Quite a few Georgian monarchs are known with their nicknames-David the Builder, Demetrius the Brilliant, Demetrius the Devoted and there is only one female ruler who is referred as a king (Mepe in Georgian language)-King Tamar Bagrationi (1160-1213) And although there are no records of her actually having fought in battle, she attained an image as a “warrior queen,” as well as that of a saint. Several centuries after her death, this sainthood was made official when she was canonized by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

A fierce and pious ruler, her reign over the Kingdom of Georgia in the Middle Ages is known as the Golden Age of Georgia. Under her rule, the Kingdom of Georgia expanded its empire over the Caucasian region, while art and literature exploded.

King Tamar and her father George III.Vardzia cave-town.Church of Assumption
King Tamar and her father George III.Vardzia cave-town.Church of Assumption

 

Tamar's Summer residence and tower in Ushguli,Svaneti region
Tamar’s Summer residence and tower in Ushguli,Svaneti region

 The daughter of George III, King of Georgia and Burdukhan of Alania, queen Tamar’s life and death is shrouded with Medieval mystery. Her father’s reign was not altogether easy, and he faced rebellion in 1177 from nobles who questioned his right to the throne. George III stopped the revolt, but decided to bring his daughter into politics with him making her co-ruler, to stop any disputes over succession after his death.

  In 1184, George III died, and Tamar was crowned Queen regnant that same year, the first woman to rule Georgia in her own right. Because of the backlash against George III’s oppressive politics, and the fact that Tamar was a woman, she faced a lot of opposition. She was forced to make several unpleasant concessions to the aristocracy, including those of marriage, religions, and politics. Due to the nobles, Tamar married Yuri, the son of an assassinated prince of Suzdal in 1185. This marriage proved to be unsuccessful, and Tamar strongly disliked her new husband. In 1187, she divorced Yuri on the grounds of “sodomy” and alcoholism. Yuri and many upset nobles tried to stage a coup twice, but failed on both counts. Tamar was able to choose her next husband, and took David Soslan, and Alan prince, as her spouse. He was one of her supporters, and was a fine war leader, stopping many rebellions on her behalf. Throughout their marriage, he remained a subordinate to Tamar, and she continued to carry the title, “King of Kings”.

King Tamar.Kintsvisi Church
King Tamar.Kintsvisi Church

Throughout her reign, Tamar exhibited an expansionist outlook on foreign powers. In the early 1190s, Shirvan (present-day Azerbaijan) was taken into Georgia as a tributary state.Soon afterwards Georgia took Ani, the capital of Armenia. The Georgians began a long conquest of Armenia, and took Bjni in 1201, and Dvin in 1203. Suleymanshah II, Sultan of Rûm, began to fear for his own lands, and preemptively attacked Tamar’s forces. At the Battle of Basiani, Tamar’s husband David was victorious. In 1204 Tamar helped to establish the Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea, and began an alliance with them.

 Throughout her reign, Tamar made efforts to weaken Byzantium, as she was concerned over the Georgian monastic centers in the Holy Land. Nevertheless, Georgia became quite wealthy, due to the flourishing trade epicenters and brought in commerce. Tribute taxes and war spoils also helped in increasing Georgia’s wealth. Living was good for almost everyone, peasants reportedly living like nobles, nobles like princes, and princes like kings.

Fresco of Tamar.Betania Church

Near the end of her life, King Tamar was struck by a mysterious illness, though for a long time she kept it secret. Finally, when the pain was too great she reached out to doctors for help, but none were able to diagnose her illness. Thousands “prayed fervently for Georgia’s ruler and defender,” but on Jan. 18, 1213, King Tamar passed away. Her death and burial remain mysterious, folk stories given from generation to generation tell that she was buried in Svaneti region as she loved that area, some historians consider that her body was taken to Jerusalem and buried there as it was noted in her last will while the others state that when King Tamar died locals worried that her body would be disrespected if it fell into enemy hands, so her burial had to be kept a secret, rumors tell that seven coffins were made in a palace where she died and nobody knew which of them hold the body of the queen, all those coffins were taken to seven different destinations in Georgia and as the undertakers deliberately poisoned themselves and died so that nobody ever saw her real burial site nor her remains.

 

Tamar’s bridge near Rkoni

There are only four frescoes of king Tamar which preserved up to today and all of them shows her incomparable beauty and religious devotion. One in South Georgian Cave-town of Vardzia(Samtskhe-Javakheti region) shows her painted together with her father and is considered the only one painted before her marriage. The other three frescoes are in different regions of Georgia: Kintsvisi Church(Inner Karli region,Kareli municipality),Betania Church(Lower Kartli region,40km away from Tbilisi and Bertubani caves(Gareji desert,present-day azerbaijan)

 

Each and every region of Georgia is extremely rich in different churches and monasteries but architecture of Svaneti-the highest inhabited region the the Caucasus-constitutes a separate chapter in the history of Georgian art.

 

The region mainly known for its Medieval defensive towers has many small churches too. Richly decorated with frescoes, these single-nave basilicas are perched on the tops of the Caucasus mountains of Svaneti, some in abandoned villages where locals gather only special church holidays.

Svanetian art reached its summit of development in the Middle ages, during the reign of King David the IV and his descendants. Local manuscripts preserved the names some of the painters whose art still astonish visitors 800 years after-Tevdore,Michael Maglakeli etc.

In the XIV century Svanetian artists reached a different stage of depicting both Biblical and and secular paintings in one building and painted both internal and external walls of churches.

