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.
Bolnisi Sioni church has the oldest dated inscription in the Georgian language on Georgian soil that states that the church was completed in 493 (the earliest securely dated Georgian inscriptions have been discovered in the Holy Land). The original inscription is now in the National Art Museum in Tbilisi, but a replica has been placed on the church wall. This tells that the building was completed by the end of the C5th and this is particularly notable given the exceptional size of the building. It is referred to as a five-aisled basilica. The central nave is flanked by aisles to the north and south, that end in presbyteries, but in addition doors lead on both the north and south sides to the same kind of semi-open arcades found at Nekresi. The northern aisle terminates in an apse, creating an al fresco chapel and is walled in to the south, east and west, but open to the elements on the north side. To the south, the central element of this arcade is open to the south, but the eastern and western extremities have been closed in to create two chambers at either end of the arcade. In addition there is a C17th belltower in the courtyard of the church. The church has received a new roof and parts of the architecture, particularly on the northern side, have recently been renovated.
The C5th-C6th church at Kvemo Bolnisi has been recently, and sympathetically, restored. The extant building is the central nave of a building that originally had aisles to the north and south. However, these aisles were only accessible through one door to the north and two doors to the south - they were not open to the central nave with a columned arcade or piers. The apse of the south aisle is still extant and to the north, most of the northern aisle stands to shoulder height and above, but lacks a roof.
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
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