Church of Cross in Mtskheta moutainValerian Mamukelashvili - "MTSKHETA"


 If you travel from Tbilisi along the road to the northwest, soon you will be charmed with most beautiful, brightly colored orchards and vineyards. The latter on, you will be divided by the Georgian Military Road most peculiar with its beauty and variety. The road is of 2101 kilometer long (Tbilisi - Vladikavkaz). It was a bridge connecting northern warriors with the South still in B.C. This road was used to get to the ancient civilized states, namely, to politically powerful kingdom of Iran.
The Georgian Military Road fascinated such persons as: A. Griboedov, A. Pushkin, L. Tolsloy, M. Lermontov, I. Repin, P. Chaikovsky, M. Gorky, V. Mayakovsky and many other famous Russian writers, painters and composers. A. Chekhov wrote to his friend from Tbilisi:  - "This is not a road. it is a poetry, a fine, fantastic story, written by a demon and dedicated to Tamar... I think you have seen the Georgian Military Road. You have not traveled along it yet, then pawn your wives, your children... and travel along it. I have never seen such a beautiful sight."
To the south, on the valley elevated like a palm, your sight will be attracted by the houses with red tiled roofs built by wise strong peasants. This is an old Georgian village Dighomi, mentioned in the old Georgian chronicle "Kartlis Tskhovreba" (Life of Kartli) as dated of the period of the first king of Iberian, King Parnavaz.
In the historical past Dighomi is known as Dighuami or Dighvami. Dighomi Canyon is bordering the village.
On the left bank of the Canyon, at the Georgian Military Road there were found ruins of a bronze roofing of Neolithic period (the 4th-3rd cc B.C., the turn of the millennium). At the bottom of the Canyon, on the slopes the archaeologists excavated multi-layered ruins of a settlement. the major strata of which are of late Bronze and early Iron ages (the 15th-6th cc B.C.). The settlement existed in late Ancient and early Feudal epochs as well. To the east of the hills, on the Dighomi field there were discovered the ruins of the settlement of early Feudal epoch and burial grounds of various periods.
Dighomi field was a place of hunting for the Kings. The village land plots were settled by the court, church and princely peasants.
To the left of the road in 10 km distance, on the slope one can come across a fine building (architect L. Alexi Meskhishvili) of the Georgian Agrarian University. Then a car goes downhill and through the arc of a railway bridge you can catch sight of Zemo Avchala hydro power plant ("Zahesi"). From its turbines there flows out the river Mtkvari water turned into electricity spreading like life light upon the Tbilisi outskirts. ''Zahesi", born in the period of a totalitarian Soviet State, has been regularly working hard since 1922.
On April 3 1927, Tbilisi received its first electricity, thus their dream came true (but in XXI century people of Mtskheta still suffers not having electricity. The problem is our government prefers to sell it in Turkey for better prize:) Justice for all! - Besiki).
To the left over the narrow railway line broad-shouldered beautiful mountains of green velvet overlooked like eagles. The slopes of these mountains are full of caves that sheltered people during the wartime. The caves look like chimneys. At the right bank of the river Mtkvari, near "Zahesi", while building a railway in 1875 the builders found an epigraphic inscription left by the Romans in the 1st-2nd cc AD: "Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus, great pontifex, empowered with the power of a tribune seven times, declared as emperor twelve times, six times consul, seventh time designated, leader of his country censor and emperor Titus Caesar, son of Augustus, five times empowered by tribune powers, four times consul, the fifth time designated, censor and Domicianus Caesar, son of Augustus, three times consul, the fourth time designated to the King of Iberia Mithridates, son of King Parsman and Yamasaspos, friend of Caesar and the Romans and to his people these walls have been tribute."
The inscription witnesses the friendship existing between Roman and Iberian States.
The mountain ridge turns westward to the place where closely populated settlement existed, when Mtskheta was a capital, this is an atomic reactor of the Institute of Physics of the Georgian Academy of Science. And, then suddenly on the mountaintop you see a masterpiece of Georgian architecture - the Djvari Monastery (Cross Monastery).
Djvari Monastery is the summit in the development of Georgian architecture, an implementation of a man's dream, a symbol of Georgian creative talent, intensive energy and endless search. The 6th century small cross-cupola monastery is charming and harmonious with the environment as if born by these very mountains, being a symbol of their eternity and immortality.