For most of foreign visitors Svaneti is an ideal place for walking/trekking tours but those who appreciate Medieval art, multi-coloured frescoes and UNESCO-protected defensive towers will find Svaneti as Georgia’s one of the art destinations.

 

 

 

 

 

Churches and monasteries count thousands of years history in Georgia and it is not surprising-in world’s one of the first Christian country churches had a very special role of national importance – they had to instill a sense of spirituality, a sense of national identity and a sense of self-identity among the local people and on the other hand, local architects and painters were able to develop their artistic talent through the building of churches, of painting frescoes and laying down mosaics.

Georgian ecclesiastic art went through different stages of its development: Basilicas,  Cross-cupola churches,Cathedrals and they all look very different from one another when you travel in different regions of Georgia.Small,Medieval period basilicas in Svaneti region( North-west part of Georgia) are fully painted inside and out with local mythological scenes while most of the churches in Kakheti region(East Georgia) follow the standard orthodox style.

There are thousands of small and large churches throughout Georgia and it goes without saying that tourists don’t visit all of them (nor do the locals),Standard Georgian travel itineraries generally include visits to Big cathedrals of special national and historic importance such as Svetitskhoveli,Bagrati cathedral,Jvari church,Alaverdi and they are all fabulous but there are lot more churches which “ordinary” tourist never reach as some of them remained in ruins,or they are far away from highways or …people just forgot about them..

I always loved small, abandoned or less visited churches where time stands still and where you can feel dozens of emotions all together -emptiness,sadness,spirituality and vanity,churches with their own life,heartbeat and fading beauty.

I tried to immortalize in pictures some of the old,less visited churches of Kakheti region several years ago when I tailored a cultural expedition in search of old churches for Art specialists from Netherlands.

St.Mary church of Manavi
St.Mary church of Manavi
Holy Trinity church of Melaani Gurjaani municipality Kakheti region
Holy Trinity church of Melaani
Gurjaani municipality
Kakheti region
All saints church of Gurjaani
All saints church of Gurjaani
7th c
St. Saba church of Kardenakhi
St. Saba church of Kardenakhi
All Saints of Zegaani
All Saints of Zegaani
All Saints of Zegaani
All Saints of Zegaani
All Saints of Zegaani
All Saints of Zegaani
All Saints of Zegaani

History of Georgian chant takes roots from the introduction of Christianity in Georgia in 326.Since then it has become an integral part of Georgian culture and spirituality and up to now plays a crucial role not only in ecclesiastic life but resembles a special national pride and treasure.

Georgian musical art-polyphony developed in different churches and  monasteries in and outside Georgia (Palestine, Mount Sinai, Mount Athos, Jerusalem). Initially it was presented by the hymns translated from Greek. Translated hymnographic material was collected in ancient Georgian monuments – lectionariums. Several ancient editions of lectionariums (from Kala, Latali, Paris and Mount Sinai), reflect Liturgical practice in Jerusalem from the late 5th century until 10th centuries. In general,lectionarium shows three basic types of chant performance: responsorial, antiphonal and single-choir.

First independent hymnographic collection – iadgari (lit. memorable) was created on the basis of lectionariums and it united the chants to be performed throughout a year. Several old copies of iadgari, created before the 10th century, have also survived. They contain unique data about early stages in the development of Byzantine and Georgian hymnographies.

From the 10th century Georgian centers of hymnography suppressed by the Arabs were moved from the Holy Land to other Monastic Centers. One of the most important cultural centers of Georgian Christian literature and music emerged in the monastic state of Athos established by two Georgian  fathers Ekvtime and Giorgi Mtatsmindeli

Further development of Georgian Hymnography is related to the Monastic schools of Tao-Clarjeti (South Georgia, present-day Turkey) lead by Reverent Grigol Khandzteli – great ecclesiastical figure of the 9th century who composed a complete collection of chants – satselitsdo iadgari, which provided a basis for further development of original hymnography.

In the 11th century  one of the most  important literary-philosophical schools was founded at the Bachkovo Monastery (archaically the Petritsoni Monastery), one of the prominent representatives of this school Ioane (John) Petritsi provided the information about the polyphonic nature of Georgian music and harmony created by the combination of three voices.

In 13th-16th centuries due to severe social and political unrest,foreign invasions and internal tension Georgian art of chant started to decline until in the 17th century when David Gareji monastic complex became one of the most important centers of Georgian spiritual culture. Established in a semi-desert by Assyrian monks in the 6th century,David Gareji united some 22 cave-cut monasteries.

At the end of the 18th century King Erekle II took the initiative to preserve traditions of Chant Schools in Georgia but Abolition of the autocephalous status of the Georgian Church (1811) by Czarist Russia and introduction of the Divine liturgy in Russian language (with Russian chanting),became a great threat to the existence of centuries-old Georgian chant.

In early 20th century Georgian chant and spirituality in general faced another danger – Soviet totalitarian regime when there was practically no divine liturgy at the churches.

Revival of Georgian canonical chanting started in the 1980s, when the members of Anchiskhati church(Tbilisi) choir started chanting ancient tunes from the handwritten scores of Georgian chants preserved at the archives of National Centre for Manuscripts. Currently, according to the order of the Holy Synod of Georgia Divine Liturgy at Georgian churches is carried out as accompanied only with ancient Georgian canonical chants.

Geplaatst door Nick Mazanishvili op Zondag 24 februari 2019