Ancient Capital of Georgia


Mtskheta is an ancient capital of Georgia. It is situated 20 km away from Tbilisi at the junction  of rivers Mtkvari and Aragvi. It was capital of Georgia from 4th century B.C. to 5th century A.D. Archeological excavations have proven that Mtskheta was tightly populated area even in 2 millennium B.C. Mtskheta became a town quite early which was determined by the ancient trading route connecting Asia with Europe (Silk Road).
When St. Nino came to Georgia to preach Christianity, she inhabited Mtskheta. Here she did miracles and helped the royal family and turned them into Christians.
After announcing Christianity in Georgia as national religion in 337, pagan buildings and monuments were demolished and replaced by Christian churches.
Although Mtskheta is not a capital of Georgia since 5th century it still remains religious center of the country.
Old part of the town, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Jvari Monastery are together in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.
Below we describe all main highlights and attractions one should visit during the travel in the area.

ROUTE MAP (one way)
Total Length: 35km; 45 minutes without traffic.
And here is the link for directions on Google Maps:


Jvari Monastery is situated atop a hill at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, overlooking the town of Mtskheta. Its breathtaking location allows for a captivating view of the surrounding area, seamlessly blending into the natural landscape. Constructed in the early 7th century, the monastery replaced a wooden church, which itself had replaced a pagan monument from the 4th century. Over time, the Jvari complex grew in significance, drawing numerous pilgrims to its grounds.

During the later medieval era, the complex underwent fortification with a stone wall and gate, some of which still stand today. The Soviet period saw the church preserved as a national monument, although access was restricted due to tight security near a nearby military base. However, after Georgia gained independence, the building was revitalized for active religious use.

In 1994, the Jvari monastery, along with other Mtskheta monuments, earned recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Notably, the Jvari church represents an early example of a "four-apsed church with four niches" domed tetra conch design. The central space is flanked by three-quarter cylindrical niches, creating an open atmosphere, while three rows of squinches facilitate the transition from the square central bay to the base of the dome's drum.

The architectural brilliance of the Jvari church left a profound impact on Georgian architecture, serving as an influential model for the construction of many other churches


A masterpiece hailing from the Early Middle Ages, Svetitskhoveli has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Currently, it holds the distinction of being Georgia's second-largest church structure, trailing only the Holy Trinity (Sameba) Cathedral in Tbilisi. Renowned as the resting place of Christ's mantle, Svetitskhoveli has stood as a prominent Georgian Orthodox church for centuries and remains a highly revered spiritual destination within the region. Its current form, crafted by the medieval Georgian architect Arsukisdze, was finalized in 1029, though its historical roots stretch back to the early fourth century.
Svetitskhoveli is considered an endangered cultural landmark, having survived through various challenges. Unfortunately, numerous invaluable frescoes suffered loss as a result of being whitewashed under the Russian Imperial authorities.
According to Georgian hagiography, during the 1st century AD, Elias, a Georgian Jew from Mtskheta, was present in Jerusalem during Jesus' crucifixion. Acquiring Jesus' robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha, Elias transported it back to Georgia. Upon his return to his hometown, Elias encountered his sister Sidonia. Tragically, Sidonia passed away upon touching the robe, overwhelmed by the profound sanctity of the artifact. The robe clung to her grasp, and consequently, she was laid to rest with it.
The spot where Sidonia found her resting place alongside Christ's robe remains preserved within the Cathedral. Subsequently, an immense cedar tree sprouted from her grave. St. Nino, in her efforts to construct the church, instructed the felling of the cedar, fashioning seven columns from its wood for the foundation. Curiously, the seventh column possessed mystical properties, ascending into the sky on its own accord. After an entire night of fervent prayer by St. Nino, the column descended to the ground. It was further believed that this enchanted seventh column exuded a sacred liquid with the power to heal all manner of ailments.
In the Georgian language, "sveti" translates to "pillar," while "tskhoveli" signifies "life-giving" or "living." Hence, the cathedral’s name. An illustrative depiction of this event is situated on the second column to the right upon entering.
The architectural design of the existing Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, dating back to approximately 1020, is rooted in the cross-dome style of church architecture. Originating in Georgia during the early Middle Ages, this style gained prominence after Georgia's political consolidation under Bagrat III (978-1014). Notably, the distinguishing feature of this style is the placement of the dome across all four sides of the church, designed to optimize acoustics. Over the centuries, the cathedral's dome has undergone multiple reconstructions to maintain the church's structural integrity.
The primary stone employed in constructing the Cathedral boasts a sandy yellow hue, complemented by accents. Around the apse window, a red stone is utilized, while the 17th century contributed the green stone adorning the cupola's drum.
A legend surrounds a relief sculpture on the external northern wall.. This carving portrays a right arm and hand grasping a chisel—the emblem of the stonemason—with an inscription declaring: "The Hand of Arsukidze, servant of God, may forgiveness be upon him." A narrative propagated by a renowned Georgian writer Gamsakhurdia weaves around this sculpture, although no documentary evidence supports it. According to this account, a priest who had previously acted as a patron and mentor to Arsukidze harbored such jealousy towards the architect's achievements that he influenced the king to sever Arsukidze's right hand. This cruel act aimed to ensure that Arsukidze would never again have the capacity to create a masterpiece rivaling or surpassing Svetitskhoveli.
Once adorned with an array of medieval frescoes, the interior walls of the cathedral have experienced significant loss over time. While most of the icons within date back to the 20th century, some are replicas of older icons and frescoes originating from various churches across Georgia.

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