Dzveli Gavazi is the name given to a church dated to the sixth century in the village of Alkhalsopeli at the foot of the Caucasus near Dagestan. The church has been changed since the sixth century, especially with the addition of an ambulatory that wraps around three-quarters of the building. The church was restored in 1852 and an inscription raised to commemorate this, and has also undergone restoration by the National Agency for the Cultural Preservation of Georgia. On the initial visit to the site in 2013 the church was locked and it was not possible to access the interior, however on a return in 2017 accompanied by Professor Nodar Bakhtadze, it was not only possible to locate the keyholder but also possible to take interior photographs of the building. This proved to be extremely interesting as each corner of the dome had a semi-circular rubble-built column at the junction between two lobes of the quatrefoil. The pendentives spring above these columns without an intervening capital making a clumsy transition that suggests a degree of experimentation. Interestingly the other quatrelobed monument in Kakheti, Ninotsminda in Sagarejo has its dome supported by the same arrangement of pendentives springing from columns without the intervening unifying element of a capital. Here we encounter the problem of the uncertain dates of both monuments. Dzveli Gavazi is attributed to the sixth century and the ambulatory which wraps around the exterior of much of the church is ascribed to the eighth century without any definitive reason for assuming these dates. Ninotsminda was believed to be an early monument, but recently there has been a move to suggest that it is not as ancient as previously assumed - although once again this discussion has been based on relatively nebulous typological grounds rather than being based on an archaeological or serious architectural resassessment. Given the ubiquity of the Kakhetian three church basilica in this region, Dzveli Gavazi represents a fascinating anomaly that requires further exploration.
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