Piligrim tour of Imereti, Kartli and Meskheti

Piligrim tour of Imereti, Kartli and Meskheti


Duraition: 8 Nights / 9 Days
Price: 490 USD / per person

Duration: 8 nights and 9 days
Price: USD, price depends on type of accommodation and number of persons

Background information

After the ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit instructed the apostles to spread the
message of Christianity around the world. The apostle Andrew preached in Georgia
and tradition holds that Simon the Zealot and Matthias were also active here. In 320
AD St Nino of Cappadocia caused the conversion of the country to Christianity. The
thirteen Assyrian Fathers founded monasteries and hermitages in Georgia in the 6th
century and initiated the ascetic movement.

Places of interest

Svetitskhoveli* basilica (basilica of the Life-Giving Pillar)
The site held a wooden church at the time of Georgia’s conversion to Christianity. 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.

Overlooking the banks of the river Mtkvari (Kura) from a steep cliff, this historical area is
revered by Georgians for its connection to St Abo Tbileli (St Abo of Tbilisi) an 8thcentury
martyr for the Christian faith.

Anchiskhati (church of the Ancha icon)
The church is a three-nave, 12th-century renovation on 6th century foundations. It is
named for a precious icon of Christ Pantocrator, framed by the famous goldsmith Beka
Opizari, and which is now kept in the National Art Museum of Georgia.

Sioni (cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin)
The church built in the 6th and 7th centuries was completely destroyed by Arab
invaders. A new church was constructed under King David the Builder in the 12th
century and has since survived damage and partial destruction from an earthquake and
from Persian invasions. St Nino’s cross--two lengths of grapevine lashed together with
the saint’s hair--is kept here.

Kashveti church
Legend connects Kashveti (give birth to a stone) to Davit Gareja, one of the Assyrian
Fathers. In the 18th century the Amilakhvari family funded the building of a church to
replace the ruinous brick structure. Wealthy citizens had the church rebuilt once more
by 1910. Of note are the murals of 1947, by well-known Georgian painter Lado

Holy Trinity Cathedral Tbilisi
The cathedral is situated on Elia Hill and was built to commemorate the birth of Christ,
2000 years earlier. Although it was inaugurated in 2004, work on mosaics and frescoes
is still in progress.

Blue Monastery
The church takes its name from the blue glazed tiles that cover the conical roof,
although officially it is called the church of St Andrew. Of the original 12th-century
structure only a few courses of stone and some windows with fretwork framing survive.
The church was restored and rebuilt several times and in the Soviet era was put to use
as a factory, warehouse, and Museum of Medicine. An inscription tells us that ‘unworthy
Basil, a former archbishop of Kartli’ was responsible for its construction.

The Samtavro monastery complex is dominated by the 12th-century church of the
Transfiguration, where the Georgian king Mirian III, and his wife, Nana, are buried. The
tiny church dedicated to St NIno who prayed here and cured the sick, dates from the 4th
century. It is also the burial place Gabriel Salesi the Confessor. Some of the buildings
are in use as a seminary and a convent.

Shio mghvime (Shio cave monastery)
This monastery complex which was home to 2000 monks when it flourished, is named
after the founder, Shio, one of the Assyrian Fathers. Shio was buried in one of many
caves that were dug out of the rock. The earliest church in the complex--St John the
Baptist--is from the sixth century; the church of the Theotokos (Mother of God) is from
the 12th. Several Persian invasions caused death and destruction, followed by
reconstruction. The monastery has an active community of monks who continue to
upgrade the buildings and surrounding landscape.

Samtavisi monastery complex
The main building is the 11th-century cathedral of Samtavisi, ornamented with beautiful
stone carving on the eastern façade. The monastery complex, originally from 572 was
rebuilt several times, and the cathedral renovated after a series of earthquakes.
Frescoes from the 17th century have survived inside. Of interest are a small church, a
bell tower, and the ruins of a bishop’s palace.

