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MTSKHETA - ANCIENT CAPITAL OF GEORGIA

 

Mtskheta –  One of the oldest cities of the country of Georgia, is located approximately 20 kilometers north of Tbilisi at the confluence of the Aragvi and Kura rivers. Mtskheta is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Due to its historical significance and numerous ancient monuments, the "Historical Monuments of Mtskheta" became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

Remains of towns at this location have been dated to earlier than the year 1000 BC and Mtskheta was capital of the early Georgian Kingdom of Iberia during the 3rd century BC – 5th century AD. It was a site of early Christianactivity, and the location where Christianity was proclaimed the state religion of Kartli in 337. Mtskheta still remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

 

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral  - The current cathedral was built in the XI century by the Georgian architect Arsukisdze, though the site itself is even older dating back to the early IV century and is surrounded by a number of legends associated primarily with the early Christian traditions.

The original church was built in IV century A.D. during the reign of Mirian III of Kartli (Iberia).   According to Georgian hagiography, in the 1st century AD a Georgian Jew from Mtskheta named Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. Elias bought Jesus’ robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha and brought it back to Georgia. Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia who upon touching the robe immediately died from the emotions engendered by the sacred object. The robe could not be removed from her grasp, so she was buried with it. The place where Sidonia is buried with Christ's robe is preserved in the Cathedral. Later, from her grave grew an enormous cedar tree. Ordering the cedar chopped down to build the church, St. Nino had seven columns made from it for the church’s foundation. The seventh column, however, had magical properties and rose by itself into the air. It returned to earth after St. Nino prayed the whole night. It was further said that from the magical seventh column a sacred liquid flowed that cured people of all diseases. In Georgian sveti means "pillar" and tskhoveli means "life-giving" or "living", hence the name of the cathedral. 

Svetitskhoveli  is the second largest church building in the country, after the recently consecrated Tbilisi Holy Trinity Cathedral, and is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other historical monuments of Mtskheta.

 

Jvari or Jvari Monastery - The present building, or "Great Church of Jvari", is generally held to have been built between 590 and 605. The importance of Jvari complex increased over time and attracted many pilgrims. In the late Middle Ages, the complex was fortified by a stone wall and gate, remnants of which still survive. During the Soviet period, the church was preserved as a national monument, but access was rendered difficult by tight security at a nearby military base. After the independence of Georgia, the building was restored to active religious use. Jvari was listed together with other monuments of Mtskheta in 1994 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name is translated as the Monastery of the Cross.

 

Armazi Citadel  - In the outskirts of Mtskheta are the ruins of Armazi fortress (3rd century BC),  the Armazitsikhe  acropolis (dating to the late 1st millennium BC), remains of a "Pompey's bridge" (according to legends built by Roman legionnaires of Pompey the Great in 1st century BC), the fragmentary remains of a royal palace (1st–3rd century AD),  a nearby tomb of the 1st century AD, a small church of the 4th century, the Samtavro Monastery (11th century).

Minor excavations on the territory of Armazi carried out in 1890 revealed the plinth of adobe town walls, with stone steps, and cleared the two-room structure, where fragments of a woman's torso of the 1st century AD were discovered. These have shown that the adobe town walls and towers, built upon a plinth of hewn stone in the first half of the 1st century AD, surrounded the hill top and the side sloping down towards the river, an area of 30 ha. The land within the walls was terraced and various buildings were sited on the terraces.

The three major cultural layers have been identified: the earliest dates back to the 4th-3rd century BC (Armazi I), the middle one is from the 3rd-1st century BC (Armazi II), and the relatively newer structure belongs to the 1st-6th century AD (Armazi III). Armazi I is constructed of massive stone blocks forming an impregnable base but were finished off by less durable mud brick. It also contains a great hall of six columns with a tiled roof. Armazi II is noted for a temple with an apse. Armazi III is the richest layer constructed of elegantly cut stone blocks, joined together with lime mortar and metal clamps. Among the surviving structures are the royal palace, several richly decorated tombs, a bathhouse and a small stone mausoleum.

Archaeological evidences testify that the ancient Armazi was far more extensive than it is today. Armazi's strategic situation was dictated by its ready access to the Daryal Pass, the main road over the Greater Caucasus, through which the Scythians invaded the ancient Near East.

 

Samtavro Monastery - A little IV century church marks the site where St Nino lived and prayed, while a larger 11th century building holds the tombs of her contemporaries - Georgia’s first Christian monarchs, King Mirian and Queen Nana.