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Cathedrals of Tao Culture Tour Canyonlands, Monasteries
West Georgia, Turkey
June 17-28, 2016
Tusheti National Park Cultural Tour Vineyards, Monasteries, and Mountains
East Georgia
July 1-12, 2016
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Khertvisi Fortress, Meskheti, Georgia

Vardzia Cave City, Meskheti, Georgia

Black Sea Coast, Georgia

Apsaros (Gonio) Roman Fortress, Georgia

Khandzta Monastery, Tao-Klarjeti

Ishkhani Monastery, Tao-Klarjeti

Parkhali Monastery, Tao-Klarjeti

Ishkhani Monastery, Tao-Klarjeti


Oshki Monastery, Tao-Klarjeti

Khakhuli Monastery, Tao-Klarjeti

Plan, Oshki Cathedral, Tao-Klarjeti

Oshki Cathedral, Tao-Klarjeti

Ani Cathedral, Tao-Klarjeti

Ani Cathedral, Tao-Klarjeti

Ani Cathedral, Tao-Klarjeti

Sapara Monastery, Meskheti, Georgia

Sapara Monastery interior, Meskheti, Georgia

Zarzma Monastery, Meskheti, Georgia


Cathedrals of Tao

A tour to Tao-Klarjeti
(West Georgia and Turkey)
June 17-28, 2016

Back by popular demand, this extraordinary and unique itinerary to the ruined cathedrals of Tao-Klarjeti promises to be even more successful than our 2014 pilot tour to the region.

Starting in Batumi, Georgia, we cross into Turkey, traverse the canyonlands of the Chorokh river watershed, ascend the eastern Anatolian plateau to the ancient Armenian city of Ani, then cross into southern Georgia to visit the cave city of Vardzia before returning through the temporate rainforests of Adjaria to the Black Sea coast. See the tour page for details and registration.

Map of the Tour Route:

With a decade of experience leading tours in the Caucasus, we aim to provide unique cultural experiences for our guests with the best possible comfort. Our guides do not recite guidebook entries, but rather fascilitate interaction with local Georgians, enliven sacred spaces with three-part traditional chanting, and lend nuance to discussions on local history, politics, and cultural preservation through extensive personal and professional engagement with the cultures of the Caucasus.

Join us for a unique tour exploring the magnificent cathedral ruins and castles of the once glorious Tao-Klarjeti Kingdom, a precursor to unified Georgia that existed in the 8-11th centuries.

Important Details:

Dates: June 17-28, 2016 (11 night itinerary)

Tour Fees and Registration: To reserve your space on this tour, contact John A. Graham using the information below.

Itinerary: We will begin and end our 12-day itinerary in Batumi, Georgia with an optional 3-day extension to Tbilisi, Georgia. The itinerary features visits to the sites pictured left, including the fortress city of Artanuji, the cathedrals of Oshki, Bana, and Okhta, the ruined Armenian-Georgian capital of Ani, and the 12th c. cave city of Vardzia. Detailed itinerary available by request.

Impressions: Curious what former participants have to say about their experiences touring with GeorgianChant Tours? See our Impressions page.


Contact and reservations:


Tour Destinations:

Colchis - Black Sea Coast

+ 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. 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), and stay in the bustling cosmopolitan port city of Batumi. Area sites include the temperate rainforest of the Mtirala National Park, the mountains of Upper Adjaria (day-trip), the famed 19th century botanical gardens, and the National Museum.


+ 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. 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 to defeat an uprising, 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.

