- Collection: Early Christian Archaeology in Georgia
A large number of churches were excavated in and around the village of Mtisdziri (called Areshi in the archaeological literature), Kakheti, in the 1970s under the direction of the Academician Levan Chilashvili. The large village that stands at Areshi today is only the remnant of an extensive medieval city that once occupied the territory north of the current settlement into the foothills of the Greater Caucasus mountains. Today many of these excavated monuments have deteriorated or been swallowed by vegetation but this sizeable basilica was conserved after excavation and stands on the western fringes of the current village. It dates probably to the fifth century and follows the standard form of Kakhetian three church basilicas. The large central nave had an arcade with two arches (three pillars) on either side and a small pastophorion to either side of the apse, which was inscribed within a flat east wall. Both the north and south external aisles terminate in apses and there is evidence on the west and south sides of decorative pilasters on the outside of the central nave. The south aisle was open to the elements with a five column arcade - having said this, the 'columns' had two square and three circular bases. There is evidence of cross-shaped piers at the junctions of the north and south aisles with the central nave and it is difficult to interpret the narthex as the two entrances do not align with the west door of the central nave, suggesting that it was subject to later alteration. All columns were created of rubble and mortar, as were the pilasters, showing that they were constructed in the vernacular Kakhetian building technique. The stepped base on the south side of the central nave could suggest a link with Armenia, where the same practice has been encountered.
This late antique basilica of the three church type is moderate in size and falls in between the other two churches at Areshi mentioned on this site in dimension. As with the smaller basilica, it has not been conserved and has suffered as a result - in this case being overgrown and having tree roots compromise the integrity of the standing remains. In the case of this church, a chapel was added and other alterations were carried out in the High Middle Ages, around the twelfth century.
As mentioned in the entry on the large basilica in Areshi, the site was a huge city in late antiquity/middle ages and it was believed to have a church in every quarter. This small three church basilica was excavated under the direction of the Academican Levan Chilashvili in the 1970s and 1980s but was not subject to conservation and so has deteriorated severely in the intervening period.
Chabukauri is located to the west of Nekresi monastery and lies in the modern territory of that foundation. As at Dolochopi, the large three-church basilica found on the site was once the centre of a substantial settlement that has since been overtaken by forest, although in this case the growth is not as dense as it is in Dolochopi. Also as at Dolochopi, there are various phases to the building. In this case the large church is believed to date to the fourth to fifth centuries and, after the main church was damaged in an earthquake, part of the north-eastern sector of the building was adapted to become the south aisle of a new, smaller building. This smaller church was constructed with two distinctive horseshoe-shaped apses, the larger of which had a synthronon - as at the main church in nearby Dolochopi. Also as at Dolochopi there are medieval kist burials scattered across the site. Finally to the north west of the main church there is a small apses structure, believed to date to the fourth century, that boasts a high quality terracotta tiled floor, suggesting that this too could have been an early church. The main building was roofed by timber beams and terracotta tiles held in place with nails and ante fixes as at Dolochopi and here there was evidence that the walls of the structure were once plastered and painted red.
Type: Archaeological Excavation
Tags: Archaeological Excavation, Archaeology, Architecture, Basilica, C4th, C4th-C5th, Chabukauri, Church, Dolochopi, Georgia, Kakheti, Nekresi, Synthronon, Three Church Basilica, Triple Basilica
This domed basilica stands in the hills north of Shilda on a track that leads ultimately up into the Caucasus mountains and Dagestan. Although the modern border is now difficult to negotiate, in the past there was a steady traffic of traders and animal herders across the mountains making the now abandoned village of Bartsana, on the open area south of the forest where Sarbela church is located, a prosperous local centre up until the nineteenth century. The church itself has horseshoe arches and the support of the dome is difficult to confirm as the dome has collapsed and within the last 30 years a corrugated metal pyramid has been constructed to protect the building. There are traces of medieval frescoes on the north wall and the north wall of the apse. There is a narthex added to the west side and an additional arcade was appended to the south. The apse is flanked by two pastophoria, the southern of which has ceramics embedded to aid the acoustics. The dome was supported by two piers on the west side and this two-pier disposition was reported by Chubinashvili as being a late development - the same arrangement can be seen at the sixteenth century royal church at Gremi. However this appears to be a late antique foundation, suggesting that the use of piers to support a dome may be earlier in Georgia than previously accepted. Two red crosses were found painted beneath the medieval plaster on the west side of the south pier and in the middle of the north wall. There is an extensive open air marani north of the church.
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