Samtavro cemetery is the largest known in the Caucasus. It covers about 20 hectares and the later burials are placed on top of earlier ones. It is therefore a multi-period cemetery and has been called a ‘multi-terraced’ cemetery. The Bronze to Iron Age levels of the site contain 23 Middle Bronze Age graves (of which four are kurgans) (4,500 to 3,600 years ago); 14 from the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age; 63 from the Late Bronze Age (3,600 to 2,900 years ago) and about 560 from the Early Iron Age (2,900 to 2,500 years ago).
The visible remains of tombs on the site, which you can see today, are from the Classical and Early Medieval periods. The Bronze Age remains which have been discovered are closer to the road, by the entrance to the site. The Classical and Early Medieval burials have a variety of forms. Over 1,000 graves have been discovered from the Roman period (C1st BCE to C4th CE). Some are sarcophagi, whilst others are cists – a rectangular grave lined with stone slabs. Other types are made from roof tiles instead of stone slabs or use pieces of stone from buildings. Some burials are in pits or in Qvevri (terracotta jars), and some are of mixed construction of brick, stone or tile. The majority are tile tombs, containing an individual inhumation, with varied grave goods such as jewellery, but no tools or weapons.
Shiomghvime means 'the caves of Shio'. Shio was one of the Thirteen (As)Syrian Fathers and he is reputed to have settled in caves to the west of Mtskheta and it is here that the monastery complex need for him is located. The buildings are of many different periods, meaning that claims that one of the churches dates back to the C6th is difficult to verify.
Svetiskhoveli is the national cathedral of Georgia and translates as the "Life-giving Pillar". The foundational legend of the church says that a Georgian Jew named Elias bought Christ's cloak from the soldier who had drawn lots for it. On his return to Mtskheta he was met by his sister Sidonia who died on embracing the cloak. She was buried holding the cloak and an oak tree grew out of her grave. When St. Nino evangelised Georgia she had the tree cut down and made into seven columns for a new church but the seventh hovered above the earth and displayed miraculous powers before finally being lowered into its place.
The current cathedral dates from the C11th and is built on the foundations of a series of earlier church buildings. It includes a (stone) pillar associated with the miraculous origins of the church and a medieval replica of the Holy Sepulchre within it.
Tags: Architecture, C11th, Cathedral, Christ, Church, Elias, Fresco, Georgia, Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Jew, Middle Ages, Mtskheta, Sculpture, Shida Kartli, Sidonia, St. Nino, Svetiskhoveli
Antioki (Antioch) is the name given to a C5th basilica in Mtskheta by the confluence of the two rivers. It is believed that the district may have housed people from Syria or Asia Minor (more specifically maybe from Antioch itself) in antiquity and that this was the reason for the toponym that has now been attached to the church. Archaeological evidence suggests that the basilica was originally dedicated to St. Stephen and today small church comprises the northern aisle of the original building. The central nave and southern aisle of the basilica are no longer extant although their outline is clearly visible in the gardens surrounding the extant church.
A view of Jvari from Mkskheta showing the line of sight between the capital and the place where St. Nino raised the Cross.
Samtavro is the place just outside the ancient settlement of Mtskheta where St. Nino is believed to have lived. A small chapel thought to have C4th origins stands beside a bush which Georgians believe to replicate the burning bush witnessed by Moses in the Sinai desert. The C11th church beside the chapel of St. Nino was the place of burial for a number of Georgian kings and queens, most significantly King Mirian I and Queen Nana historically the first Christian rulers of the country. The belltower in the complex is C13th.
Mtskheta is the ancient capital of Kartli and believed by Georgians to be the first place in the country to accept Christianity in the C4th. It is the location of the national Cathedral, Svetiskhoveli, which is named for the miraculous 'life-giving' pillar at its heart. The confluence of the Aragvi and Mktvari Rivers can be seen most clearly from the hill of Jvari. This confluence is remarked upon as the waters of the two rivers are very different colours and this is clearly visible from above.
Jvari means 'cross' in Georgian but the place known as Jvari is the high point above the city of Mtskheta where St.Nino is believed to have raised a cross in the C4th, signifying the arrival of Christianity in Georgia. The centrally-planned church on the site dates to the turn of the C6th-C7th and is the prototype for a genre of vernacular church architecture in Georgia. The sculptures on the east façade represent the Erismtavari Stepanoz I (during whose reign Jvari was constructed) being blessed by Christ, Erismtavari Adarnarse I with his son Kobul-Stepanoz (later Stepanoz II) and Dimitri, brother of Stepanoz I. On the south façade Kobul-Stepanoz (Stepanoz II) is shown with St. Stephen ando over the main entrance is a sculpture depicting the Ascension of the Cross. The south west (women's) entrance has the Ascension of Christ above it. A later chapel added to the north of the main church has been recently renovated, causing damage to the historical integrity of this part of the complex.
Tags: Adarnarse, Architecture, Ascension, C4th, C6th-C7th, Centrally-Planned, Christ, Church, Cross, Dimitri, Erismtavari, Figure, Jvari, Kobul-Stepanoz, Mtskheta, Sculpture, Shida Kartli, St. Nino, St. Stepanos, Stepanoz