Saturday, October 8, 2011

Beautiful Towns # 8 - Mtskheta, Georgia

The small town of Mtskheta, located just a short distance north of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, holds a far greater historical and religious significance in the hearts of all Georgians than its small size would suggest. Mtskheta was the capital of the ancient Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the early 6th century AD, and served as the cradle of Christianity in the Georgian nation at the beginning of the 4th century.
As a result, it contains a proud assortment of historical monuments which have earned it a place on UNESCO's world heritage list. The 11th-century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and the 6th-century Jvari monastery are some of the most important religious buildings in the country, and the town remains the spiritual centre of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Both churches contain priceless inscriptions written in the ancient Georgian alphabet, as well as icons and frescoes of stunning beauty and artistic creativity. When passing Mtskheta on the highway, passengers seated in cars, buses and marshrutkas will instinctively turn towards these churches and cross themselves.
Other significant sites to visit include the impressive bulk of the 14th-century Bebris Tsikhe fortress which sits on a small hill at the edge of the town, providing a great vantage point for views out over Mtskheta and the Mtkvari river. The 11th-century Samtavro monastery situated in the nearby hills is another important place of religious pilgrimage.
The climb to the summit far above the river where the Jvari Monastery sits is one of the most rewarding experiences Mtskheta can offer to foreign visitors, the views and atmosphere provide an experience that is distinctly Georgian.
Getting to Mtskheta from Tbilisi is easy for visitors since marshrutkas and buses travel the 20-kilometre distance frequently. It is easier to stay in Tbilisi with its greater selection of accommodation and restaurants, though Mtskheta does have a number of guesthouses for those looking to stay outside of the capital. Buses and marshrutkas continue westwards from Mtskheta to Gori, making it just about possible to visit both of these cities from Tbilisi as a long daytrip (though both really warrant a full day each to see them thoroughly).

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