In this country of wine-lovers, everyone agrees that the very best wines come from the fertile easternmost part of Georgia, called by Dumas “the garden province of Kakheti.” In some ways, little has changed since his time – horse-drawn carts are a frequent sight on the quiet country roads, the fields are dotted with hayricks, the rivers wind untrammeled through green pastures and the sweet grapes are still harvested by hand.
But wine is not all that Kakheti has to offer – the rich history of the region has bequeathed to us some of Georgia’s finest examples of church architecture. Add to this the friendliness and easy-going hospitality of the people and you will understand why a visit to Kakheti is always a pleasure.
Telavi –The administrative and cultural center of the region. The town sits on a hilltop above the Alazani valley with the Caucasus Mountains in the background. In earlier times, it was the capital of the Kakheti kingdom and the 18th century royal castle of “Batonis Tsikhe” still dominates the heart of the town today. The castle encloses two churches, the ruins of the 11th century royal baths, the pantheon and the Persian-style Palace of King Erekle II. The Palace now houses the King Erekle’s House-Museum, the Ethnographic Museum and the picture gallery
Alaverdi Monastery was founded by the Assyrian monk Joseph (Yoseb, Amba) Alaverdeli, who came from Antioch and settled in Alaverdi – a small village and former pagan religious center dedicated to the Moon. At the beginning of the 11th century, Kakhetian King Kvirike the Great built a cathedral, today known as Alaverdi Cathedral, in the place of a small church of St. George. At a height of over 55 meters, Alaverdi Cathedral is the second tallest religious building in Georgia, after the recently consecrated Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi.
Bodbe Monastery of St. Nino – At present the monastery functions as a nunnery and is one of the major pilgrimage sites in Georgia, due to its association with St. Nino, the 4th century female evangelist of Georgians, whose relics are shrined there. According to the legend, St. Nino died in Bodbe in 335. She crossed the entire country healing and preaching people the true God. St. Nino bequeathed to bury her in this land. Later when tsar Mirian wanted to move her body to Mtskheta, all efforts to shift the ark with Nino’s relics from its place were in vain. Originally, a little temple in honor of great martyr St. George was built on the burial place. But this temple did not survive. In 850 instead of the old temple the new Cathedral, the main building of the complex, was erected.
Church and tower of Gremi – Gremi is a 16th century architectural monument – the royal citadel and the Church of the Archangels. The complex is what has survived from the once flourishing town of Gremi and is located east of the present-day village of the same name. The complex was built by King Levan on a rocky hill. In the 16th century Gremi was the capital of Kakheti Kingdom, it functioned as a lively trading town on the Silk Road and royal residence until being razed to the ground by the armies of Shah Abbas I of Persia in 1615. The town never regained its past prosperity and the kings of Kakheti transferred their capital to Telavi in the mid-17th century.
David Garedji – Founded in the 6th century by David, one of the 13 Syrian Fathers who preached Christianity to the Georgian people. The complex is located in the semi-desert and consists of 19 monasteries. The most ancient is Lavra Monastery holding the tomb of Father David, while the painted caves of Udabno Monastery look out over a starkly beautiful landscape of striated valleys and windswept ridges giving stunning views over to neighbouring Azerbaijan.
Ikalto – Founded in the 6th century by the Syrian Father Zenon whose tomb is enclosed in the Church of Transfiguration. The famed academy was added in the 12th century by King David the Builder and served as the most important cultural and education centre in the middle Ages. This is where the great national poet Shota Rustaveli studied, no doubt drawing inspiration for his work from the beautiful landscape of the Kakheti countryside.
Nekresi – Nekresi Monastery complex is standing on a hill and facing a beautiful view of the Alazani Valley. Although it was founded by St. Abibo Nekreseli, one of the Thirteen Syrian monks who came to Georgia in the 6th century to strengthen Christian faith but already in the 4th century one of the first Christian churches was built here. Thus Nekresi Monastery ensemble includes several structures built in different times. The main church of Assumption of the Virgin was built in 6-7th CC.
Shuamta – The village of Shuamta (“a place between mountains”) is located Shuamta Monastic Complex – New (Akhali) Shuamta Monastery and Old (Dzveli) Shuamta. These two monasteries absolutely differ from each other in architecture and were built at different times.
Old Shuamta monastery is a complex of several ancient churches. The small church is dated from the 5th century, the other two – bigger and smaller domical churches – the 7th century. The churches have paintings from the 12th century. New Shuamta Monastery was built in the 16th century. This monastery is still active
Sighnaghi – The defensive walls and 28 towers were built by King Erekle II in the 18th century against the Lezgian invasion. Little has changed here for the last 200 years. Besides the mentioned fortress, which is listed among one of the major and famous Georgian fortresses, today Sighnaghi impresses travelers with its unique charm, because a couple of years ago the main part was fully reconstructed and now it looks like a sweet fairy tale town with colorful houses, wooden balconies, flowers and amazing view to Caucasus Mountains. Sighnaghi is also known as town of festivals – folk music, dances, food and, of-course one of the biggest autumn wine festival is hosted exactly in this pretty town. Moreover Sighnaghi is called town of love – once decided you can have a wedding there any time, day and night.
Tsinandali – The estate of the Chavchavadze family – representatives of the 19th century Georgian aristocracy. A walk through the beautiful English-style garden will take you to the house-museum of the famous poet and duke Alexander Chavchavadze and the winery where you can taste some famous Kakhetian wines and visit the collection of old wines, the oldest going back to 1814.
Udjarma – The fortress is one of the most important Georgian architectural monuments of Early Middle Ages, due to its strategic location and value in the past. It was built in the 3rd century AD, as one of the Georgian kings’ and prince’s main residencies. Ujarma played a major role in protecting this part of Georgia from Arab and Persian invasions, and in the 12th century King’s family decided to keep it’s royal treasury here. Later, due to a number of historical factors like Mongol yoke, disintegration of Georgia, and local conflicts, development of Ujarma gradually declined. and from being a prosperous city turned into ordinary small settlement following by its complete havoc.