Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Day in Mtskheta


Mtskheta, Georgia


Mtskheta was the capital of an old Georgian kingdom a couple thousand years ago. It's only about half an hour from Tbilisi by marshrutka.

Sandy, Eberle, and I checked it out on Saturday, which also happened to be Georgia's version of All Souls Day, when one prays for those who have died. (Nely and Ketino had prepared several dishes, and a bottle of wine, to take to a church in Rustavi.) 

First we visited the Samtavro "monastery," as it's called in Georgia, but many of us would refer to it as a convent, as it houses sisters. There are two churches on the grounds.

St. Nino's chapel on right, Samtavro convent, Mtskheta, Georgia
One is a small stone church where St. Nino allegedly worshipped. St. Nino is the woman who brought Christianity to Georgia, so this church was built in the 4th century. The first Christian king and queen are buried here. The other church is quite large. In the photo on left, you can see an old fortress in the distance.

Mtskheta, Georgia

I wish I could have photographed the inside of the large church. And had a recorder with me. And had a fragrance recorder (which must be invented some day). Because walking in, we were immersed in a sensory bath. Women's voices, a capella, wafted about us. The fragrance of incense. The tiny fires of hundreds of diminutive candles illuminating the shadowy interior. Light, filtered through candle smoke, gleamed from the windows on high. Many loaves of bread lay on one table; wine jugs on another. A priest gave communion, using the bread and the wine. A large table was weighted with food and drink brought by worshippers in honor of All Souls Day, and which would later be shared with the needy.

Worshippers visited the grave of a holy man outside. They scooped up blessed soil from his grave, deposited it in small plastic bags, and carried it away. Sandy, Eberle, and I did the same; I gave mine to Nely. Eberle made hers part of an assortment of holy items to give to her hostess' mother-in-law for her birthday. I must ask Sandy what she did with hers.


After leaving the church, we had lunch at Cafe Guga. The proprietress was making fresh kinkhali as we stepped up to the order window. She had a kindly smile.

Chilly day, but sunny, so we sat outside on upended cut-log seats.

We shared dishes of kinkhali (made with minced pork), svardi (barbecued pork), roast beef and potatoes, and bread. Eberle and I each had a beer; Sandy had hot tea. As we finished, the proprietor brought us a plate of persimmons and pomegranates from the trees in the courtyard.
 
Mtskheta, Georgia


Museum description, Mtskheta, Georgia
Eberle had to cut out early, so we saw her off on a return marshrutka, then visited the archeological local museum. Sandy and I saw some ceremonial things at the museum.
Ceremonial thing, Mtskheta, Georgia














While there, we thought to use the lavatory. I was pleased to see that the tear-off toilet paper had a crossword puzzle motif.

Mtskheta, Georgia

Then off we went, via taxi, the five or so kilometers up to the Jvari Monastery, built in the 6th century. Like so many other buildings, this is undergoing major restoration. I wasn't all that taken with the monastery itself, but the mountaintop location afforded a spectacular view of Mtshkheta and its surroundings.

Jvari Monastery, Mtskheta, Georgia
View of Mtskheta from Jvari Monastery, Georgia

View of Jvari Monastery from Svetitskheoveli Cathedral complex, Mtskheta
 
When we returned to Mtskheta, Sandy and I walked over to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, built in 1010. The robe of Christ is purportedly buried beneath a pillar in the church.

Svetitskheoveli is quite imposing by itself, and in concert with its fortress-like surround. Massive building. A high stone wall protects it from attack.

Mtskheta, Georgia

Mtskheta, Georgia

Mtskheta, Georgia

 
It's considered one of the holiest places in the country, yet it has a rather commercial vibe. Maybe that's because of the wedding parties going in and out, followed by pilot-fish photographers and family and friends. I even saw a monk, participating in a wedding ceremony, step aside to talk on his cell phone.

Mtskheta, Georgia

Mtskheta, Georgia

Even so, I must admit the interior is magnificent. I hope all of the flashes popping off don't ruin the paintings.

Mtskheta, Georgia

Mtskheta, Georgia

Mtskheta, Georgia

Mtskheta, Georgia

Mtskheta, Georgia



Mtskheta, Georgia


Mtskheta, Georgia


The compound is also center stage to a part of Mtskheta that has been .... er ... Disneyfied, the epitome of An Authentic Picturesque Georgian Village. And that's a bit of a problem I have with some of the restorations I've seen in Georgia. Reminds me of the time awhile back in the U.S. when people had their wood antiques "dipped" in paint or varnish remover, and then they "restored" the hell out of the piece so it looked brand new, but with all of the lovely patina gone. Scroll back up to that 4th century chapel of St. Nino's. It could have been built last year.

Mtskheta, Georgia



Sandy and I caught a marshrutka back to Tbilisi's Didube station, where I departed for Rustavi and she for Gori.

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