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Delegates who arrived early in Tbilisi for Routes Silk Road were able to enjoy a complimentary tour to the ancient town of Mtskheta yesterday, a location of extraordinary importance to the Georgian nation, located about 20km out of the capital city.
Mtskheta is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and due to its historical significance and numerous ancient monuments, the "Historical Monuments of Mtskheta" became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The town was the capital of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. It was the site of Georgia's adoption of Christianity in 334 and remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The tour included a visit to Jvari monastery. 'The Church of the Holy Rood' is situated on top of the hill on the left bank of the Aragvi River. According to local history, in the early fourth century a wooden cross was erected over a pagan sanctuary on a rocky mountaintop overlooking Mtskehta, the former capital of the Georgian Kingdom of Kartli - Iberia. The construction of the cross symbolised the fall of paganism and rise of Christianity in Georgia.
In 545, a cruciform church, known as the Small Church of Jvari, was built just north of the cross. Between 586 and 605, a larger church was constructed directly above the site of the wooden cross, the base of which is still visible inside the church. Exceptional relief sculptures decorate the exterior facades of the Great Church. Their fine proportions and remarkable technique distinguished the sculptures from the earlier bas-relief carving common in the region. In 2004, the monastery was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the “Historical Monuments of Mtskheta” and was added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009.
The tour also took delegates to Svetitschoveli cathedral, where the sacred robe of Jesus Christ is buried. The Living Pillar Cathedral is best known as the burial site of Christ’s mantle but was also the site for coronation and burial of the kings of Georgia. The Svetitskhoveli complex in the center of the town includes the 11th century cathedral, the palace and gates of the Katolicos Melchizedek from the same period, and the 18th century gates of Erekle II.
The cathedral is domed and cruciform in plan. The interior was originally covered with wall paintings, but these were whitewashed over and only recently have fragments of them been revealed again. The facades are ornamented with decorative arcading which unites the separate components of the structure. Severely damaged by Tamurlaine, it was rebuilt in the 15th century; more serious alterations took place in the 1830s on the occasion of a visit to the Caucasus by Tsar Nicholas II, when richly ornamented galleries and subsidiary chapels were ruthlessly swept away.