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
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
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
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 -
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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.