“My name is Merab” the man in the green polo shirt said. “I am your new guide.” I was having breakfast on the terrace at Betsy’s in Tbilisi, eating sweet Georgian pancakes and drinking black tea. The professor of linguistics from Tbilisi university sat down and drank black coffee. “We will be on the road to Kutaisi today. Would you like to make a stop at Javri” he asked.
Javri is a stunningly beautiful fourth century fortified church on a crag in the Sagurami Hills. It overlooks the ancient city of Mtskheta at the confluence of Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. Jvari is only 25 km from Tbilisi. I was there in 2011 and again in 2014 but had no hesitation in agreeing with Merab to revisit the site.
We left Tbilisi at 9.30 in the morning. The little Mercedes coach with Giorgi at the wheel crawled through the city clogged with morning traffic. I sat next to Giorgi. He was pleased that he could chat with me in Russian. “I will soon have speaking Russian like a native” he told me. We drove out of the city along the Mtkvari River, past a modern church on a hilltop and old drab, Soviet era apartment blocks surrounding Tbilisi. It was the watermelon season and roadside trucks and kiosks were piled high with green and yellow melons and pumpkins.
Soon we were in the countryside and 25 kms. later, turned off the E60 and drove along a narrow twisting road to the Jvari church on top of the hill. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and cloudless and it was very warm.
Saint Nino who brought Christianity to Georgia is said to have erected a cross at a pagan site on top of the hill where the church now is in the 4th century. It is a perfect example of an early ‘apse-buttressed’ cruciform church surrounded by remnants of fortifications erected in the middle ages. Inside there is a huge plinth in the middle with a cross with drooping arms like the cross of Saint Nino made of vine branches tied together with her own hair. The original is in the Sioni Church in Tbilisi.
From the church terrace the view of Mtskheta 150m below at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers is magnificent. It has been at the heart of Georgia’s spiritual identity for over 3000 years. From the 4th century BC until the 5th century AD it was the capital of Kartli and is the scene of the royal family’s conversion to Christianity by Saint Nino. Sveti Tskhoveli cathedral in Mtskheta with a section of Christ’s crucifixion robe dates back to the early 4th century and is the second largest church in Georgia.
We left Jvari, crossed the river and drove into the Ateni Canyon.
(Along with other historic structures of Mtskheta, Jvari Church is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. It is open from 8 am to 7pm daily and entrance is free.)
The tour was arranged by Living Roots LLC, 3, Ingorokva st, Tbilis,i Georgia, +995 599 48 00 86 www.travellivingroots.com
- “Thank you Bernard for sharing these with us, I enjoy reading every bit of it J.” – Tamara Natenadze, Tbilisi, 3 October 2016