Published: October 24th 2011August 3rd 2011
The church in Kazbegi
The church in Kazbegi is located on a mountain overlooking the town
In Georgia there are lots of churches and fortresses
If we are asked to describe Georgia using only three words we would say "churches and fortresses". If you visit a few places in Georgia you quickly realise that there are churches and fortresses everywhere. Many of them are really old and are also in very good condition. We knew already before we arrived that we couldn't visit them all because we would get bored after the first dozen or so. But even though we skipped many churches we still visited quite a few.
In this blog entry we have focused on the capital Tblisi and the places we visited around Tbilisi.
First we would like to write a little bit about a town a few hours by car north of Tbilisi, a town called Kazbegi. Kazbegi is next to a major highway leading into the nearby Russia. Because of its strategic position Kazbegi used to be a very important town. In 1991 Soviet Union was dissolved and Georgia became independent. Since then Georgia and Russia haven't always been best friends. Russia has supported the breakaway territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their struggle to be independent from Georgia.
Ananauri, a fortress with two churches inside its walls. Georgia has churches and fortresses en masse and sometimes, like here, they come together as a package.
This is not popular with the Georgians and has resulted in at least two wars. Since the Georgian-Russian relations aren't very good it also affects the trade between the two countries. The border crossing is not open for everybody and not for any kind of cargo. There are trucks going between the two countries but far fewer than what you could expect.
We stayed in Kazbegi a few days and we liked it. It was a slow place where we could stay and just relax. The church in Kazbegi (of course they have a church. Remember, there are churches everywhere) is located on a mountain overlooking the town. It is quite a climb to get up there and we wanted to do the hike. But the weather was against us at the time of visit so we were took a jeep to the church instead. We like to walk but can't see any point in getting soaking wet while doing it.
The journey from Tbilisi to Kazbegi is worth mentioning because there were quite a few interesting places we visited along the way.
The first stop we made was at Ananauri, a fortress with two churches inside
The wall of the church in Ananauri
its walls. Not only does Georgia have churches and fortresses en masse, they can even come together as package. As least they can come in a package as "fortress with a church" as in Ananauri. We can't recall that we ever saw a "church with a fortress". But if there is any place in the world where that can be found Georgia would be the place. Because, as we wrote in the beginning of this blog entry "in Georgia there are lot's of churches and fortresses".
The next stop on the way between Tbilisi and Kazbegi was a scenic spot where they have built a large viewing platform right on the edge of a canyon. The views from there were truly spectacular.
The last place where we stopped was a hill where mineral water comes out of the ground from a natural spring. This mineral water is so rich in minerals that when the water reaches the surface the water starts to deposit minerals. Over many years the mineral deposit has grown so large that it today covers the entire hill. Ake, being the nature science geek that he is, really loved to see that.
On the way between Tbilisi and Kazbegi was a scenic spot where they have built a large viewing platform right on the edge of a canyon.
continue we would like to write a little bit about a photo we took in a cemetery in Kazbegi. When we travel we sometimes visit cemeteries. To see how the locals take care of their dead is one way to get to know them. In Georgian cemeteries we saw something we have only rarely seen elsewhere. In between the graves they have tables and benches. Our guess is that relatives and friends when they visit the graves also bring food and drinks and have a little picnic. It is not a bad idea. Cemeteries are often pretty nice places to spend time in. They are peaceful, well tended and quiet.
When we left Kazbegi we went directly to David Gareja monastery complex
. David Gareja is about an hour drive south of Tbilisi near the border to Azerbaijan. David Gareja is actually so close to the border that outlying sections of the complex is across the border.
David Gareja is in some ways similar to Vardzia, a monastery complex we mentioned in our previous blog entry
. Both are monasteries and the monks used to live in caves. There is one major difference though. In Vardzia the caves are all
The views from there were truly spectacular.
located in one and the same place. In David Gareja the caves are spread out over a very vast area. To walk around and see the entire site would take a very long time. Fortunately the most interesting caves are all within a reasonable distance from the main entrance. The main entrance is also where the main monastery is. To see the rest involves a bit of a hike up a hill and then a walk along a ridge. On a hot day it is quite a rough climb. Even on a cool day it is not exactly a walk in the park. But once you reach the top the reward is wonderful views over the desert landscape of southern Georgia and northern Azerbaijan.
To the west of Tbilisi, less than an hour drive, is the town Gori. In the mid 20th century Gori received a lot of privileges because it was the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, then leader of the Soviet Union. Today the town still plays on people remembering Stalin. The most popular tourist attraction in Gori is the Stalin Museum. One street in town is called Stalin Avenue but there the glorification of Stalin pretty much
Minerals deposited by water
A hill where mineral water comes out of the ground and deposit minerals. Over many years the mineral deposit has grown so large that it covers the entire hill
ends. Gori used to have a large statue of Stalin standing in the main square. But the leaders in Gori have accepted what a mad and ruthless tyrant he really was and they had the statue removed not very long ago. Rumours have it that there are plans to reerect the statue again outside the Stalin Museum.
One of the more bizarre features of the Stalin Museum is the house where Stalin was born. It stands in front of the massive museum building and is protected by a large pavilion.
Next place we visited is a town called Signaghi. Signaghi is, if you have a brief look at it, a nice quiet town where the major local business is catering for tourists. The town kind of looks like a resort. But after we had walked around there for a few hours we noticed that all things weren't what they first seemed to be. First of all there were hardly any tourists there. A tourist resort that doesn't have any tourists feels a bit odd. There are hotels and restaurants in town, so the infrastructure to cater for tourists was all there, but few visitors. The second thing we
Between the graves they have tables and benches
In between the graves they have tables and benches. Our guess is that relatives and friends when they visit the graves also bring food and drinks and have a little picnic
noticed was that the town felt more like a film set then an actual town. When we looked through the windows into some of the houses there was nothing inside. Sometimes there wasn't even a back wall of the house. It is obvious that they have made large investments in Signaghi to make it a popular holiday destination. But it seems like they miscalculated on the number of potential visitors and instead of a great flood of tourists visiting the town, only a tiny trickle actually end up there. In a way that is a pity because we enjoyed Signaghi.
One of the most important religious sites in Georgia is Mtskheta. It is located near the capitol Tbilisi and can easily be visited on a daytrip from there. The main attractions of Mtskheta are the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the town centre and the Jvari Monastery on a hill overlooking the town.
The last place for us to write about in this blog entry is the capitol itself, Tbilisi. The main attraction of Tbilisi we must say is the town itself. We were very happy just walking around.
The are a few places in Tbilisi that can be
Strange lunch table
When we went from Kazbegi to David G we had lunch on the way and used the car as lunch table. Bread, meat, chocolate, water, dust and car fumes. Yummi!
labelled tourist attractions of course. The major draw card is the old town. Sadly large sections of the old town are in desperate need of repairs. Some houses will very soon collapse unless drastic actions are taken to prevent that from happening.
Another tourist attraction is the Narikala Citadel. You guessed right, it is a fortress and there is a church in it. From the fortress the views over Tbilisi are really good. It is possible to get good photos of at least three other churches from there.
In central Tbilisi there is a bridge that has a strange nickname. The official name is the Peace Bridge but the locals have given it the nickname "Always Ultra". Look at the picture and you'll get it.
This is the last proper blog entry we have from Georgia. But if you would like to see a few more photos we have one more blog entry, one with photos from Tbilisi, waiting to be published.
There are more photos below