Cultural heritage’ is a term often used in the world of preservation and restoration. Though the phrase itself is as subjective as it is abstract, it’s an appropriate shorthand when trying to capture the cluster of architectural concepts found in Georgian churches. The churches found in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, house irreplaceable clues to Armenian civilisation, and to this day provide Armenians’ with a deep sense of self. Those of us lucky enough to visit them are touched by the spirits of the master builders that made them, and the devotees who continue to worship in them. Here are a few of Trouvailles favourites.
The Metekhi Church
The 13th-century church of the Virgin rests on a crag overlooking the deep greens of the Mtkvari River. A series of weathered stone steps take you to the top of a hill on which the Metekhi church stands. A vantage point from which all of Tbilisi spreads before you. Built by Vakhtang Gorgasali, of the Chosroid dynasty, the Metekhi Church of the Assumption is guarded by a statue of the King himself. There he sits atop his horse forever contemplating the city he founded. The Metekhi was built circa 1278–1284, forged in brick and dressed in stone. The exterior is smooth, and the aged windows of the eastern apses are where you’ll find decorative elements well worth a picture. The parallel bands found below the gables which ribbon all four sides of the building seem to signify unity, as do the icons and art within. The north portico at the main entrance was built at the same time as the rest of the church. However, the dome which is entirely made of brick is a later addition. This heavenly little church is in active use, and the quiet prayers of the believers you’ll hear as you walk by will add another dimension of meaning to your visit.
Trouvailles Top Tip: This is a place of worship, and men and women are expected to dress modestly. Though women are not forced to cover their heads, the locals will appreciate it if you do. The church provides scarves which you will find in a basket outside its doors, though we suggest you bring your own, as not everybody is aware that cleanliness is next to godliness.
The Mama Daviti Domed Church
located on the slope of Mount Mtatsminda, the Mamadaviti is best known for its burial grounds. Here is where some of the most prominent scholars, artist, writers, and national heroes of Georgia have been laid to rest. Their tombstones are elaborate works of art in both sculpture and Bas-relief. Though the church itself was built in the 19th century, this ancient place of prayer has a history dating as far back as the 7th century. Considered one of the most sacred spots in the country Mtatsminda, which translates as Holy Mountain, has many stories to tell. In the 6th century, St David Gareji was one of 13 Assyrian monks who arrived in Tbilisi to popularise Christianity amongst the Iberian people. Father David was the first to build a chapel on Mount Mtatsminda’s hallowed grounds. Unfortunately, the original chapel did not survive, the Mamadaviti now standing in its place. The Mamadaviti’s façade is simplicity itself, a contrast to the vibrancy of the frescos and mosaics adorning the walls, ceilings, and floors of its interior. The churches atmosphere is one of reverence and serenity, and its icons and artworks are best seen by the light of the candles left to burn by those that pray there. If providence is on your side and you happen to find yourself at St David’s after hours. The caretaker there may take pity on you and allow you to look around, he may also allow you to drink from the natural spring hidden deep within the church walls.
Top Tip: Wear your hiking boots, the climb to this ecclesiastical beauty can be brutal.
The Holy Trinity Cathedral (Sameba)
Positioned on top of Elia Hill, above the left bank of the Mtkvari River, is Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. The Sameba Cathedral, as it’s known to the locals is magnificent. Built in 2004, and made entirely from natural building materials, the Sameba is Tbilisi’s pastoral pièce de résistance. The cupola here is gilded, reflecting the sun’s rays during the day as well as the moonlight at night. Surrounded by terraces, chapels, and a glorious bell tower, the Sameba is the church of any bride’s dreams. The interior is cool, light, and airy, making it quite distinct from other churches in Tbilisi. As you enter, you’re swept up in the sheer scale of the place, which is as impressive as it is daunting. Its square footage is about 5000 m2, just enough room to hold the 15,000 people guides will tell you it can. Created to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the Georgian church’s independence, and celebrate 2000 years of Christianity, the Sameba is a true symbol of Georgia’s national and spiritual revival. The Sameba houses 9 handsome chapels (the Archangels, Saint Nino, Saint Nicholas, John the Baptist, Saint George, the Twelve Apostles, and All Saints), some of which are underground. The artistry of metal chasing, iconography, stonework, and wood etching, of which Georgia was a pioneer many centuries ago are on full display at the Sameba. It will take about 2 hours to look the Sameba over from top to bottom. Happily, the cathedral's grounds are peppered with peaceful gardens. Perfect spots to rest up in, and look through the many photographs you’ve snapped throughout the day.
Top Tip: Bathrooms seem to have been an afterthought at Sameba. We at Trouvailles would like to spare your blushes and suggest you pack a few Kleenex, just in case you get caught short! Ahem.