Georgian monastries

Telavi Travel Blog

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People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)

Walking through Telavi with our backpacks we became a little lost but a young Georgian woman took pity on us and walked us to where we needed to go, even though it was out of her way. The home stay that we had planned to stay in had closed down but luckily there was another place just a few metres down the road. Having dropped our bags off at Tyna's house we went back out so as to make the best of the remaining hour of sunlight.

First stop was Erekle II Moedani which was a pretty square with a fountain topped by St George slaying the dragon. Just behind this was Batonistsikhe Castle which had been home to the Kakhetian Kings during the 17th and 18th centuries.

There was a 5GEL ($3) entrance fee but as there was no-one there to collect it, we just wandered in for a quick look. I wasn't too impressed at what was inside so we decided not to linger and left to have a walk around the walls.

Nearby were a couple of pretty little churches and in the first one that we visited there was a wedding taking place that we stood and watched for a bit. It was interesting to see how Orthodox people get married. Who knows, maybe this will be me one day if Julia will have me! We had a quick look around the small bazaar before using the internet for an hour and then heading to the warmth of Tyna's house.

Tyna was a nice lady with an incredibly sad story and she cried quite a bit whilst we were there. Her husband had died not too long ago and her daughter moved back from Switzerland to be with her mum.
Within months she was diagnosed with cancer and died soon after. This left her with just one son and as luck should have it he won the green card lottery and moved to America weeks later! This left the poor woman grieving the loss of everyone she loved in the space of just over a year. I can't even begin to imagine how this must make you feel and whilst Julia did her best to console her and offer some comfort, what can you really say to someone in this position?

The next morning we were up early and after taking a quick shower we headed to the bus station to catch a marshrutka to Gremi. The weather was pretty dreary and as we set off it began to rain, but 30 minutes later when we arrived it conveniently stopped for us. Gremi citadel was visible for miles around as it stood on a hill with commanding views of the surrounding countryside.
Whilst the town of Gremi had been ransacked by the Persians in 1616, the citadel had thankfully stood the test of war and time and looked in great condition.

The thick walls of the citadel protected the Church of Archangels, a tower palace and a winery. The church was built in 1565 and inside were some nice frescoes dating back to 1577, whilst the tower palace contained a small museum, the king's toilet and some magnificent panoramic views. Also of interest was the escape tunnel that led from the citadel walls down to the river but we didn't venture too far down there as it was pitch black and we were lacking a torch.

From Gremi we caught a marshrutka back to Telavi and then had to wait 40 minutes for a connection out to Alaverdi. This was initially annoying because the marshrutka was delayed and then when we did set off, the driver kept cutting the engine and freewheeling down the road to try and conserve his petrol.
Obviously this made the journey take at least twice the time, as we crawled to our next destination.

Alaverdi Cathedral dates back to the 11th century and at 50m high is Georgia's second biggest church. It stands at the centre of a complex that includes a nunnery, summer palace, bathhouse, bell tower and wine cellar, although due to restoration we barely got to see any of this. An old man was stood at the entrance by the thick brick walls and was offering guided tours. We found this rather amusing as basically everything was closed. When Julia asked him what he was meant to be guiding you around, he got rather annoyed and went off on one. We thought that maybe he had permission to take you around the closed areas but he didn't, so we made a hasty retreat before the poor devil gave himself a heart attack.

Having walked around the exterior of the complex we caught a marshrutka to Ikalto and from here it was a 2km walk to the monastery that is located there. The monastery was founded in the 6th Century and prospered until 1616, at which point Shah Abbas and his Persian army came and destroyed the place. The complex consisted of the Transfiguration Church (8th & 9th Centuries), Sameba (Trinity) Church (6th Century), Kvelatsminda - St Mary's Church (12th & 13th Centuries) and an Academy. Most of what remains today has been restored, added or changed in some way, although it does still retain an old charming feel about it.

Having caught a marshrutka back to Telavi we were left with only the option of a taxi to the last two churches of Akhali (New) Shuamta and Dzveli (Old) Shuamta.
The journey there was very picturesque with autumn coloured leaves covering the ground of the wood that we drove through. There were also two men driving a horse and cart that looked like they belonged in the 10th Century, with their long beards and big coats.

A nun let us into Akhali Shuamta, which is now a convent, and whilst the interior had some nice frescoes, the exterior was covered in scaffolding. A little further up the road, Dzveli Shuamta was comprised of three small churches dating to the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries, all of which also had scaffolding blocking the outside of the walls. To be honest I was a little tired of churches by this point and we spent just a few minutes poking around what was there before heading back to Telavi. Our taxi driver took us to Tyna's to pick up our bags and then we were off to the capital via yet another marshrutka.

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photo by: Deats