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.
The small basilica standing to the north of the village of Eniseli near Gremi in Kakheti is a very simple church on the standard pattern of Kakhetian three-church basilicas. This simplicity means that the only decoration to be found is over the eastern of the two clerestory windows on the south side of the building. An examination of the construction shows that the south aisle was built later than the central nave and the north aisle, which were both constructed at the same time. The current south aisle has been ruined and partially restored meaning that it is unclear whether or not the outer door on the south side is original or a later interpolation. The narthex has also been largely destroyed but most of the north aisle is still extant, and at the east end this aisle acts as a pastophorion that is only accessible through the central nave. Although the church stands in a well-used village cemetery, it is now not employed for active worship and is home to a significant colony of bats. The church is undated but is believed to have been constructed anywhere between the fifth and seventh centuries.
The church at Odzun in the northern Lori Province of Armenia has been variously dated as between the fifth and seventh centuries, with many sources electing to place it in the sixth century, and was subject to alterations in the eighth century. It has been undergoing a process of renovation since 2012 and these renovations were still ongoing during the site visit in August 2017. The reason for visiting Odzun is that it is a domed basilica of a type that belongs to a small group of monuments recorded in Georgia, Armenia and territories formerly belonging to both nations that now lie in Turkey. Therefore this architectural type is comparable with the church of Tsromi (Georgia), Mren and Bagawan (Turkey) and St. Gayane in Echmiadzin (Armenia). As an aside it also possesses a unique early medieval funerary monument to the north of the church where two stelae are framed by a two-arched arcade in a manner that is reminiscent of some Roman funerary monuments in northwest Syria.
A photograph taken of the church of Qalb Lozeh in December 1992.
These images of Qal'at Seman were taken in December 1992
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
At Zegaani in Kakheti there is a complex of three early churches. The fifth-century church of St. Marina is exceptionally small and its nearest comparable building in terms of design seems to be the tiny church of St. Nino in Samtavro, Mtskheta. The interior of the space is richly frescoed with an (unpublished) sixteenth to seventeenth century fresco cycle, that is currently open to the elements given the lack of windows and doors on the church. There is a simple, single naved church dedicated to the Archangels of an inter determinate date and a large three-church basilica dedicated to the Virgin and of an architectural type very similar to the basilica to the north of the valley at Nekresi. Like the Nekresi basilica, this church is believed to date to the sixth to seventh century. This basilica was in the process of being resorted at the time of the visit as the site was being re-established as a working monastery.
These images of Qal'at Seman, the famous shrine of St. Symeon Stylites the Elder on Jebel Seman are valuable because they are taken midway between the French restoration of the site in the 1930s and the way the site looked in the late 1990s when the majority of the rest of the photographs in this archive were taken. They show the complex to be well maintained, with less visitors (local or foreign) than were customary by the pre war years.
Qalb Lozeh is, as mentioned elsewhere, an exceptionally well-preserved C5th church on Jebel Barisha and is probably the best known monument in the region after Qal'at Sem'an. These images show that in 1962 there was already a modern village around the church, but that it was not as large as the settlement had become by the early C21st century. The photographs can be compared with those from the 1990s to show that in the 1960s there were no restrictions on entry and the building was open to all. In this case there appears to have been no deterioration of the site pre the Syrian Civil War since the 1960s.
The C5th church is relatively large with at least one large and elaborate sarcophagus still extant nearby. As at Barish North it has a flat east end, which is relatively unusual in this region. Only the south wall is extensively damaged, with the other three still quite well preserved and elements of the bema still visible in the nave.