The ecclesiastical complex at Martvili is considered one of the most important groups of Christian architecture in Georgia and is believed to date back to the seventh century. One element of this group is a 'stylite' dwelling. However, as mentioned elsewhere on this site, in Georgia 'stylites' lived in tower houses rather than standing on exposed columns as in Syria and these houses were often in the vicinity of monasteries or churches.
Katskhi pillar is the most well-known 'stylite' site in Georgia. In fact rather than being a column, as in Syria, in this case the 'pillar' is a pinnacle of rock that houses a chapel and some monastic cells on its summit. Although originally believed to date back to the sixth century, archaeological exploration suggests that it was inhabited no earlier than the ninth century and it has been pointed out that this manner of monasticism is closer to the monasteries of Meteora in Greece than it is to the Stylites of Syria. However, Katskhi remains fixed in Georgian opinion as the home of an ancient Stylite and there has thus far been little discussion as to the exact relationship between these variant interpretations of the practice of Stylitism.
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.
The basilica at Shilda is a relatively large example of the "three church" type and represents a simple variant of the form. It has three windows on the east end and the north aisle is truncated because the eastern end forms a pastophorion only accessible from the central nave of the building, as encountered elsewhere in places such as Eniseli and Dubi. The central nave is a great deal higher than normal and this is the result of a substantial rebuilding in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, almost certainly as the result of a Lezghin (Dagestani) raid. At the same time as the roof was raised, windows were added at the clerestory level to the north, south and west and doors were added from the central nave to the aisles and from the aisles to the exterior on both the north and south sides. The only two slight departures from this common form of basilica type that are original are the fact that the whole building is tied together - the aisles are tied into the central nave - rather than separate as a precaution against seismic activity and both the north and south aisles are considerably wider than is standard.
This small three church basilica follows the same pattern as elsewhere in Kakheti and was once at the centre of a (now lost) village. It is believed to date from the sixth or seventh centuries and has the same disposition on the north aisle as Dubi and Eniseli by having a pastophorion entered from the central nave at the east end of the aisle. However the shortened western section of this aisle terminates in a flat wall rather than an apse. On the south side the aisle terminates in an apse and, as at the Areshi large basilica, there is an open colonnade on this side. In this case there are two columns and three arches open to the outside. The north and south aisles were not built tied in to the central nave and, rather than interpreting this to mean that they were built later, it is more likely that this construction technique was intended to protect against the seismic activity in the region in late antiquity. Today the church stands in a small copse on a wooded island amidst the vineyards of the Kindzmareuli wine corporation, which is why it is referred to as Kindzmareuli church.
Dubi Monastery on the eastern edge of the town of Kvareli lies south of the road out to Kvareli Lake. The church is a standard Kakhetian three church basilica that was excavated some years ago and dated to the seventh century. Today the church is the heart of a modern convent which has led to a few changes being made, but these have generally been sympathetic to the monument's original state. The most obvious alteration has been the extension of the small east window in the central nave to allow a great deal more light into the main body of the church. Interestingly in this case the north and south aisles are asymmetric with the south aisle being significantly narrower than that of the north side. As at Eniseli, the north aisle is truncated so that a pastophorion, entered from the central nave of the church occupies the eastern part of the northern aisle. However in this case the remainder of the aisle was apsed at the east end - and this segment of the building is now ruined. On the south side the aisle was originally barrel vaulted, but this has now been lost and most of the aisle is open to the elements although a small chapel with a flat east wall is enclosed at the eastern end. Originally the building functioned as a parish church but today is primarily the preserve of the nuns, although they are well integrated within the local community and are welcoming to all visitors. Dubi remains a relatively small example of the three church basilica.
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.
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.
Geghard monastery is located in Ararat Province and is believed to date back to the fourth century, when a small cave church was excavated from the rock around a spring. It was expanded throughout the middle ages and the monastery today dates from the thirteenth century, with the rebuilding commencing in 1215. The name Geghard refers to the Holy Lance that pierced the side of Christ and appears to have linked to the site from the time of its rebuilding in the thirteenth century. Today the fact that Geghard is a UNESCO World Heritage site relatively close to Garni means that it is a centre of tourism as well as pilgrims. Although there is nothing remaining of the ancient monastery, the site is included here to offer evidence that there was cave monasticism in Armenia, even if it does not appear to have been as widespread a practice as in Georgia.