Atenis Sioni (Ateni church)
Tucked away in the valley of the Tana river this bold yet serene church--constructed with
tufa of delicate colours in the 7th century--is decorated on the outside with carved
human, animal and celestial figures. It is cross-shaped inside. Frescoes from the 10th
century, though faded and damaged by time, cover the walls with biblical figures and
Georgian royalty. Vineyards are all around and the residents of the convent bake and
tend gardens and livestock.

Of three churches that were constructed at Kintsvisi, two remain: St Nicholas’ and St
George’s, both thought to be from the 13th century. An older church, dedicated to the
Virgin Mary, is in ruins. Among the 12th-century wall paintings in St Nicholas’ is the socalled
Archangel of Kintsvisi, exceptional for its grace and for the use of expensive lapis
lazuli pigment. Images of Georgian monarchs Giorgi III, Tamar and Giorgi IV Lasha are
on the north wall.

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, known as ‘the Builder’. The
churches of St George and St Nicholas are from the 13th century. 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.

Bagrati cathedral*
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.

Katskhi pillar
The Katskhi limestone monolith is about 40 m high. It was not till 1944 that rock
climbers were able to find a way up. On the uneven surface at the top (about 150
square m) were found two small churches from the 9th or 10th century, a wine cellar, a
crypt and three cells for hermits. An inscription indicates that the hermitage was still
active in the 13th century. At the foot of the pillar is a bell tower and the newly built
church of Simeon Stylites.

Sapara Monastery
The complex goes back at least as far as the 9th century. In the late 13th century it
came into the a possession of Sargis Jakeli who was able to maintain peace with the
Mongols so that the Samtskhe region enjoyed an unusually productive time. Sargis
took monastic orders in his later years and changed his name to Saba. His son Beka
built St Saba, the largest of the 12 churches in the complex. The 14th-century frescoes
inside are of high quality. The buildings stood empty during Turkish expansion
(16th-17th century) at which time icons and treasures were taken to other parts of
Georgia for safekeeping.

Zarzma Monastery
Zarzma comprises a series of buildings which are dominated by a domed church and
one of the largest bell towers in Georgia. The earliest church on the site was probably
built in the 8th or 9th century by Serapion--a monk from Turkey--with the help of the
nobleman Giorgi Chorchaneli who donated villages and estates to the monastery. The
buildings we see today however, date from the 14th century when construction was
sponsored by Beka I of the Jakeli family. Two centuries later renovations carried out
with the assistance from the Khursidze family fell victim to an Ottoman conquest and the
complex lay in disrepair till the 20th century. At present a community of monks resides
at Zarzma again and it is a popular pilgrimage and tourist destination.
The exterior walls are richly decorated. Mural paintings inside represent biblical events
as well as portraits of Jakeli family members. An inscription over the entrance archway
refers to military help given by Georgian nobles to the Byzantine emperor Basil II in his
fight against Bardus Sclerus in 995.
Khertvisi fortress is one of the oldest fortresses in Georgia and was functional
throughout the Georgian feudal period. It is situated on a rocky height in the canyon
where the Mtkvari and Paravani rivers meet. A fortress constructed on this hill in the
2nd century BC was, according to legend, destroyed by Alexander the Great. In the
course of a history of many invasions and foreign occupations it has been rebuilt
several times. A town grew up around it and the area thrived till the 15th century. For
the next 300 years it was occupied by the Turks and eventually it was reclaimed for
Georgia in the 19th century.
The church at Kumurdo is situated on the Javakheti plateau, to the south-west of
Akhalkalaki. According to inscriptions on the walls--written in asomtavruli, the oldest
Georgian script--it was built by Bishop Ioane during the reign of the Abkhazian king
Leon III in 964. During the Middle Ages, Kumurdo was an important cultural, educational
and religious centre. In spite of two restorations (1930 and 1970–1980), the cathedral is
without a dome.

