Thursday Thoughts – Glimpses of Modern Tbilisi

More of Tbilisi, Georgia – there is, of course, a modern part of it as well…even if that was not the main reason for my visit!

Strolling the busy streets, I looked through the windows of different restaurants and shops – and saw this fantastic wallpaper, with lamps in an oval shape.

The overall photo sits last in this gallery – there you will find the first three of these architectural wonders – more facts in the pictures.

This passage was filled with murals and graffiti – too narrow to get a good shot though…

I just had to go back for a closer look at the wallpaper – fascinating history become art? Anyway – I just loved it. It covered the whole interior, quite a large room. I would love to have a piece of it framed on my wall. So many different faces – Please click to enlarge – and you get the feeling!

 

Thursday Thoughts – Udabno and Sighnaghi

Why Georgia ? 

Udabno, at first sight, seems a forgotten place in the desert. Originally a Soviet built village – but then abandoned and left to the last, striving old farmers. Since about 8-10 years it has been brought to life again, by a Polish guy who fell in love with Georgia when traveling the countryside. His idea was to build a restaurant and hostel for people driving through on their way to David Gareja  (the monastery I posted on before). This turned out quite well – and his Oasis is thriving. They promise delicious Georgian food and friendly people – and on top you get dogs and cats at your feet, charming the guests.

Sighnaghi, the pearl of the Kakheti region, is one of the most important villages in Georgia’s greatest wine district. The oldest parts are from the 18th century, with a 4-5 km town wall. We also heard it was considered maybe the most beautiful village in Georgia. Built 790 meters above sea level, it overlooks the glorious Alazani Valley and the Caucasus Mountains. In fact almost every part of it was restored by Italian architects, and paid for by the mighty family Sjevardnadze.

We learned that the cradle of Wine is Kaukasus, and Georgia has the oldest wine traditions in the world, second only to Armenia. 8000 years old Clay barrels for wine making have been found here. The wine making was unique – and still is today. The grapes were put in the clay barrels that were buried in the ground for fermentation – no additives…not even sugar. 100% ecological.

No wonder the wine tastes heavenly. We tried three different Saperavi wines from the  OKRO`s Wines, relaxing on a terrace overlooking a lovely cat overlooking the whole valley and the mountains. Finishing off with a mild Chacha (70% – but not noticeable).

In the end I thought the strict rules applied for making these Georgian wines exceeded all intricate EU-rules, making EU not fully able to realize the fantastic quality of these wines – and therefore not marketing them as they should. Rather interesting…

A war monument with thousands of names from the area, meant another moment of contemplation. So many horrors and so many wars this country has suffered. And still – inhabited by upright, friendly and hospitable people.

We hit the road again, and our knowledgeable guide remembered my talking about a photo of the grape vendors…This party was packing up for the night, but we stopped for a chat and a photo. Sweet guys…in the end I jumped in the car with some kilos of the sweet grapes too (not the guys!)! I was not allowed to pay anything…but hugs were free!

Thursday Thoughts – David Gareja Lavra

David Gareja Lavra is a historical and architectural monument within the monastic complex of David Gareja. It was built during the first half of the 6th century under the guidance of San David Gareja, one of the thirteen Assyrian monks who arrived in the country at the same time. He came to bring Christianity to Georgia, and he founded around 15 monasteries in the arid and desert like nature on the border to Azerbaijan.

David Gareja is a Georgian Orthodox monastery complex located in the Kakheti region, and the complex includes hundreds of cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hollowed out of the rock face.

Despite the harsh environment, the monastery remained an important centre of religious and cultural activity for many centuries; at certain periods the monasteries owned extensive agricultural lands and many villages. The renaissance of fresco painting chronologically coincides with the general development of the life in the David Gareja monasteries. The high artistic skill of frescoes made them an indispensable part of world treasure. From the late 11th to the early 13th centuries, the economic and cultural development of David Gareja reached its highest phase.

We left early in the morning on a private tour, because the roads were all very narrow and bumpy – no buses could go there. Road builders and machines were constantly working and in some places we had to drive in the nearby fields instead of the road.

We wondered where these sheep would get any food, but loved to see them – and their shepherds on horses.

I loved the landscape, the low ridges, the long views and the serenity of the lines. We also saw gigantic areas with olive trees, according to our guide a co-operation with EU. When ready, the olives would be exported for the EU market.

We passed some salt lakes as well. Millions of years ago, the whole area was covered in water, and today these lakes are the only remaining waters to be seen. They have no outflow in this hot and dry area, so what is left is – salt.

This means that the soil is saturated with salt and difficult to cultivate. Even the ground water here is too salty. In order to use it as drinking water, it has to be filtered. This windy day, salt was flying in the air, and you could feel it on your tongue when speaking.

While driving, our knowledgeable guide told us of The David Gareja monasteries and their long history of wars and vandals, destroying and rebuilding. The Mongolians och Timur Lenk were devastating, but that was nothing to the Persians killing of 6000 monks celebrating Easter in 1615. After the prayer in all 15 monasteries, all monks were locked inside the churches and killed. The rich artworks and other treasures were destroyed or stolen. After this blow, the D G monasteries never came back to their former glory.

Then, what seemed a final blow, came after the violent Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921 – David Gareja was closed down and remained uninhabited. In the years of the Soviet–Afghan War, the monastery’s territory was used as a training ground for the Soviet military, that inflicted damage to the unique cycle of murals in the monastery.

