Explore Georgia



Mtskheta was Georgia’s ancient capital, a small village about 16 km (10 miles) to the north of Tbilisi. It is home to a number of very important Georgian religious sites and functions to this day as the spiritual heart of Georgia. The historic churches of Mtskheta are outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus. They display the high artistic and cultural level attained by this ancient kingdom. Mtskheta was the capital of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD and the site of Georgia's adoption of Christianity in 334 AD. It remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The first wooden church was built in the palace garden, where the fabulous Svetitskhoveli Church now stands.The strategic location of Mtskheta in ancient times was critical – it was the crossing of ancient trade routes and the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers. Its mild climate and fertile soil contributed to early human settlement in the area (3000-2000 BC). The city was destroyed by Pompey the Great after his defeat of Mithridates the Great of Pontus in 65 BC.In the 1-2nd centuries AD, Iberia played an important role in the politics of the region.
The coming of Christianity resulted in intensive building activity to meet the requirements of the new religion, and many of these monuments have survived to the present day. The Svetitskhoveli complex in the centre of the town includes the 11th century cathedral, the palace and gates of the Katolikos Melchizedek from the same period, and the 18th century gates of Irkali II. The cathedral is domed and cruciform in plan. The interior was originally covered with wall paintings, but these were whitewashed over and only recently have fragments of them been revealed again. 
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century) and Jvari Monastery (6th century) in Mtskheta are among the most significant monuments of Georgian Christian architecture, and are historically significant in the development of medieval architecture throughout the Caucasus. Opposite Svetitskhoveli, on the top of the hill on the left bank of the Aragvi river, is Jvari Monastery, known as the Mtskhetis Jvari (Church of the Holy Rood), the most sacred place
in Georgia; it is here that a cross (rood) was erected by St Nino in the 4th century to replace heathen idols. The Jvari complex contains several buildings from different periods. The cruciform church, with porticos to north and south, dates from the mid-6th century. Of special significance are early inscriptions, which form a valuable reference in the study of the origins of the early Georgian alphabet.
In the outskirts of Mtskheta are the ruins of Armaztsikhe fortress (3rd century BC), the Armaztsikhe acropolis (dating to the late 1st millennium BC), remains of a "Pompey's bridge" (according to legends built by Roman legionnaires of Pompey the Great in 1st century BC), the fragmentary remains of a royal palace (1st–3rd century AD), a tomb of the 1st century AD, a small church of the 4th century, the Samtavro Monastery (11th century), and the fortress of Bebris Tsikhe (14th century). The Institute of Archaeology and the garden of Mikheil Mamulashvili are also worthy of note.

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