Peculiar landscape, most beautiful structure, greatness of the Djvari has more than once inspired Georgian poets. In their verses the Djvari Monastery seems like holy of holiest for the Georgian people.
In his poem "Mtsiri", a famous Russian poet M. Lermontov wrote about beauty of Djvari Monastery thus attaching everlasting immortality to it. "Mtsiri" is a masterpiece of Russian poetry.
There has been preserved a nice legend on the Djvari Monastery in Mtskheta. There was an iron chain between the Djvari Monastery and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in olden times. The monks used it to come down to Svetitskhoveli to pray and went up back as well by it. One of these monk was the most saint and great-spirited of all.
Once, when he was going back to the Monastery by the chain he looked down and saw a woman bathing in the river Aragvi. She was lying like a fairy nymph on the water surface. The monk could not stop gazing at the beautiful body. Something warm, unusual and alien filled him. Suddenly a thunderstorm roared in the sky. the chain broke and the Aragvi waves devoured the monk who had sinned.
As compared with the other historical monuments, the Djvari Monastery has somehow managed to overcome time, attacks, and survived. However, there were many who dared to touch it In the 7th century the Arabs put it on fire. In the 18th century the Lezghins destroyed the village - Djvari located around the Monastery. Despite these various attacks, the Monastery is still alive, standing proudly as a symbol of Georgian national pride.
Djvari and its surroundings are most interesting for the tourists and visitors of Georgia. It is lighted at night and in the pitch dark it hangs in the sky like a fairy castle.
If you walk on, step-by-step, you see how the sight changes. Here and there you see ''Zahesi" water reservoir sparkling in the sun, the river Aragvi joining the river Mtkvari.
At the "Zahesi" water reservoir the Military Road is joined by the road leading towards Karsni, the road winds like a twisted rope along the hills. Here, on the steep slopes of Kartli Mountains, in 1944-1947 the archaeologists discovered Mtskheta castle ruins, towers and buttresses known in the historical sources as Armazi Castle.
The mountaintops along with inner castle protected against the enemy. This mother-castle has protected Mtskheta for centuries, many tried to ruin it to destroy it but it has managed to survive.
Even today, in the of places archaeological excavations, one can see the remains of the 4th-3rd century buildings - a hall with columns, homestead buildings, ritual constructions, water pipeline and bath remains of ancient times.
Recent archaeological excavations revealed another bath of a Roman type, a cathedral complex of paganism and, significant epigraphic monuments. The inscriptions are engraved on well-processed and cut tile-stones and are in Greek.
Up to the first part of the 8th century the Armazi Castle continued its existence, later the Arab commander Murvan the Deaf destroyed it.
Armazi idol overlooked Mtskheta from the Bagineti Mountain. The first King of Iberia Parnavaz erected it and he called it the name of the moon "Arma". Then the idols of "Gatsi" and "Gaimi" were erected beside it. As the chronicler says, here "in front of Armazi idol" there was buried the first King of Georgia Parnavaz, "a wise man, a good brave warrior and hunter, art lover."
To the west of Bagineti, south-eastwards of Mtskheta railway station in 300 meter distance, in 1951, the archaeologists excavated a unique monument - a sepulcher built like a house. It was built in the 1st century AD at the bottom of Armazi rocky mountain steep slope. In specially cut rectangle place (area of 50 m2 depth - 1,6-2m) the sepulcher occupies about 20 m2, the rest being a yard. It was just here that a horse skeleton was found. It was a sacrifice made for the person buried in the sepulcher. There is a low narrow door built in the eastern wall. Two-sloped root of the sepulcher is covered with big fixed tiles with sides turned up. Such tiles are popular and widely used in buildings and burial grounds of the 1st-3rd centuries. They are numerous in number, which is stressed by the 1st century Greek geographer Strabo. The sepulcher was robbed but the robbers did nut lake all.
There were found the bones of a grown-up and a child. There were probably buried there mother and son, representatives of a ruling class of the 1st century Kartli (Iberia).
The Military Road goes along the Mtkvari Canyon. The Kartli Mountains seem to have clouds on their summits. Far away the summits of Kherki (present Saguramo) Mountains are lighted with the sunrays attaching wonderful colors to them. Light and dark intermix with each other. Morning dew hangs like beans on green leaves and falls silently to the ground looking like pale moles on the rocks and stones.
