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Phespirit goes to Georgia
Tbilisi     May/June 2008

AROUND GEORGIA

Map of Georgia

1 Gori

Gori's claim to fame is as the city in which Iosif Jughashvili, a.k.a. Joseph Stalin, was born and went to school. In 1894 at the age of sixteen he left for the Georgian Orthodox seminary in Tiflis (Tbilisi) and never returned, but that does not prevent the modern city from glorifying the memory of its most famous and beloved son.

Phespirit visited the Stalin Museum, in which the dictator's family home was preserved when the rest of the neighbourhood was torn down in the 1930s. Phespirit has now enjoyed the dubious honour of standing in this bizarre little domestic relic. Furthermore he has also strolled through the hulking bullet-proof railway carriage used by Stalin during World War II.

It is a strange homage. Wasn't Stalin the chap responsible for the deaths of millions of his own people through famine and terror? No evidence of this was presented to Phespirit in the museum.

The rest of the city is grey and Soviet-style grim. Phespirit did not feel any great urge to rush around exploring its avenues.

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2 Uplistsikhe

Uplistsikhe's city of caves has endured since the late bronze age. Not all of it has endured, but plenty enough to make it fascinating terrain to explore. For variety, there is also a 10th century church on the high point of the rock. This provides the best vantage point for admiring views along the Mtkvari river.

Phespirit is easily distracted, and found himself just as fascinated by the half-metre long dead snake that lay curled upside-down on a narrow rock path, unsettling several visitors. He nudged it a few times with his foot so it was the right way up for a photo, and then left it that way ..... making it even more unsettling.

He feels slightly ashamed of himself for that.

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3 Mtskheta

Phespirit visited two holy locations at Georgia's holy capital: Javri church, on a hill overlooking the city, and Svetitskhoveli cathedral, at the heart of the city.

The views from Javri down to the where the Aragvi river meets the Mtkvari river, with Mtskheta sitting at the junction, were very nice. Especially in the early morning sunshine with no-one else around.

Svetitskhoveli cathedral is by far the most grand and curious sight in the city. It's said to have Christ's robe buried beneath it, but it's far too beautiful to pull down to find out.

Phespirit was particularly taken with an astrological fresco on the far right wall that features Christ and a wheel of apostles inside a horoscope, with assorted esoteric symbolism, saints and biblical scenes all around. Unusual for a cathedral.

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4 Tbilisi

Phespirit's first day and last day in Georgia were spent at large in Tbilisi. He felt slightly oppressed by the place when he first arrived but was happy and at one with it by the time he left.

He sorted out most of his sightseeing on the first day. Here's how it was done .....

..... Metekhi Church; Echmiadzin Cathedral; Tsminda Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral; Abanotubani; Tbilisi mosque; Armenian Cathedral of St. George; Tbilisi synagogue; Jvaris Mama Church; Norasteni Church; Sioni Cathedral; Tbilisi History Museum; Karis Eklesia Church; Anchiskhati Basilica; north wall of the old town; Fine Arts Museum; Museum of Georgia (closed until 2009); Parliament; Kashveti Church; Rustaveli Theatre; Opera House; Rustaveli; Mamadaviti Church; National Pantheon .....

..... which makes for a very busy day.

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5 Alaverdi

Kakheti region of Telavi, stop 3 of 4:

Alaverdi cathedral, built in the 11th century, is both awesome and eerie. Standing 50m high, it had the distinction of being the tallest church in Georgia for almost a thousand years. Being situated on a flat plain in a wide valley, Phespirit fully expected it to dominate the landscape for miles around, yet somehow his line of approach meant he did not see it until he was almost upon it; only then was he able to appreciate its sheer majesty.

The exterior is bleak, the interior spartan, and the silence broken only by the low beating of wind through a plastic-covered window. Phespirit didn't feel comfortable, but he wanted to stay.

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6 Ikalto

Kakheti region of Telavi, stop 4 of 4:

Ikalto monastery is a garden paradise set in the wooded corner of a secluded valley, with small but well-tended grounds. At its heart is the Transconfiguration church, built in the 8th and 9th centuries and given a Russian make-over a thousand years later. It's not the most spectacular place but it's pleasant and has nice roses.

A short distance from the monastery, Phespirit and his Georgian guides stopped for a sunny packed lunch at a shaded picnic area overlooking a wide riverbed carrying a narrow trickle of water.

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7 Shuamta

Kakheti region of Telavi, stop 2 of 4:

There is an old and a new Shuamta. New (Akhali) Shuamta is an active convent with nuns at large, so Phespirit was unable to visit.

Old (Dzvelo) Shuamta is an overgrown partly-collapsed monastery that Phespirit could confidently explore without startling any nuns. Even so, he was not entirely welcome. In the car park, a vendor of religious paraphernalia called to Phespirit's guide: "Why must you bring foreigners here? It's just a ruin!"

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8 Gremi

Kakheti region of Telavi, stop 1 of 4:

This was the ideal place for Phespirit to start exploring the region. It has rare old buildings set in a luscious widescreen landscape - all greenery and scenery.

The buildings are 15th/16th century, making them mere babes in this part of the world, but the juxtaposition of a tower-palace and a church-tower made for some fine photo opportunities.

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9 Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja was Phespirit's favourite destination in the southern Caucasus. The name refers to a string of ancient monasteries cut into a rocky ridge on the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. The resulting blend of rich history, extraordinary creation, and big country panoramas on both sides of the line, is truly outstanding.

Just getting there from Tbilisi was immensely pleasing. The major highways were left behind soon after leaving the capital, and from then on the winding roads were good but deserted, the landscape dramatic but simple and unspoiled. Phespirit admired it much.

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  1. Gori
  2. Uplistsikhe
  3. Mtskheta
  4. Tbilisi
  5. Alaverdi
  6. Ikalto
  7. Shuamta
  8. Gremi
  9. Davit Gareja
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Gori Uplistsikhe Mtskheta Tbilisi Alaverdi Ikalto Shuamta Gremi Davit Gareja