We then meandered down to Bolnisi, long the seat of a bishop or archbishop, and the home of the oldest dated Christian structure in Georgia. It is known as Bolnisi Sioni (Sioni being Georgian for Zion and a designation used by many of their churches). This three-nave basilica church dates to the 5th century AD and features some pagan elements in its stonework. The original roof is missing but has been replaced with a modern covering.
We began our day heading straight out of Tblisi to Kutaisi. Today was an entire day of archaeological sites, and a very, very long day in the bus, so not too many photographs.
This is an archaeological group and our visiting professor is Gocha Tsetskhladze, who is Georgian, studied at Oxford, was there during the breakup of the Soviet Union, thus becoming stateless and now teaches in Melbourne.
After an interesting night at Lali’s Guesthouse our first stop was just down the road at Bagrati Cathedral.
The Gelati Monastery was founded by King David the Builder in 1106. This architectural complex housed Georgia’s first academy as well as the monastery.
A roadside pottery shop typical of the area, reminded us all of Tijuana.
Today was a fascinating day. Not just for what we saw but how long it took for us to get to where we were going. We were approximately 3 hours away from our destination. What this says is there are literally no places to stay in Georgia. The hotel we are staying at in the ski resort is as close a hotel as we could get to the part of Georgia we were visiting. There just aren’t hotels that are acceptable for the average American.
This says so much about the situation in this country. I am not knocking it, it is just an interesting observation about their economy.
We traveled all of this way to visit Vardzia. Vardzia is the site of the most famous cave-city in Georgia, which, largely because of its connections with Queen Tamar, is a place of almost mythic importance for most Georgians. It was in a closed border zone throughout the Soviet period, making it even more mythical than it might have actually been. It is said that its name derives from Ak Var Dzia or “Here I am, uncle” Tamar’s call when lost in the caves.
First established by King George III in 1156 and consecrated in 1185, his daughter Tamar made it into a monastery, which became the chief seminary of southwestern Georgia housing 2,000 monks until an earthquake ruined it in 1283, slicing away a large portion of the rock face. Another quake in 1456 was followed by a Persian army in the mid 1500’s and the Turks at the end of the century so that now around 600 chambers survive from a total of 3,000. These originally included stables, barracks, bakeries wine presses and stores.
The area still has a working monastery and chapel and exquisite frescoes outside of the chapel.
Only about one half of the original 13 levels remain that penetrated 54 yards in to the cliffs. The area has been protected since 1938. Heavy rain in 1998, caused a large section of cliff to collapse and the Dutch and US governments quickly came to the aid with money for repairs. It is said that Egyptian vultures nesting in the caves are making the management even more complex.
Our drive was through interesting countryside. I think it best to just post a few photographs and let everyone take from them what they would.
Both this house and this apartment complex were typical of what we saw in most every town.
Today we had a 2 and 1/2 hour drive out of Tblisi. Our destination was the David Gareja Monastery complex.