To the right on the left bank of the river Mtkvari, there is located the ancient capital of Georgia - Mtskheta.
Mtskheta is a root of the Georgian nation its tears and joy; a state of Georgia was founded in Mtskheta; the Georgian language spread from Mtskheta Christian religion originated from the Mtskheta font and over the centuries has been its cradle and banner.
Those who come to visit Mtskheta see its monuments, can be well familiarized with the past of our nation, its "seedling and fruit". The walls of these monuments have still preserved the results and traces of the art created by our ancestors.
The small town has been built and ruined for many century, it has seen many enemies and friends, much evil and good, there have come many to this town to destroy its fine palaces, its castles and towers. It's a wonder that Mtskheta has survived. Its fate is like that of Kartli: it was being suppressed but managed to revive; it was being cut but its root did not dry; thousand good seedlings used to grow out of a good root to resist any attacks. Thus, Mtskheta stands like an image of an immortal past, undying star of the nation. Its everlasting monuments sing to the immortality of life.
The capital of Mtskheta has served the kingdom of Kartli for more than 800 years (from the end of the 4th century BC to the end of the 5th century AD). This period is one of the most brilliant pages in the history of the state life and national consolidation of the Kartvelian tribes and peoples. After Mtskheta has lost its leading role among the Georgian towns, it still remained a permanent center for religious life and monastery activities. The 2500 year long history of Mtskheta has been fully told in foreign and Georgian written sources and is witnessed in archaeological, ethnographic and other sources. Though as archaeological excavations showed, Mtskheta and its surroundings have been densely populated still in Middle Bronze age, i.e. in the II millennium BC. Thus we can follow 40-century-old history of Mtskheta as a place where the Kartvelian tribes - Karts and later Meskhs settled as a fully established geo-ethnical and cultural unit.
The authors of "Kartlis Tskhovreba" (Life of Kartli) Leonti Mroveli and Juansher consider the first name of the old capital of Kartli Kingdom as "Kartli". In it there is differentiated the name of the oldest part of the capital - Kartli from the name of the Kingdom - all Kartli. The Georgian historical sources tell us about some other names as well "Mtskhetai", "Old Mtskheta", "Old Town", "Armazi", "Mtskheta" or "Armazi private town".
The historians suppose the name "Mtskheta" was formed from the word "Meskheti" by means of vowel shift: "Meskheti - Meskheta - Mskheta - Mtskheta".
Public life has long been established in Mtskheta as well as in other old towns of Kartli. This was promoted by the trade road of the world importance passing through Georgia, which connected Europe and Asia. The Mtkvari Canyon was a part of this big caravan road and many towns appeared in its basin. These were: Uplistsikhe, Mtskheta. Khunani, Rustavi, Tbilisi, Kaspi, Gori, Urbnisi and so on. There were developed various branches of handicraft (construction, goldsmith art, metal work, pottery and so on) in these towns. They had established intensive trade-cultural and political relations among themselves and with foreign countries. So, by the second half of the I millennium BC they were strong towns to turn into administrative centers on certain territories.
Among these towns, in the 4th century BC Mtskheta occupied a leading role especially after on the territory of Kvemo Kartli and Meskheti there was founded a big political unit of the Kartvelian tribes within which the important part of present-day East Georgia was located. So, Mtskheta gradually acquired greater importance from that time on. The same with its districts. The latter were situated at the cross-roads of the loads leading from West Georgia, Meskheti, Armenia, Azerbaijan (old Albania) and North Caucasus (along the river Aragvi). The trade road of world importance mentioned above also crossed Mtskheta. It led from India to the Black Sea ports.
In addition, Mtskheta and its surroundings had must favorable location from the defense viewpoint. It was a most convenient place connected with numerous castles and two rivers Aragvi and Mtkvari difficult to access.
Old Mtskheta was a multi-district town. It was spread on the both banks of the river Aragvi and Mtkvari. Namely, the town was bordered: to the east by the places where there is a railway bridge near "Zahesi ", to the west - Dzegvl and Khekordzula ravine and Nastagisi, to the north - Mukhrani sights, to the south - Satskepela-Didgori mountain ridge; the entire territory is most rich in archaeological monuments of great significance.
Still in BC Mtskheta was mentioned in old legends and stories. It was preserved in folk stories as well as the first capital of the Kingdom of Iberia. It was much loved first, as it was a capital and also the source nourishing the nation's spiritual life, an abode of idols and chapels. Mtskheta was the first "mother-town " of our country and the Georgian people always prayed to God and Saints and highly respected them.