Kars - ani

Kars is a city at the far Eastern edge of Turkey, and as such has lost some of its former luster and importance. But during the nineteenth century, Kars was a major hub of the Russian Tsarist Empire, at the center of a geograhical region which encompassed the high steppe country spanning what is today southern Georgia, western Armenia, and eastern Turkey. During this period, the building of the transcaucasus railroad from Erzurum to Tbilisi traversed this plateau at Kars, leading to a vibrant commercial center populated with an extremely diverse ethnic population of migrant workers and their families. In former centuries, Kars was an important Eastern stronghold of the Ottoman Empire, seeing its share of epic battles as the Turks gained and lost territory to Persians, Georgians, Armenians, and Mongols. The focus of our visit will be the medieval metropolis of Ani, just a few kilometers from Kars, which was once the capital of feudal Armenia. In the 11th-12th century, Ani was administered by the Georgian monarchy, but later fell into ruin under the Seljuk Turks. Now, only a field of ruins remain, yet these are not mere stone walls. Giant arches and cathedral domes protrude from the plain, speaking volumes of a city that once boasted spectacular opulence.

Mtkvari River Valley

+ The Mtkvari River originates in Klarjeti (now NE Turkey) and flows some 400 miles north and east before emptying into the Caspian Sea. The watershed of this river, together with the parallel Araxes River to the south, formed the locus of an advanced neolithic society in 3000 BC, attested to in numerous archeological sites where evidence of trade, urbanization, religion, and agriculture have been located. Currently, this area crosses from the Eastern Anatolian steppe into what is today Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. While in Georgia, we will visit the 12th century cave city of Vardzia on the Upper Mtkvari River, as well as the 9th century Sapara Monastery on one of its tributaries. Near where the Mtkvari River flows through Tbilisi, capital city of Georgia, we visit the 11th century Cathedral of the "Living Cross," and a Roman bridge built in 65 AD. It was in this town, Mtskheta, where St. Nino the Enlightener managed to convert the local monarchs to Christianity in 326 AD, working miracles that saved the life of Queen Nana.

Tbilisi (3 day optional)

+ 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."


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Leader Profiles:

John A Graham

Ethnomusicologist and Georgian chant scholar, John is a Ph. D. candidate at Princeton University, where he is pursuing research for a dissertation titled "The Transmission and Transcription of Georgian Liturgical Music, 1880-1910." Co-founder of the Monastery Tour in 2006, John had already been studying music and language in Georgian since 2003, including on a Fulbright research grant in 2004, and dissertation research in 2009-2011. In 2005, he organized a US-based tour for the world-renowned Anchiskhati Church Choir, and promoted the energetic Zedashe Ensemble to the States in 2007. In 2012, John organized a month-long tour for the Sakhioba folk ensemble that featured performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Columbia University, and Yale University. John brings his developed organizational skills, knowledge of Georgia, and passion for music and history to the leadership of the tours.

Stefan Williamson Fa

... Stefan Williamson Fa grew up in Gibraltar, at the southern tip of Spain. He is now a doctoral candidate at University College London. His dissertation work concerns researching the role of sound in Azeri Shi’i ritual mourning songs. For this research he lived in Georgia for a year, studied the musical cultures of the Eastern Black Sea region, and more recently has turned his attention to the Azeri émigré community that live in the city of Kars, near the Armenian-Turkish border region. Outside of his formal research interests, he is also a collector of long-necked lutes, cassette tapes, and other things. He plays the saz, a seven-string Turkish lute, and is working on a film about pigeon keeping in Anatolia. Our tour is very fortunate to welcome Stefan to the leadership team, his expertise in eastern Turkey will be invaluable!


All Leader Biographies.


Contact and reservations:

Flights to Batumi, Georgia:

Airfare to and from Batumi, Georgia are regular and reliable via Turkish Airways via Istanbul. If one is flying round-trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, there are numerous airline options, with hub airports in Istanbul, Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam, etc. Flights also route through Warsaw, Riga, and Kiev. We recommend avoiding hub routes through Moscow.

From New York, prices range from $1000-$1400 roundtrip, from European destinations between $500-$800 roundtrip. Many guests find it convenient to route through Istanbul. Airline reservations before April 1st recommended.

The tour provides airport transfers to make your transition as comfortable as possible, and we can help with supplementary hotel reservations depending on the length of your overall visit to Georgia.


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