UNESCO World Heritage

Georgia currently has three sites inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, many more sites are inscribed on the tentative list.

MTSKHETA

Jvari Monastery

Perched atop a hill overlooking the ancient city of Mtskheta and the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers, the ancient Jvari monastery is a breathtaking sight. Its huge stone walls the same colour as the surrounding rocks, Jvari – translated as the Monastery of the Cross, gives the impression that it has always been there, like an organic part of the landscape.

The site itself has been important since time immemorial. On this location in the early 4th century Saint Nino, the female evangelist who brought Christianity to Georgia, erected a large wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple. A small church was erected over the remnants of the wooden cross in 545, the present building, or “Great Church of Jvari”, was built between 586 and 605. The importance of Jvari complex increased over time and attracted many pilgrims. In the late middle ages, the complex was fortified by a stone wall and gate, remnants of which still survive.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

The resting place of the robe of Christ, and the most important church in Georgia, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral does not disappoint visitors. In Georgian sveti means “pillar” and tskhoveli means “life-giving” or “living”, hence the name of the cathedral. Its exquisite design, wonderful carving and harmonious proportions mark it out as one of the grandest achievements of Georgian architecture.

The current cathedral was built in the 11th century, though the site itself is even older, dating back to the early 4th century.

Samtavro Transfiguration Church, now functioning as a nunnery, is another glorious example of Georgian architecture from the first half of the 11th century. The fabulous carving on the exterior is the most interesting aspect of the church, each window has different designs, and there is deliberate asymmetry in the wall reliefs.

KUTAISI

Bagrati Cathedral

A distinct landmark in the scenery of central Kutaisi, the Cathedral of the Dormition, better known as Bagrati, rests upon the top of Ukimerioni Hill. A majestic ruin, it is evocative of the splendor and grandeur of the Georgian Golden Age. It was built in the early years of the 11th century, during the reign of King Bagrat III. In 1692, it was devastated in an explosion by the Ottoman troops, which had invaded the Kingdom of Imereti. The incident caused the cupola and ceiling to collapse leaving the cathedral in its present state.

The Monastery of Gelati

Twenty minutes from the bustling centre of Kutaisi lies one of the most serene and inspiring places in the world, the Gelati Monastery and complex. Its principal wonder is the Church of the Virgin founded by the hero king David the Builder in 1106. The church is decorated with extraordinarily well preserved frescoes, many depicting king David, as well as the finest mosaics in Georgia. King David, who had finally reunited Georgia and recaptured Tbilisi, is buried under the west gate of the monastery.

David also founded the Gelati Academy, the ruins of which can be seen behind the main church. The academy functioned like a medieval university, teaching theology, natural philosophy and medicine.

UPPER SVANETI

Upper Svaneti truly has to be seen to be believed. The region is covered in ancient monuments, including the famous Svan watchtowers. Each clan has a watchtower, which they would live in during times of invasion or more commonly blood feud with another clan. Today, thousands of such towers are preserved, and most are still lived in by Svans, through the blood feuds are largely a thing of the past. There are also a number of fantastic medieval churches in upper Svaneti, most decorated with frescoes execrated in an unusual local style.

At 2200 meters above sea level, USHGULI is the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe. The road up is stunningly beautiful, with breathtaking views of Mt Ushba and Mt Shkhara, as well as the lovely villages of Kala and Ipari en route. Ushguli itself is a collection of four smaller villages, all of them made up of four or five storey towers. There are superb possibilities for hiking, climbing, horse riding and mountain biking.