Mtskheta is a cradle of the Georgian language. A historian mentioned about the first Georgian King Parnavaz (his court being in Mtskheta) that he enriched the Georgian language so that no other language was preferred and "he was the creator of the Georgian alphabet". So, Mtskheta taught the Georgian language to the present and future of our country. It was in Mtskheta that epigraphical monuments were being written along with parchments, deeds and charters, there were being translated books from Greek and Roman into Georgian, mainly hagiographic ones within the walls of Svetitskhoveli, Samtavro, Zedazeni and Shiomghvime monasteries. Mtskheta has inspired Georgian poets Simon Gugunava, Grigol Orbeliani, Nikoloz Baratashvili, a famous Georgian writer Constantine Gumsakhurdia dedicated one of his best novels to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. The most popular and famous poets of Georgia Galaktion Tabidze, Giorgi Leonidze dedicated their beautiful verses to Mtskheta and Svetitskhoveli, a well known Georgian writer Vassil Barnov was often amazed by the beauty of Armazi, outstanding Georgian poets Titsian Tabidze and Paolo lashvili used to wander along streets of Mtskheta, also renown Georgian writers and poets Simon Chikovani, Giorgi Kuchishvili, A!io Mirtskhulava, Shalva Apkhaidze, David Gachechiladze, Ioseb Noneshvili. Mtskheta has become a burial ground for the noblest Knight of the Georgian prose Levan Gothua. Saguramo has appeared in the last stories of our most beloved Georgian writer Nodar Dumbadze. Mtskheta, Svetitskhoveli, Djvari has been a source of inspiration for wonderful verses of Shota Nishnianidze, Tamaz Chelidze, Jansul Charkviani, Anna Kalandadze, Medea Kakhidze, Moris Potskhishvili, Otar Chiladze, Mukhran Machavariani, Silovan Narimanidze, Zaur Bolkvadze, Ilo Beroshvili, Grigol Julukhidze, Irakli Arabuli, Enver Nizharadze and all those who value and respect high sky, wonderful nature of Georgia. The districts, streets, houses of Mtskheta are most dear to them.
Famous Russian poets and friends of Georgia sang to the beauty of Mtskheta: M. Lermontov, N. Bazhan, N. Tikhonov, E. Mezhelaitis, V. Beekman, B. Akhmadulina, M. Sinelnikov, N. Hassan-Zade, O. Kazakov and many others.
Let's follow the motorway beside the railway line to the west. It seems near the railway station that the Kartli Mountains stand up looking arrogantly over Mtskheta. Near the mountain top one can see a basilica where, according to the legend, Nino of Cappadokia (St. Nina - Besiki) arranged her first abode.
Below there are pavilions of the Tbilisi experimental factory workshop #3 (does not exists anymore - Besiki), after that the road moves down. There on the both banks of Mtkvari an alley of green trees spreads like green velvet along the river. The place was called Armazi when Mtskheta was a capital (the Greek and Roman sources say: Harmozice, Harmastus).
Fifty years have passed since the period when the history tells us about Dzevakh and Bersuma Pitiakhshs, Sharagas Eristavi and the most beautiful Scraphita. From destroyed palace and mute burial grounds there were heard sounds of gold adornment, necklaces, bracelets, brooches, diadems, belts, ear-rings, pins, beads, medallions, silver cups. It was on the blessed territory of Armazi that the father of Georgian historiography Ivane Djavakishvili touched the Georgian values. Systematic and planned research started in Armazi from 1937. 8 archaeological excavations were conducted. After them the area has been thoroughly studied. The monuments discovered there are dated within the 1st century AD - Middle Ages. Though there also were ruins of earlier period of Neolithic and bronze era. The principality residence (that of Pitiakhsh) is dated of the 1st - 4th cc AD. The ruins of a palace, bath, wine cellar and other buildings are dated of the same period. The samples witness that ancient Asia Minor and Syria have preserved approximately the same traditions of bath building as later enters Tran Caucasus the Romans borrowed the same idea from eastern architecture. The ruins of similar bath are discovered in Bagineti as well, in the village Dzalisi (Mtskheta district), on the north coastline of the Black Sea, on Kerch peninsula and in some other places.
