Excavations at Dolochopi, across the river from the modern town of Kvareli have revealed a large "three-church basilica" that is believed to date to the mid fifth century. The site stands in the centre of what was once a substantial settlement, which appears to have declined steadily after earthquakes and attacks by the Arabs and other invaders, fading into obscurity and being overtaken by the forest by the late middle ages. The basilica is built over an earlier church and, although it declined for the reasons outlined above, the nave and immediate vicinity of the church remained in use for burials. In particular the north-eastern corner of the church which was adapted in the eighth to ninth centuries as a mortuary chapel and seems to have been utilised until at least the twelfth of thirteenth centuries. The church was roofed by wooden beams supporting terracotta tiles that were held in place with iron nails and antefixes - a typically Byzantine design, as were the lighting fixtures discovered at the site. In many other respects, including in the numismatic finds, the complex looks east to the Persian Empire, but the overwhelming evidence suggests that the church is an early example of Georgian vernacular ecclesiastical architecture. One element that stands out is the inclusion of a synthronon, an element of ecclesiastical furnishing hitherto unknown in Georgia except at the nearby archaeological site of Chabukauri. In late 2016 C14 testing on a sample taken from the oldest church, which lies beneath the main basilica still extant today yielded a probable date of 387CE. The excavations were continued under the direction of Professor Nodar Bakhtadze of the Georgian National Museum and Ilia State University throughout the summer of 2017 and a large tomb compartment, called an akeldama was discovered in the centre of the apse at some distance beneath the afore-mentioned synthronon. The chronology of the site suggests that an earthquake destroyed the original fourth century church and that this was rebuilt even larger within a few years of its destruction. The resulting fifth century basilica then appears to have been damaged in a later seismic event and so the church was altered significantly in the sixth century, with further contractions of use continuing into the High Middle Ages. The images at the beginning of this entry were taken on a site visit in 2016, the latter images which make up the majority of this entry were taken a year later in August 2017.
Type: Archaeological Excavation
Tags: Archaeological Excavation, Archaeology, Architecture, Basilica, C12th, C5th, C8th-C9th, Chabukauri, Dolochopi, Georgia, Kakheti, Kvareli, Synthronon, Three Church Basilica, Triple Basilica
The church of Kvelatsminda (All Saints) in Gurjaani, located in the Kakheti region of east Georgia is an architectural anomaly that does not have any parallel elsewhere in Georgia. The church dates back to the eighth to ninth centuries and uniquely boasts two small domes as well as a gallery level entry at the west end of the building. This first floor gallery leads to passageways that run to the north and south of the main nave and terminate in chambers of indeterminate function. Due to these passages the exterior windows of the church do not communicate with the nave below. Some questions remain as to how the church would have originally looked as it was extensively restored in the seventeenth century and this could have led to some changes in the interior disposition of the building.
The impressively preserved city walls of Resafa are the subject of some debate when regards to their age and to who's reign their construction can be credited to. Scholars seem to be split as to whether they were constructed in the reigns of the Emperor Anastasius (491-518 AD) or the Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD). Procopius' attributes the first stone wall to the reign of Justinian. However this cannot be wholly accepted as fact as Procopius' accounts are occasionally deliberately misleading and sometimes wholly inaccurate. The most well preserved and impressive of the gates still extant is the Sura Gate on the north side of the city.
Regardless of which reign they were constructed in the defences do seem to be Late Antique. The walls, their covered galleries, the towers and gates were well preserved when I visited in 2010. As a result of the civil war their current condition is hard to ascertain.
Ikalto in Kakheti is nationally revered because of its medieval academy. This institution is linked to the national poet, Shota Rustaveli, the author of "The Man in the Panther's Skin" and the ruins of the academy are medieval. However, they are in a walled complex with three churches; the Sameba (Trinity) church dates from the C6th, the smaller single-naved Kvelatsminda church is C7th and the large, centrally planned Gvtaeba (Transfiguration) church that dominates the group is C8th-C9th. Gvtaeba has recently been the subject of a partial excavation and restoration funded by Geocell, a mobile phone network, but the work has been poorly executed and the church still suffers from major structural instability.
