5th century basilica. Behind the glass on the floor and the capitals you can clearly see the remains of the old temple.

    Svetitskhoveli was painted right after the construction, although for today only fragments from the painting remained. Most of the frescoes date back to the 17th century.

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