The bath excavations proved a high level of developed construction technique and sanitary-hygienic culture corresponding to the luxury of royal aristocracy living there.
Along with the ruins of dwellings and facilities there were found burial grounds of different periods, the most interesting among them being rich burial grounds and sarcophagi of the rich Eristavi princely house. Special attention should be attached to the portraits and inscriptions engraved on them.
For example, in the burial ground of Asparug Eristavi along with other rich articles there was found a dark red ring with sardonic. A portrait of a man is engraved on the gem most masterfully, around it a Greek inscription is engraved in thick nice letters. The research workers consider that it is not an adornment but a sign of the Eristavi authority - an insignia. The inscription "Asparug Eristavi" points to the fact of its being a seal.
In the same burial ground there was found a gold-buckled belt of the Eristavs with an inscription on one of the gems of the buckle in Greek "Karpak, my dear". The inscription on the portrait of a young couple, probably, being Zevakh Eristavi (or Javakh) and Karpak, probably, his wife. The belt should have belonged to Zevakh Eristavi which later has become a property of Asparug. It seems he has inherited it (according to acad. S. Djanashia, Asparug should be Zevakh's son). Asparug's bell is most unique and is considered to be a typical insignia of Eristavi. The burial ground of Bersuina Erislavi was rich in adornment and utensils buried in it. It was most peculiar with the articles, inscriptions and portraits engraved on them.
For example, a silver tray in the middle of which there is a six-sided star encircled by a fifteen-winged "Borjghali". The latter is a symbol connected with the cult of the sun in Georgia.
Archaeological and ethnographic materials prove that the sign connected with the cult of the sun was spread in the East in far-off times from where it entered Caucasus and, namely, Georgia as well. It has come down to us in the ornaments of wooden architectural monuments and was the main motif for decorating the hall of the oldest type dwelling, namely, its middle column (in Georgian it's called "dedabodziti, i. e. mother-pillar).
On the silver tray there is engraved a Greek inscription: "I, King Flavius Dades dedicated this tray to a Greek Pitiakhsh". According to this inscription the scholars prove the burial ground belongs to Bezsuma Pitiakhsh.
The burial ground of Seraphita is not so rich in the articles. However, the gold adornment is unique from the viewpoint of goldsmith art level. Most interesting are epigraphic monuments - Greek and Arabian bilingual inscription engraved on the stone of the sepulcher: "I (am) Seraphit, daughter of Zevakh Pitiakhsh of King Parsman, wife of lodmangan - powerful and victorious high ranking courtier of Khsepanrug, son of Agrippa, high ranking courtier of King Parsman. Suffering of sufferings. That which (that who) was, unfulfilled (i.e. young) and so kind and beautiful was that no one was of (his) similar beauty and died at the age of 21."
Armazi and Seraphita have become the source of inspiration for many famous Georgian poets, giving new impulses to the Mtskheta topic.
Only an Aramean (Armazian) inscription is engraved on the stela. These inscriptions and in general, all the monuments discovered in Armaziskhevi burial ground are significant materials for determining Kartli (i. e. Iberia) Kingdom state order, socio-economic, literary and political situation in the Ancient times.
According to these materials the scholars proved the existence of developed goods production in Kartli and lively commercial relations of Kartli Kingdom with its neighboring states.
Acad. S. Djanashia mentions that based just on this handicraft and trade development Mtskheta, the oldest agricultural type settlement became a town in the I millennium BC.
Through archaeological discoveries of Armaziskhevi burial grounds, the cultural heritage of Georgian people dated of 1st-4th cc has become more evident.
We leave Armazi and return to Mtskheta. The road goes along the right bank of the river Mtkvari. At the square it joins the Georgian Military Road. In case the Zahesi water reservoir is emptied, you'll see the ruins of the ancient bridge of Mtskheta, in the river Mtkvari.
The old Georgian historical sources suppose it was built long ago when Mtskheta, built, on both banks of the river Mtkvari, was the most important trade center for Georgia's home and foreign trade and the town needed to be connected.
The most convenient place for building this bridge was there, as both banks of the river Mtkvari were the closest there.


"Mtskheta" by Valerian Mamukelashvili.
Presented by Besiki Sisauri
Translator- Lali Tkeshelashvili;  Corrector- Marina Sabashvili and Besiki Sisauri
The book was printed in the Joint Stock Company "Pirveli Stamba", 1999.