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.
The Town of Telavi is the administrative
and cultural centre 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 Batonistsikhe 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
Alaverdi Cathedral was built in the 11th century. It stands in a fertile river valley, its surrounding walls silhouetted against the backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains and enclosing the monastic refectory, wine-cellar and bath-house as well as the 17th century governor’s residence from a time when Kakheti was under Islamic rule.
Tsinandali was 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.
Shuamta or “between the mountains” is the name given to two monasteries – Akhali (New) Shuamta, a 16th century monastery now once again in use, and the isolated Dzveli (Old) Shuamta with its three early churches dating to the 6th-7th centuries set among forested hills.
The fortified town of Sighnaghi lies high up on the ridge overlooking the Alazani valley. 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. The town preserved its original image and now offers visitors stunning views of the surrounding Caucasus Mountains.
Bodbe Monastery of St Nino (4th century) holds the tomb of St Nino, the Cappadocian maiden who converted the Georgian people to Christianity as early as 337AD.
David Gareja Cave Monastery was 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.
Gremi - On a crag overlooking peaceful meadows and a few romantic ruins are the 16th century church and tower of Gremi - all that remains of the once flourishing capital of Kakheti.
Nekresi Monastery complex includes several buildings worthy of interest, notably the 4th century church which is one of the oldest in Georgia, and the unusual 7th century three-church basilica. Other structures within the complex enclosure are the 9th century cross-cupola church, the wine-cellar, the refectory, the bishop’s palace and the 16th century tower.
Ikalto Monastery was 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. Ninotsminda Monastery is named after St Nino and was built in 575. The earthquakes reduced the church to picturesque ruins providing a good contrast with the Persian-style belltower built a thousand years later.
Kvelatsminda Church (8th-9th centuries) is dedicated to All Saints. Its twin cupolas make it unique in Georgian church architecture.