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Travelling Through Georgia 2009

A report by Russell Travenen Jones, a member of the Newport Kutaisi Twinning Association, who fulfilled a long-standing ambition to visit Kutaisi as part of a six-week stay in Georgia.





Having travelled to Kutaisi from my base in Tbilisi by marSrutka (mini-bus), I met Associate Professor Davit Gegech’k’ori, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations of Kutaisi’s Ak’ak’i Ts’ereteli State University and was fortunate enough to be shown around Gelati Monastery and Bagrat’i Cathedral by this expert in mediaeval Georgian architecture.

In Gelati Monastery, founded in 1106 by King David the Builder, I was shown the tomb of its founder, arguably the greatest of all Georgian kings, as well as a wonderfully preserved mural of the king, who was a particulary tall man, as a mural clearly depicts. In a final gesture of great humility, it was David’s wish that he be buried in the main gatehouse of Gelati, so that visitors would step on his tomb as they entered.

Bagrat’i Cathedral, sometimes known as the Cathedral of the Dormition, is an early eleventh century masterpiece of mediaeval Georgian architecture. Together with Gelati monastery, they form a UNESCO World Heritage site set on a hillside overlooking the centre of Kutaisi.

Currently undergoing extensive restoration and reconstruction, it yielded up a precious hoard of gold and jewellery only days after I visited there. It belonged to a lady of royal blood and dated to an eighth or ninth century burial in a former church which occupied the site.

Kutaisi was uncharacteristically wet and overcast. It had rained solidly for a fortnight before and, reminiscent of Newport, I spent the day dodging heavy showers, but managed to see the university and much of the city centre.

The highlight for me was to stroll down niuportis quCa (Newport Street). Kutaisi has recently enjoyed considerable investment and has undergone quite a facelift. All the city’s streets have street signs in Georgian and English, colour-coded according to the district.

During my unforgettable time in Georgia, I steeped myself in Georgian culture, and visited many of the country’s major attractions and sites of historical importance. These included the ancient town of Vani in the Imereti region, the seaside towns of Kobuleti and Batumi, Ananuri, Mtskheta, the beautifully restored mediaeval hillside town of Sighnaghi where I came face to face with the beautiful paintings of Nik’oloz Pirosmani, a dream come true, Telavi, Ts’inandali where I visited the estate of the nineteenth century poet Aleksandre Ch’avch’avadze, Bodbe whose St. George Monastery houses the remains of St. Nino, (It was she who introduced christianity to Georgia) Sno, and the magnificent Mt Qazbegi, third-highest mountain in Georgia.

At the fortress of Gonio I enjoyed lunch in a marquee as the guest of the head of the Supreme Court of Adjara, I will never forget getting up at 5.45am to watch sunrise on Mt Qazbegi: its year-round snow-capped peak takes on an incredible red glow when the first rays of the early-morning sun strike it.

The guest-house in the village of St’epants’minda, at the very foot of Mt Qazbegi, offered another breathtaking view: the small, fourteenth century Gerget’i Trinity Church towers above the village, perched atop a mountain at an impressive altitude of 7218 ft above sea-level. This is almost dwarfed, though, by the even more impressive backdrop of Mt Qazbegi. To see the outline of the small, yet distinctive, cross-cupola church illuminated by floodlights at night and bathed in bright sunshine by day is a humbling experience when you consider the sheer effort and logistics of constructing it in such a remote spot and at such an altitude seven centuries ago.

After contemplating the beauty of the early-morning view – snowy Mt Qazbegi in the distance, Gerget’i church in the foreground, and wispy cloud and swirling mist already enveloping the village and surrounding mountainside – I hiked to the top of the mountain (an “easy hike”, the guidebooks suggest!) and, exhilarated by the climb, set foot in what surely must rank as one of the highest churches in christendom. My overwhelming impression as I clambered over the peak of the mountain on which Gerget’i rests was a scene from The Sound of Music, when an elated Julie Andrews whirls around the green pastureland in the Austrian Alps, with snowy slopes all about her.


Russell stayed with a wonderful Georgian host family near the heart of Tbilisi, who made his visit truly special.