The 13th century Church of the Virgin sits on a crag over the Mtkvari River with the equestrian statue of Vakhtang Gorgasali, the founder of Tbilisi, below it
It is a hot day in Tbilisi and it getting hotter as the morning advances. Mumtar drives us to the little car park below Metekhi Church. The green Mtkvari River curls lazily at the foot of the crag and we can see most of Tbilisi spread below us. Vakhtang Gorgasalis sits on his horse, gazing at the city he founded. Houses with pretty wooden balconies cling precariously to the hillside. A series of stone steps take us to the top of the hill where the church stands in its little garden.
Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali built a church and a fort which served also as a king’s residence on Metekhi Hill in the 12th century. Tradition has that it was also where the 5th-century martyr Saint Shushanik was buried. None of these structures have survived the Mongol invasion of 1235. The Metekhi Church of Assumption was built in 1278. In 1633, the area around the church was fortified with a citadel garrisoned by some 3,000 soldiers. Under Russian rule, the church lost its religious purpose and was used as a barracks. The citadel was demolished in 1819 and replaced by a new building which functioned as a jail in the Soviet era, and was closed only in 1938.
Inside the church it is dark, serene and solemn. Candles are lit in front of brightly coloured icons. Women whisper to each other, cross them selves and slowly walk backwards from the altar.
Outside, there are benches in the garden and the cool breeze is divine. Mercifully, there are no beggars to be seen – women or children. We can see the Narikale Citadel on the hill. There is a cable car to the top these days and the station is only a short distance away. We drink a little more water and begin to walk down hill.