Tags: (As)Syrian Fathers, Academy, Architecture, C6th, C7th, C8th-C9th, Centrally-Planned, Church, Georgia, Gvtaeba, Holy Trinity, Ikalto, Kakheti, Kvelatsminda, Middle Ages, Rustaveli, Sameba, Thirteen (As)Syrian Fathers, Transfiguration
Nekresi is a complex of churches in the foothills of the Caucasus near the border with Dagestan. In the valley beneath, archaeologists have found the remains of a sun temple and it is popularly believed that the early Christians appropriated an earlier sacred site, possibly a Zoroastrian high place, in building a church in the C4th at this location. However this belief has been disproved by archaeological excavation which has found no evidence of pre-Christian occupation at the site and has redated the 'C4th' building to the C6th. This structure has entrances on the north, south and east sides and is open to the elements on all sides. It has an undercroft that was used for burials suggesting that this was possibly built as a funerary chapel. The complex also includes a C6th-C7th basilica, known in Georgia as a triple basilica as the narthex opens onto three aisles, but the south aisle does not communicate with the main body of the church and both the north and south aisles are semi-open to the elements with arched arcades to the north and south. There is also an C8th-C9th centrally-planned church that shows a strong Persian influence in its design. The rest of the monastery complex is medieval and a series of early Georgian inscriptions excavated nearby are displayed within them. Nekresi is also associated with one of the Thirteen (As)Syrian Fathers St. Abibos Nekreseli who was reputedly martyred for his resistance to Zoroastrianism.
As with Dolochopi and Dzveli Gavazi, a further visit to the site in the company of Professor Nodar Bakhtadze in August 2017 has led to discussion of the relative dating scheme applied to the "three church basilica" and the centrally-planned domed church and raised questions as to whether or not they were necessarily built that far apart in time. As with Dzveli Gavazi, the centrally-planned church at Nekresi is something of an anomaly given the ubiquity of the "three church basilica" type in Kakheti. In fact this church appears to be an experimental early version of a domed "three church basilica" as it has two apsed side aisles to the north and south of the central church. The northern aisle has a window to the east and is closed off, whereas the south aisle and the narthex in the west both have two arches and are open to the elements. The west and south arcades also have pilasters on the internal wall, as encountered at Areshi large basilica and Kindzmareuli. Inside the main part of the church the dome has windows to the east, south and west, but not on the north side. The dome itself is supported to the west by two squinches, whereas at the east there are what can only be referred to as 'proto-pendentives' - an arrangement also found in the later church of Khirsa Stepantsminda. There is also one other window placed in the apse. If this is an early attempt at a domed basilica, then it is likely to pre-date c.630 and the building of Tsromi to the west in Shida Kartli. It also raises questions as to why two variant forms of centrally-planned church were being experimented with perhaps almost at the same time in the same vicinity. Moving on to the "three church basilica" it is a large example of this type and has open arcades of two arches on both the north and south sides. There is a door to the north aisle from the main nave, but a corresponding door on the south aisle seems to have been sealed centuries ago as medieval frescoes now cover the area where the door once stood. As at Shilda, the entire construction took place as one project and the north and south aisles are firmly tied to the central nave. In the sixth century mortuary chapel (referred to in Georgian as the akeldama) it is clear that this was intially tied to another structure in the sixth century - possibly the refectory - and the later intervening space between the ossuary trench and the other building only became used as a burial ground for wealthy patrons and their families in the middle ages. The marani/refectory complex extant today dates from the twelfth century, as do the cells and work area excavated to the north of the main complex. The tower is sixteenth century, as is the tower at Shilda.
Tags: (As)Syrian Fathers, Architecture, Areshi, C12th, C16th, C4th, C6th-C7th, C8th-C9th, Centrally-Planned, Church, Dzveli Gavazi, Funerary Chapel, Georgia, Georgian, Georgian Inscription, Inscription, Kakheti, Khirsa, Kindzmareuli, Middle Ages, Nekresi, Shilda, Stepantsminda, Thirteen (As)Syrian Fathers, Three Church Basilica, Triple Basilica, Tsromi, Zoroastrian