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

The wealth and beauty of Georgia lies in it natural diversity.With its high plateau,ever-changing weather,mysterious lakes and shadowy landscapes South Georgian region of Javakheti does not look like any other part of Georgia.Its long winters and short summers make it a harsh place to live in but a very beautiful one too.

This fantastic landscapes were created by volcanic eruptions millions of Years ago.The highest mountain in this area-Didi Abuli(3300m) still displays a crater ridge.The lava poured from it has blocked the valley and led to the creation of the Paravani lake-the largest water reservoir of the country.Around it,one can find traces of prehistoric settlements everywhere.The surrounding area of the Paravani lake is full of rudimentary tools made from obsidian(volcanic glass).The function of local cyclopean stone walls-Georgian “Stonehenge” is uncertain-were these enormous rocks refuges or were they meant for ritual or residential purposes?One thing is for sure:When you walk up towards the Shaori fortress ,on basalt stairs between gigantic rocks you feel something old,archaic,and a sort of reverence for the visible and invisible part while impressive megaliths of a village of Saro look like a scene from “Game of Thrones” or even more- a surreal sketch from Stephen King’s stories.

This is what Javakheti is like-it generates reverence in you,making you meditate and return in the depths of your conscience.

An old Georgian  ballad was created on the shore of the Paravani lake,it is about an enamored young man,who decided to swim across the lake in order to prove his feelings to his beloved,”Paravanian boy loved a girl from Aspari…”but a large amount of water was separating them.

The poem’s hero decided to go on the forbidden road in the name of love and he transgressed the border that was imposed to him..This is an eternal motif and almost always a tragic one,naturally,the young man’s self-sacrificial transgression costs him his life..

Javakheti is a region where you can almost literally touch the history of Georgia’s last centuries-the Akhalkalaki fortress destroyed during the Russo-Turkish war,or substitution of ethnicities characteristic of empires,like the Muslim Georgians sent to Turkey and the Christian Armenians who were brought to replace them,as well as Dukhobor villages…

Javakheti is a real paradise for nature and wildlife lovers,there is a unique sub-alpine forest near Kartsakhi lake with white birches,Caucasian mountain-ash,cotoneaster and raspberry and dog rose bushes.The unique character of this unique forest “island” lies in the fact that it is the only natural forest that remains in Javakheti.The rest of them were cut down in the 19th century,and during Soviet times,artificial lines of pines were planted in order to replace them.

Spring is particularly impressive here-it is a feast of nature’s renewal,with cranes performing their nuptial dances on the Sulda and Madatapa swamps.White and Dalmatian pelicans,many species of ducks and herons,coots and whistlers,snipes,yellow-headed wagtails,the very rare Radde’s accentor …this is only an incomplete list of the birds that any naturalist would be happy to see.The sounds you can hear at swamps and lakes that are rich in birdlife look like no other.These are mysterious sounds-the exhalations of the waters groan as if they were coming fromthe depths of Earth,the flapping sounds of coot’s wings,the cry of seagulls,the chatter of storks…

Night has its sounds too and Javakheti has its own “ruler” at night.Its hunting call can be heard almost everywhere on the volcanic plateau,and if you are lucky enough to observe the bird’s robust silhouette and large ears on a cliff lit by moonlight or resting on an electronic pole,know that it is a horned owl-the finest among nocturnal bird of preys.

One could not not say that tourism is currently booming in Javakheti and the guests of the region are people who get pleasure from observing nature and free roaming wildlife.You will encounter people with binocular or bird-watching telescopes walking in the Madatafa,Tabatskuri,Saghamo,Khanchali,Kartsakhi and burdasheni forests and who can not hide their awe for what they see in Javakheti as well as those who take short tours to experience off the beaten paths and see something unique and different

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