Samtavro cemetery is the largest known in the Caucasus. It covers about 20 hectares and the later burials are placed on top of earlier ones. It is therefore a multi-period cemetery and has been called a ‘multi-terraced’ cemetery. The Bronze to Iron Age levels of the site contain 23 Middle Bronze Age graves (of which four are kurgans) (4,500 to 3,600 years ago); 14 from the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age; 63 from the Late Bronze Age (3,600 to 2,900 years ago) and about 560 from the Early Iron Age (2,900 to 2,500 years ago).
The visible remains of tombs on the site, which you can see today, are from the Classical and Early Medieval periods. The Bronze Age remains which have been discovered are closer to the road, by the entrance to the site. The Classical and Early Medieval burials have a variety of forms. Over 1,000 graves have been discovered from the Roman period (C1st BCE to C4th CE). Some are sarcophagi, whilst others are cists – a rectangular grave lined with stone slabs. Other types are made from roof tiles instead of stone slabs or use pieces of stone from buildings. Some burials are in pits or in Qvevri (terracotta jars), and some are of mixed construction of brick, stone or tile. The majority are tile tombs, containing an individual inhumation, with varied grave goods such as jewellery, but no tools or weapons.
Samtavro is the place just outside the ancient settlement of Mtskheta where St. Nino is believed to have lived. A small chapel thought to have C4th origins stands beside a bush which Georgians believe to replicate the burning bush witnessed by Moses in the Sinai desert. The C11th church beside the chapel of St. Nino was the place of burial for a number of Georgian kings and queens, most significantly King Mirian I and Queen Nana historically the first Christian rulers of the country. The belltower in the complex is C13th.