Famous temple of 6th-7th cc on the top of the mountain near the city of Mtskheta, point number 1 in the program of all excursions and a favorite temple of art scholars. It is interesting both from the historical, and from the landscape point of view, and from the architectural one too.
Jvari is absolutely impossible not to notice, it can be seen from all around Mtskheta, and this position is not characteristic for the Georgian churches. Jvari is a symbol of Georgian temple architecture and the most important stage in its complicated history.
The place on which the temple stands is a mountain over Mtskheta, and like every mountain it was sacred during the pagan era and it seems like there was a temple there. After the conversion of Georgia into Christianity, Saint Nina established three crosses in Iberia: on the Thotha Mount, in Ujarma, and then on this place. Details of this event, including the miracles associated with the third cross, are described in the life of Saint Nina in the fragment “The Establishment of the Three Crosses.”
Jvari occupies a special place in the history of Georgian architecture. The temples can be individual and serial, and Jvari became the founder of the series. It happened this way: in the middle of the 6th c. a new type of temples appeared in Georgia, known as the tetraconch. The first (perhaps) was the temple of Dzveli Gavazi in Kakheti, then the Ninotsminda Cathedral was built and only after that Jvari. It construction began around 590 (or later?) and was completed around 604. After Jvari, the Atheni Sioni was built according to the same scheme and a little later – the temple in the monastery of Chkondidi, a small temple in the monastery of Old Shuamta, a temple in Martvili and several more.
Usually, the fact that Georgia was not an Orthodox state, experiencing a temporary deviation into monophysitism, is overlooked, and here the strangeness begins.
The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
The first and main temple in Georgia, whose name is traditionally translated as “life-giving pillar”. The “Sveti” is a pillar, and “Tskhoveli” is a living or miraculous one. Close in meaning, the verb “tskhoveleba” means to revive or give life. The temple in its present form exists from 1010 onwards. It seems that this is the place where tourists go from Tbilisi first.
History of the place is the following: it is believed that in this place the Chiton of Jesus Christ was buried in the ground, and later here grew the cedar which became a sacred tree for the local inhabitants. In the 4th century the royal palace stood nearby, and the cedar grew in the garden of this palace. When Saint Nino came to Georgia, she lived for 9 months in the gardener’s house near this area. There she was visited by some visions which she interpreted as the following: “Your vision means that this garden will turn into the garden of the exaltation of God, to whom glory now and ever belongs and forever and ever.”
It will be more accurate to call it the ruins of the fortress of Bebris Tsikhe. It’s a very ancient object.
The fortress of Bebris Tsikhe was built in the early feudal era. It is first mentioned in historical sources in the time of Lasha Giorgi and it is reported that the King Demetre died in this fortress. This happened in 1156.
Vakhushti Bagrationi mentions it as the fortress of Beltis Tsikhe. The walls are erected from stones of the same size. The main part of the fortress served as a citadel, to which a wide triangular courtyard adjoined the south. In this area, archaeological layers of the ancient feudal era are confirmed. The total area of the fortress is about 1500 square meters. The inner courtyard – 600 square meters.
A convent in the city of Mtskheta. Now there are the Transfiguration Cathedral, the bell tower of the Mongolian era, the church of St. Nina and some other buildings on its territory. The nunnery is well visible in the center of the city, and here it is usually visited immediately after Svetitskhoveli. In modern church history, this place is associated with the personality of St. Gabriel.
In the IV century, during the time of Saint Nino’s appearance, this territory was outside the fortress wall of the city, on the edge of a ravine that played the role of a ditch. This ravine can be seen nowadays. Here, behind the wall and the ravine, lived the royal gardener, and at first St Nino stopped here. She built herself a house under a blackberry bush, and this place entered the church history under the name of Makvlovani ( from the word “blackberries” – makvali).
When King Mirian converted to Christianity and built the Svetitskhoveli temple, there was a psychological transformation in him, and he decided that because of his sinfulness it would be indecent for him to enter this temple. For this reason, he decided to start another, simpler one. So, the temple appeared on the site of the bramble bush and the second temple, known as the “Upper Church” was constructed. The historian Vakhushti Bagrationi writes that it was a church with a stone dome, which is very strange. In the IV century the domed architecture has not yet been invented. Because of this we do not know what this temple looked like. It was clearly a basilica, but its dimensions can not even be imagined. Nothing has been preserved from it.
The Shio-Mgvimsky Monastery
An ancient monastery 9 kilometers from the city of Mtskheta on a dead-end road. The height from the sea level is about 750 meters. Founded somewhere after 560 by Saint Shio, one of the Assyrian fathers, known as Shio Mgvimian. For more than three hundred years it was under the patronage of the Amilakhvari and was their family burial vault. Now it is the most famous monastery nearby Mtskheta and Tbilisi.
The history of the monastery began at the time when the Assyrian fathers dispersed from the Zedazeni mountain across the eastern part of Georgia, and here, in the gorge behind Mtskheta, Saint Shio came and settled in a cave on the mountainside. Soon he had followers who dug their caves in the sandstone precipice. These caves can be seen to this day, although it’s difficult to date them.
One of the first followers was Evagrius, who owned the fortress of Tsikhedi not far south of Kura. Once he went to the mountains to hunt and saw Shio there. He decided to stay with him, sold all his possessions, distributed it to the poor and became a monk.