After the restoration of Georgia’s independence in 1991, the monastery life in David Gareja – Lavra – was revived. Today it is the home of 13-30 monks.

We only visited Lavra, and we were not allowed to see how the monks really lived their daily life. But, the guide told us that in one of the higher located caves, the monks had their meals – kneeling at stone tables.

The area is also home to protected animal species and evidence of some of the oldest human habitations in the region.

Part of the complex is located in the Agstafa rayon of Azerbaijan and has become subject to a border dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan, with ongoing talks since 1991. But as there are strong economic and cultural ties between Azerbaijan and Georgia, they both have peaceful intentions in the determination of borders.

On leaving the monastery, my head was filled with thoughts of how a monk’s life must be out there in the desert. I wonder how young or old they are today, what their cave cells look like and how cold it is there in the long, lonely nights. Questions without answers.

A fact is – that Georgians are, and have always been, a strong people. They have been invaded by so many other powers, countries and people, but every time they have risen again. How they have remained so friendly and good at heart is a true enigma.

 

 

Thursday Thoughts – A Day with Georgian Historic Sites

We decided to take a day out of Tbilisi – for some of Georgia’s old historic sites. Uplistsikhe is an interesting ancient rock-hewn town in eastern Georgia, built on the left bank of the Mtkvari River. It is identified by archaeologists as one of the oldest urban settlements in the country.

As our eminent guide, Katie, led us through the remains of this once 20 000 people inhabited town – she told us that even if it was almost destroyed by the Mongolians in the 13th century, the area also suffers from frequent earthquakes, which finally finished its existence.

The town contains various structures dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages, and is notable for the unique combination of various styles of rock-cut cultures from Anatolia and Iran, as well as the coexistence of pagan and Christian architecture.

At the summit of the complex is a Christian basilica built of stone and brick in the 9th-10th centuries. (Another photo from it last Silent Sunday.)

The quiet interior is in perfect harmony. I felt completely at peace with myself, alone in the natural light, in a translucent sphere.

Archaeological excavations have discovered numerous artifacts of different periods, including gold, silver and bronze jewellery, and samples of ceramics and sculptures. Many of these artifacts are in the safekeeping of the National Museum in Tbilisi.

After this windy adventure, we left for Jvari Monastery (in the header, seen from Svetitskhoveli), whose name is translated as the ”Monastery of the Cross”. Jvari Monastery is a sixth century Georgian Orthodox monastery near Mtskheta, and is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Jvari is a rare case of the Early Medieval Georgian church that survived to the present day almost unchanged. The church became the founder of its type, the Jvari type of church architecture, prevalent in Georgia and Armenia.

The monastery stands on the rocky mountaintop at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, overlooking the town of Mtskheta.

Built atop of Jvari Mount (656 m a.s.l.), the monastery is an example of harmonious connection with the natural environment, characteristic to Georgian architecture.

We ventured down to Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta (this city also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site), one of the oldest cities of Georgia, founded by the ancient Meschian tribes in the 5th century. It was capital of the early Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD, and continued to serve as the coronation and burial place for most kings of Georgia until the end of the kingdom in the 19th century.

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (literally the Cathedral of the Living Pillar) is currently the second largest church building in Georgia, after the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi. Known as the burial site of Christ’s mantle, Svetitskhoveli has long been one of the principal Georgian Orthodox churches in the region. It is considered a masterpiece of the Early and High Middle Ages.

At the end of the day, our lovely, knowledgeable guide, Katie, waited patiently for her ”sheep” to return to their master.

 

Thursday Thoughts – Tbilisi, A Feast for the Eye

Because of its location on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, and its proximity to the Silk Road, Tbilisi has kept its interest to various global powers. Tbilisi’s diverse history is reflected in its architecture, which is a mix of medieval, neoclassical, Beaux Arts, Art Nouveau, Stalinist and the Modern structures. Only one visit will not be enough to seek out all its secrets.

Historically, Tbilisi has been home to people of multiple cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. You will find Mosques, Churches and Cathedrals side by side, and the people live in peace together.

Walking in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, is a walk filled with wonders and harmony. At least if you love architecture, open minded and smiling people, and gentle cats and dogs.

The first thing to learn, is never to pass a gate or a narrow passage without having a look inside. Just quietly walk in, the laundry lady will just smile and give you a nod.

You will always be greatly rewarded. Colours and harmony rules.

And the doors…I know of many who would swoon at the very sight of only one street…

Old iron gates and wooden balconies are characteristic of Tbilisi. I think I have hundreds of balcony images – maybe I will post some more …I cannot get enough of them.

Our first day in the city, we wanted to climb to the medieval Narikala Fortress, to get the best view of the city and the Kura river.

The city’s 1.5 million inhabitants were seeking the shades this hot day, and it really took some effort to walk all those steps. But every minute was a joy, stopping now and then to admire the view and for talking to all the lovely people.

Everywhere being inspected by the friendly cats and dogs of course…

On reaching a bench in the shadow, we had a Swedish ”fika”, admiring the view of the newer part of Tbilisi, the Sioni Cathedral and the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

In the header is the view of Old Tiflis (Old Tbilisi) and the new Peace Bridge reaching over the river Kura.

From the fortress and the slopes of the Botanical Gardens, we finished our first views of this charming and enigmatic city. Hopefully you will want to walk with me again – this is a city filled with art, gentle inhabitants and gorgeous food and wine. A Pearl of cities.