Vani caves
Vani is a convent complex hewn out of the rock, on the site of a 4th-century BC town.
The earliest buildings dated from the 8th century but were destroyed by an earthquake
in 1089. Restoration occurred in the reign of Queen Tamar and subsequently Anton
Chkondideli built the defensive wall in 1204. The doors of the church of St George, a
bell tower and a second church were added in 1265. Most of these constructions were
destroyed by the Persians and Turks in 1551 and 1576 respectively. There are cells,
agricultural facilities, apses, tombs, tunnel stairs, a water system, and store rooms on
an astonishing 16 levels. On the cave walls of the upper floors are fragments of ancient
Georgian poetry and prose, inscribed in the15th-century by the religious women who
took refuge here.

Hewn out of the cliffs of Erusheti mountain, one hundred metres up, stretches the onekilometre
long monastery complex of Vardzia. Originally a fortification built by Giorgi III
in the 12th century, it grew to what could be called a city in the reign of Queen Tamar. Its
13 floors and more than 400 rooms, 15 wine cellars and 13 churches--connected by a
complex system of tunnels--once may have housed 2000 monks. An earth quake in
1283 destroyed some of the city and continuous invasions caused a decline. Vardzia
was taken by the Persians in 1551 and its treasures looted. Nowadays some of the
caves are inhabited again, making Vardzia a working monastery.

The Kvatakhevi monastery complex is protected on three sides by steep mountain
slopes and surrounded by orchards and a glorious natural landscape. It dates to the
12th-13th century. The ground plan of the church is nearly square and the space inside
is formed by the arms of the cross and the dome which surmounts the crossing point.
The façades are covered with white stone squares and decorated in fretwork, especially
around the windows and the base of the dome. Kvatakhevi was also a centre of
learning where manuscripts were copied. The church suffered damage during the 14thcentury
invasion of Timur but was gradually restored and a bell tower was added in
1872. A large portion of the Kvatakhevi treasure of artifacts and medieval Georgian
jewelry is now in the Moscow State Historical Museum.

* indicates a UNESCO World Heritage Site


Day 1: Arrival at Tbilisi International Airport, transfer to the hotel, overnight in Tbilisi

Day 2: Mtskheta, Jvari, Svetitskhoveli, Samtavro, Shio mghvime, overnight in Tbilisi

Day 3: Tbilisi pilgrim tour, overnight in Tbilisi

Day 4: Samtavisi, Ateni Sioni, Kintsvisi, overnight in Kutaisi

Day 5: Bagrati, Motsameta, Gelati, Katskhi pillar, overnight in Kutaisi

Day 6: Akhaltsikhe, Sapara, Zarzma, overnight in Akhaltsikhe

Day 7: Khertvisi, Kumudro, Vani caves, Vardzia, overnight in Akhaltsikhe

Day 8: Kvatakhevi, overnight in Tbilisi

Day 9: Transfer to the airport

Similar Tours

After the ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit instructed the apostles to spread the
message of Christianity around the world. The apostle Andrew preached in Georgia
and tradition holds that Simon the Zealot and Matthias were also active here. In 320
AD St Nino of Cappadoia caused the conversion of the country to Christianity. The
thirteen Assyrian Fathers founded monasteries and hermitages in Georgia in the 6th
century and initiated the ascetic movement.

Duration: 5 Nights / 6 Days
Price: 390 USD / per person

The apostle Andrew preached in Georgia and tradition holds that Simon the Zealot and
Matthias were also active here. As the centuries passed, the word of Christ was
forgotten till, in 320 AD, the preacher St Nino of Cappadocia caused the conversion of
the country to Christianity. She is revered as the Enlightener and gave Georgia the
particular cross made from two lengths of grape vine lashed together with strands of her
hair, as a symbol of orthodoxy.

Duration: 6 Nights / 7 Days
Price: 440 USD / per person