Mtskheta: Polishing a Historic Jewel

Overview of Mtskheta, a museum town outside of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. The town sits at the confluence of two rivers. The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and its walls are clearly visible at the heart of town.

MTSKHETA, Georgia — This town of only 9,000 was the capital of the kingdom of Iberia from the third century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. Now considered a museum town, Mtskheta is only 12 miles north of Tbilisi, the capital of modern Georgia in the southern Caucasus Mountains.

The town is particularly important locally because a Mtskheta-based king and queen were the first Georgians to adopt Christianity. That was in the fourth century.

Its historic religious structures also are sufficiently appreciated internationally to appear on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

With a press group from the U.S., I spent a couple of hours at Mtskheta.

The hilltop Jvari (Holy Cross) Monastery church.

We started our visit at the Jvari (Holy Cross) Monastery church, which dates from the sixth century (586-605). The tiny church is simple inside — no surprise, considering its age.

The drama is outdoors. Situated at the top of a hill, Jvari overlooks Mtskheta at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers.

It is a great setting, in fact, but it was so outrageously windy on the day of our visit, I feared being blown over when at the top viewing the scene below!

The 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mtskheta.

Our next stop was the town itself and specifically its Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. The church’s name means the Vivifying Pillar.

First, the town: This has undergone, in the last year or more, an incredible rehabilitation, with houses and shops restored and spiffed up, new roads laid and, it appears, a few new facilities built as well, making this a very attractive tourist site.

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