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.
The church of Kvelatsminda (All Saints) in Gurjaani, located in the Kakheti region of east Georgia is an architectural anomaly that does not have any parallel elsewhere in Georgia. The church dates back to the eighth to ninth centuries and uniquely boasts two small domes as well as a gallery level entry at the west end of the building. This first floor gallery leads to passageways that run to the north and south of the main nave and terminate in chambers of indeterminate function. Due to these passages the exterior windows of the church do not communicate with the nave below. Some questions remain as to how the church would have originally looked as it was extensively restored in the seventeenth century and this could have led to some changes in the interior disposition of the building.
The Church of St. Stepane Khirseli is actually located in the modern village of Tibaani, rather than the eponymous Khirsa in Kakheti. This is the easternmost site associated with the Thirteen (As)Syrian Fathers and, as with many other of the sites, has little if any evidence of early Christian occupation with the church dating to the medieval period and having been substantially renovated in the seventeenth century. As with a number of these sites a shrine around the saint's purported grave seems to be a relatively new phenomenon.
Ikalto in Kakheti is nationally revered because of its medieval academy. This institution is linked to the national poet, Shota Rustaveli, the author of "The Man in the Panther's Skin" and the ruins of the academy are medieval. However, they are in a walled complex with three churches; the Sameba (Trinity) church dates from the C6th, the smaller single-naved Kvelatsminda church is C7th and the large, centrally planned Gvtaeba (Transfiguration) church that dominates the group is C8th-C9th. Gvtaeba has recently been the subject of a partial excavation and restoration funded by Geocell, a mobile phone network, but the work has been poorly executed and the church still suffers from major structural instability.
Tags: (As)Syrian Fathers, Academy, Architecture, C6th, C7th, C8th-C9th, Centrally-Planned, Church, Georgia, Gvtaeba, Holy Trinity, Ikalto, Kakheti, Kvelatsminda, Middle Ages, Rustaveli, Sameba, Thirteen (As)Syrian Fathers, Transfiguration
Dzveli Gavazi is the name given to a church dated to the sixth century in the village of Alkhalsopeli at the foot of the Caucasus near Dagestan. The church has been changed since the sixth century, especially with the addition of an ambulatory that wraps around three-quarters of the building. The church was restored in 1852 and an inscription raised to commemorate this, and has also undergone restoration by the National Agency for the Cultural Preservation of Georgia. On the initial visit to the site in 2013 the church was locked and it was not possible to access the interior, however on a return in 2017 accompanied by Professor Nodar Bakhtadze, it was not only possible to locate the keyholder but also possible to take interior photographs of the building. This proved to be extremely interesting as each corner of the dome had a semi-circular rubble-built column at the junction between two lobes of the quatrefoil. The pendentives spring above these columns without an intervening capital making a clumsy transition that suggests a degree of experimentation. Interestingly the other quatrelobed monument in Kakheti, Ninotsminda in Sagarejo has its dome supported by the same arrangement of pendentives springing from columns without the intervening unifying element of a capital. Here we encounter the problem of the uncertain dates of both monuments. Dzveli Gavazi is attributed to the sixth century and the ambulatory which wraps around the exterior of much of the church is ascribed to the eighth century without any definitive reason for assuming these dates. Ninotsminda was believed to be an early monument, but recently there has been a move to suggest that it is not as ancient as previously assumed - although once again this discussion has been based on relatively nebulous typological grounds rather than being based on an archaeological or serious architectural resassessment. Given the ubiquity of the Kakhetian three church basilica in this region, Dzveli Gavazi represents a fascinating anomaly that requires further exploration.
The ruined church outside the village of Akhalsopeli is believed locally to be dedicated to Davit Gareja. It is a ruined single-naved church of uncertain date.
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
The C6th church in Akhmeta is a small, simple single-naved building.
Dzveli Shuamta ('Old Shuamta') is a complex of three churches in wooded hills in Kakheti above the town of Telavi. The basilica dates from the C5th and is beside two centrally-planned churches of different sizes that both date to the C7th