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.
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.
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.
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