Three cities have had the honour of being capitals within Georgian territory. Each played–and continues to do so–an important role in the country’s history. Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Iberia and spiritual centre of the country; Kutaisi, in ancient times known as Aiad from where Aeëtes, the father of Medea, ruled; and Tbilisi, the present- day capital called into being during the reign of King Gorgasali. Within the walls of each a unique history has played out.
Places to visit
Until 1936 Tbilisi was known as Tiflis and comprised the suburbs of Abanotubani, Kharpukhi, Kala, Isan-Avlabari, Sololaki, Mtatsminda, Vere, Ortachala, Chugureti, Didube and Nadzaladevi. Most historical sights are concentrated in Old Tbilisi which has been a candidate for a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing since 2007.
The old historical neighbourhood is perched on a cliff overlooking the Mtkvari (Kura) River. The district is one of the earliest inhabited areas of Tbilisi and features Narikala fortress–originally also royal residence–built on foundations laid by king Vakhtang Gorgasali in the 5th century AD. Abo of Tbilisi, the patron saint of the city, was incarcerated here in the 8th century.
The fortress affords a wide view over the city and the Mtkvari river, as it has done since the 5th century. Narikala district is among the most beautiful of Tbilisi. The fortress functioned as a prison from the 7th century on and archaeologists keep unearthing remains of the city’s ancient walls here.
According to legend king Vakhtang Gorgasali’s falcon fell into one of the hot springs, which is where he decided to establish his capital. This old district of Tbilisi is famous for its multi-ethnicity and for its sulphur baths among which the Asian-inspired, mosaic- covered, elegant Orbeliani baths. The colourful architecture of this neighbourhood makes it a paradise for painters.
Svetitskhoveli* basilica (basilica of the Life-Giving Pillar)
The site held a wooden church at the time of Georgia’s conversion to Christianity in the early 4th century. It was replaced by a stone church in the 5th century and eventually, in the early 11th century, Catholicos Melchisedek I was responsible for building what we see today, an early example of a cross-dome basilica. Two carved bull’s heads from the first stone church are incorporated over the entrance gate. Ten of Georgia’s monarchs are buried here. A most precious relic, Christ’s robe, is said to be kept beside the altar.
Jvari Monastery* (Monastery of the Cross)
This monastery complex was constructed in the 6th century, near the confluence of the Mtkvari (Kura) and Aragvi rivers. It owes its name to the grapevine cross which St Nino planted here to mark Georgia’s conversion to the new faith.
Remnants of a 1st-century bridge built in Iberia by the legionaries of the Roman general Pompey can be seen when the water level is low. The bridge links stories of Roman conquest under Pompey and valiant resistance from king Artag of Iberia.
Armazi was the most important fortress in the ancient capital of Iberia. According to medieval Georgian sources it was constructed in the 3rd century BC on the right bank of the Mtkvari river. It was conquered by the Roman general Pompey in the 1st century
BC. Currently Armazi fortress is a tourist destination where archaeological excavations are in progress and one might even become a witness to an exciting discovery!
Of the three churches in the Gelati monastery complex the Church of the Virgin is the most ancient, dating to 1106 and the reign of King David the Builder. Gelati monastery and its academy were the cultural and intellectual center of medieval Georgia, staffed with local and foreign scientists, theologians and philosophers. It was sometimes referred to by contemporaries as the new Hellas or the second Athos. Many
manuscripts and frescoes–12th to 17th century–are preserved at Gelati and it was once the home of the Kakhuli triptych (what remains is now in the Georgian National Museum of Art). Several of Georgia’s kings are buried here, including David the Builder. An embossed iron gate made in 495 AD is kept here. It was brought back from the Ganja fortress (Azerbaijan) in 1139 by the army of Demetrius 1 of Georgia.
Constructed in the early 11th century (the floor was laid in 1003) during the reign of Bagrat III, the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The cupola and ceiling were destroyed by Ottoman troops in 1692. Conservation and restoration has been ongoing since 1952. The Gelati monastery complex of which it is a part, was built between the
12th and 17th centuries and is well-preserved.
The nature reserve is a unique complex of geological, paleontological, speleological and botanical interest, established in 1935. The main attractions of the reserve are a karst cavern, Prometheus’ cave and dinosaur footprints in the limestone rock.
* UNESCO World Heritage Site
Day 1: Arrival at Tbilisi International Airport, transfer to the hotel, overnight in Tbilisi
Day 2: Mtskheta, overnight in Kutaisi
Day 3: Kutaisi, Sataplia, overnight in Kutaisi
Day 4: Tbilisi museum, Tbilisi at night, overnight in Tbilisi Day 5: Tbilisi, sulphur bath if desired, overnight in Tbilisi Day 6: Transfer to the airport
Note: Price depends on type of accommodation and number of persons.