+ Starting in Tbilisi (named for the hot springs along the river), we journey upstream to the ancient capital Mtskheta. Dominated by the 11th century Cathedral of the "Living Cross," Mtskheta is a quaint little hamlet at the confluence of Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. The Romans reached Mtskheta in 65 AD, as evidenced by the remains of a bridge left behind, and in the early Christian era, St. Nino the Enlightener worked miracles, converting the Iberian King Mirian and his queen Nana to Christianity in 33 AD.
Further up the Mtkvari, we will stay overnight in summer resort of Borjomi, famous for its mineral waters and Soviet-era spa houses. But our real destination lies far up-river, near the Turkish plateau where the Mtkvari river originates, where the 12th century Vardzia cave complex awaits your exploration. Along the way, we pass many abandoned fortresses defending the common invasion route of the Turkic tribes into the Southern Caucasus, with stops at the Khertvisi Fortress and the cliff-hanging Sapara Monastery.
+ Sighnaghi, a hilltop fortress town built by King Erekle in the 18th century; boasts twenty seven towers and a four kilometer defensive wall overlooking the broad Alezani valley, commanding a 180 degree view of the Great Caucasus Range. Once an artisan capital, Sighnaghi is quickly re-establishing itself as a center of the artistic renaissance of 21st century Georgia, hosting three dance troupes, folk and sacred choirs, painting, music, carpet-making, and wood-working studios, as well as a regional branch of the State University. We will make ourselves at home in this charming town for the first half of the tour while we visit the incredible treasures of medieval architecture in the region including the Bodbe, Alaverdi, Ghirsa, and Iqalto monasteries.
+ Telavi, regional capital of the Kakheti region. Telavi is situated at the top of the long Alezani wine-growing valley, at the base of the Great Caucasus range, and has been the seat of kings for several centuries. In the Telavi region there are many famous monasteries and castles, including the 8th century double domed Kvelatsminda church, the 11th and 12th masterpieces of Alaverdi Cathedral and Iqalto Academy, the 16th century Gremi fortress and Shuamta Convent, and the 19th century Tsinandali palace and winery.
+ Tbilisi, capital city of Georgia, founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali. A center of trade and conflict for centuries, Tbilisi has been sacked forty times by various invaders but survives today as the modern hub of the South Caucasus. Nevertheless, the downtown area is full of winding cobblestone streets, small shops and restaurants, as well as the churches, synagogues, and mosques that celebrate the diversity of this unique country. As we tour monasteries in the ancient capital region, a comfortable downtown Tbilisi hotel will serve as our home-base, affording a chance to sample the best of Tbilisi's dining and evening entertainment, and visit the wealth of museums, spas, and cultural delights in the "Old Town."
+ Mount Qazbegi, the mythical mountain hold of Prometheus' epic torture, elevates to an impressive snowcap, 15,000 feet above sea level. Against this backdrop, the small hamlet of St. Stephens and the hauntingly silhouetted Gergeti Trinity Monastery (13th century) strikes an indelibly austere frame, and has become the ultimate destination for Caucasian alpinist-adventurer and Christian pilgrim alike.
+ Tao-Klarjeti is the mountainous region in contemporary North-Eastern Turkey that was once the birth of the medieval Georgian "Golden Era" that lasted from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. We will enter Turkey via the border from Akhaltsikhe, map here, visas obtainable for $20 at the border for American citizens. The high-plateau topography is criss-crossed with deep canyons, which offered both fertile farmland and easily defensible positions against Georgia's numerous enemies. Evidence of the cultural and political importance of the area is seen in the ruins of more than three-hundred cathedrals, chapels, bridges, fortifications.
During the tenth century, ruler Davit Kuropalates assisted the Byzantine Emperor Basil II with auxiliary troops, an alliance which strengthened the position of Tao against a weak Persia. Read more on the history of the region here.The Orthodox Church flourished, and the monasteries of Tao-Klarjeti became famous for their illuminated manuscripts, unique chanting schools, and deep connections with monasteries in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Greece.
+ Emerging from the mountains of Tao, which plunge directly into the Black Sea, we will be only 30 minutes drive to the current Georgian border at Sarpi (visas free for American and European citizens for 365 days). This area has been populated for millenium by Georgian tribes who traded with Ancient Greeks, Romans, and later with caravans from the East traveling the Silk Route. We will visit the Roman fort of Gonio (2nd century AD), the bustling cosmopolitan port city of Batumi, as well as other sites according to our choosing.
+ Traveling up a narrow gorge from the plains of ancient Colchis, the hidden valleys of Svaneti reveal themselves among the snow-capped peaks of the Great Caucasus range. In the 19th century, famous explorers such as David Freshfield and Vittorio Sella recorded their travels through this area. Speaking an ancient relative of the Georgian language, the Svans are a fierce and proud people who have preserved aspects of their ancient rituals and traditions to the modern day. Certainly their three-voiced polyphony is intoxicating, preserving a unique tuning system without parallel in the world.
Christianity spread to the region in the tenth century, where it thrived alongside animist traditions that remain in syncretism today. From this era, several chapels reveal a unique school of frescoe painting, while the newly renovated area museum boasts four gospels from the ninth and tenth centuries as well as many other precious artifacts from the early middle ages.
In each village, defensive towers (10-11th centuries) protected each family from attack. These iconic towers dominate the hamlets, which seem frozen in time. But the capital city has been renovated to accommodate growing tourist demand, and now features modern hotel facilities and a ski resort.
Contact and Reservations
John A Graham
johnananda [ ] georgianchant.org
145 Windsor Dr.
White River Jct.
VT 05001 USA