Our group at Uplitsikhe
Uplistsikhe is a cave city complex like Vardzia, the destination of my first trip with this group of Khato’s colleagues. As is usual with these trips, we got up early, we had been told to meet the minibus at 8.30am at Didube in Tbilisi. With true Georgian timing the minibus didn’t actually leave until 9.15am, when the last of the stragglers arrived.
Our first stop was Gori, a town famed as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, Georgia’s most famous son. Our stop was not for sightseeing but to pick up some fruit for our supra (Georgian Feast) later.
There used to be a statue of Stalin in the main square but it was taken down in 2010. Here is a statue of a different “hero”.
“Lomkatsa” or ” lionman”, a fictional Georgian adonis, sculpted by Elguja Amashukeli in 1986 .
Uplistsikhe is 10 km from Gori, and sits scenically on the banks of the Mtkvari. It has been a settlement since the early Iron Age and is possibly the oldest urban settlement in Georgia, the main development was from 6th Century BC to 1st Century AD. It has a strategic position on the Silk Road, linking east with west, archaeological digs in the area have revealed artefacts from east and west. The city was an important religious centre in pagan, pre Christian Georgia and magic ceremonies were still practised here until the 18th century. Archaeological studies show that from 4th Century AD to 6th Century AD there was a struggle between the Christians and Pagans. The Kings of Kartli took residence at Uplistsikhe when the Arabs took Tbilisi in the 7th Century. The city declined after David the Builder retook Tbilisi in 1122, and large parts were destroyed by the Mongol hordes in 1240 and later by Tamurlane (or Timur) in the 14th Century. Settlement of the caves was finally abandoned in the early 19th century.
Our first stop was the museum, showing artefacts and a slide-show about the history of the caves. The slide-show was in Georgian but with English subtitles.
Museum at Uplistsikhe
After our brief visit to the museum, we started to explore the cave complex.
The heat of July meant there were a lot of lizards about.
The 10th century church at the top of the complex is Prince’s Church (Uplistsulis Eklesia). It was built over a pagan temple.
Prince’s Church framed by Tamaris Dabazi
As with many Georgian sites, health and safety precautions are minimal compared to sites in the West.
Beso, Tamuna and Khato on an old wall.
Some first aid needed to be applied when Tamuna took a tumble.
After touring the cave city we headed to Ateni a village where our friends Spartak and Nona live. Spartak has his own wine cellar with his own “champagne”.
Spartak distributing “champagne” in his wine cellar
I’m no wine connoisseur, before coming to Georgia, I didn’t really drink alcohol and now I will only drink wine at Supras (Georgian feasts), but the Georgians were full of praise for he “champagne”. We had our first Supra, before heading out to a warm mineral pool in the beautiful Tana Valley.
Georigan Supra al fresco, under a mulberry tree, where food is abundant and the wine flows freely.
Our second destination was Ateni Sioni (ატენის სიონი) a seventh century church currently being restored, but still used for services.
Ateni Sioni interior showing extensive scaffolding
Architecturally Ateni Sioni is modelled on the Jvari Church at Mtskheta.
The eleventh century frescoes are among the finest medieval art in the country.
stags, hunting scene in the brickwork of the church
Then we return to Spartak’s for a second and lengthy supra under a mulberry tree.
Spartak is the “tamada” or toastmaster and makes very florid toasts, citing the poetry of Galaktion Tabidze and injecting a lot of humour into the toasts.
Khato drinking from the “kanzi”
Tamuna making a toast and using a very ancient drinking vessel.
Other trips made with this group or “აბოდიალებულები” (which roughly translates as “the wanderers”) :
Vardzia March 2015
Davit Gareja May 2015
Prometheus Cave June 2015
Kutaisi June 2015
Khevsureti trip August 2015