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Mtskheta – the Cultural and Religious Centre

Mtskheta – the Cultural and Religious Centre

Mtskheta is truly a special city and it represents the rich history of Georgia. located 21 km. away from Tbilisi. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was the capital of Georgia until the XI Century. This beautiful area was even inhabited in bronze age four thousand years ago! Even though it lost its strategic significance after Tbilisi became the capital and the damage done by the foreign invasions had left its mark, Mtskheta to this day is a huge cultural and religious center due to Heritage sites like Svetitskhoveli, Jvari Monastery, Bebris Fortress Pompey Bridge and much more. 

Historically, through its years Mtskheta found itself to be a trading center for the entire Caucasus. It was rapidly developing and spreading its legend of being the chosen city of the old Georgian god “Armazi”. The strong economy based on the various metal deposits (including gold), the high agricultural potential of its fertile land, craftsmanship and trade put Mtskheta on the map as one of the most important cities of the Old World. That’s why in 65 BC, the great Roman Leader Gnaeus Pompey came there personally to spread Roman influence and establish a trade network.

 

Christianity and Patron Saint Nino of Cappadocia

The massive change happened when, at the beginning of 4th century, Saint Nino from Cappadocia travelled to Mtskheta and began baptizing the Iberian and Kartli Kingdoms. When she arrived in Mtskheta, the pagan King Mirian III and his wife Queen Nana, they refused to forsake their old gods, Armazi and Zaden, but allowed Nino to stay in Mtskheta. This period witnessed several miracles and mass healings from Nino and the population was slowly converting to her faith. Things escalated when Queen Nana got severely ill and no one could ease her pain. Nana, after finding out that none of her courtiers could help her, sent for Saint Nino. After days of prayers, Nino was able to fully cure the Kartlian Queen and, as a way to express her gratitude, Nana became Christian. Mirian III was still hesitant to believe Nino, even after she had saved his wife’s life. Shortly after, Mirian went hunting in the mountains North of Mtskheta and, at one point, the sky turned black and a thick fog surrounded the pagan King. He first pleaded to his old gods to have mercy on him and show him the way, but nothing happened. Lost and scared, he prayed to “Nino’s God” to help him and prove to be one true God. The sky cleared, and upon his return back to Mtskheta he declared Christianity the state religion and Saint Nino as the Patron and Enlightener of Georgia in 326 CE.

 

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

In the year of our lord 334, the construction of the oldest and the most significant cathedral in the history of Georgia began. “Svetitskhoveli” – a representation of Biblical Pillar of Life. The final resting place of many Georgian Royals and Saints, as well as possibly containing the Holy Robe of Jesus Christ, which he was wearing moments before his crucifixion.

This symbol of the Georgian faith went through a harsh and brutal history, like the whole of Georgia itself. Damaged by many earthquakes and invasions by Arabs, Persians and Tamerlane. The Cathedral went through a few massive reconstructions - the main one being by the legendary Georgian architect Arsukidze from 1010 to 1029. Arsukidze was chosen by King George I to repair the pillar of life that Georgia desperately needed. The genius Architect spent 19 years of his life tirelessly working on the creation of one of the most impressive architectural masterpieces in the whole known world. According to legend, after finishing his Magnum Opus, the King, shocked by the architects’ talent, ordered his right hand cut off and buried in the cathedral wall (where it is visible to this day) so that no superior masterpiece could ever be created.


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