Mtskheta: Exploring Svetitskhoveli, Samtavro, and Jvari (UNESCO)

Ruas em Mtskheta, Geórgia.
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Mtskheta, also known as Little Jerusalem, is the ancient capital of Georgia and one of the country’s oldest cities. The Georgian Orthodox Church considers Mtskheta a Holy City, and after reading this article, you’ll easily understand why.

Moreover, the abundance of ancient monuments has turned this place into an epitome of a museum city.

And what makes Mtskheta so special? It has a historic center full of character, the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral where Christ’s mantle is believed to be buried, the Jvari Monastery, and other surprises that I’ll tell you about below.

After all, it’s no wonder that Mtskheta is one of Georgia’s main tourist attractions and one of the most visited.

So, are you convinced to include Mtskheta in your Georgian itinerary?

What to do and see in Mtskheta?

Comprar tapetes em Mtskheta.
Buying carpets in Mtskheta.
Velas no Mosteiro Jvari.
Candles at Jvari Monastery.
Entrada na Catedral Svetitskhoveli, em Mtskheta.
Entrance to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.

Exploring the beautiful village of Mtskheta

Ruas em Mtskheta, Geórgia.
Streets in Mtskheta, Georgia.
Compras em Mtskheta.
Shopping in Mtskheta.
Passear nas ruas de Mtskheta.
Strolling through the streets of Mtskheta.
Vendedores em Mtskheta.
Vendors in Mtskheta.
Loja de souvenirs em Mtskheta.
Souvenir shop in Mtskheta.

The museum city of Mtskheta has several historical buildings worth exploring.

The old town is walled, and walking through it is an adventure. It feels like a labyrinth surrounded by shops. But don’t worry about getting lost, as it’s very easy to navigate.

If you want to try Churchkhela, a local sweet snack that looks like a sausage, or have a fruit juice, this is the place to be.

There are also several shops selling souvenirs, such as local carpets and crafts, like the iconic horns used for drinking chacha.

After exploring the center of Mtskheta, head to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral to see a piece of the Cross where Jesus Christ was crucified.

Seeing a piece of the Cross of Christ at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Catedral Svetitskhoveli, em Mtskheta.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.
Interior da Entrada na Catedral Svetitskhoveli.
Interior of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.
Imagem com pedras coloridas naturais.
Image with natural colorful stones.
Pormenor de quadro.
Detail of a painting.

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is the oldest church in Georgia. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The translation of Svetitskhoveli is “Living Pillar,” and this was where the kings of Georgia were crowned and laid to rest.

If you look at the floor, you will see several tombs, but some tombstones have inscriptions in Georgian, others in Arabic/Persian, and others in Russian.

So, the tombs with inscriptions in Georgian and Russian are from the period when Georgia was occupied by Russia, the tombs with inscriptions in Arabic/Persian and Georgian are from the time of Muslim occupation, and those with inscriptions only in Georgian are from the time when Georgia was independent.

There is much to see inside the cathedral, such as the 4th-century Baptismal Font and a copy of the aedicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem from the 14th century.

It also contains numerous works of art such as paintings, sculptures, altars, and frescoes.

Pequeno altar e velas na catedral.
Small altar and candles in the cathedral.
Catedral Svetitskhoveli.
Pedaço da Cruz de Cristo.
Cross of Christ.
Cruz de Cristo.
Cross of Christ.

But Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is especially known for being the place where a piece of the Cross of Christ is located.

According to legend, the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified was broken into pieces the size of a hand and scattered throughout the world.

Now, one of those pieces is displayed in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. It is located on the left side when entering the cathedral.

Another interesting story is that it is believed that the cloak worn by Jesus Christ when he was crucified was brought to Georgia and is buried precisely in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, although there is no evidence of this fact.

Visit the Samtavro Monastery and the Church of St. Nino

Convento de Samtavro, em Mtskheta.
Samtavro Monastery, in Mtskheta.
Igreja de Santa Nino, em Mtskheta.
Church of Saint Nino.
Imagem de Santa Nino, em Mtskheta.
Image of Saint Nino, in Mtskheta.
Exterior do Convento Samtavro.
Exterior of the Samtavro Monastery.

The Church of Saint Nino is a small construction from the 4th century located next to the Samtavro Monastery. It is said to have been built by Saint Nino of Cappadocia, who converted Georgia to Christianity.

In fact, the official name of this complex is the Church of the Transfiguration of Samtavro and the Monastery of Saint Nino, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Samtavro translates as “the place of the governor,” and it is considered a sacred place.

Photography or video recording inside the church and Samtavro Monastery is not permitted, so I will do my best to describe it.

Inside, there are candles, the scent of incense, and queues to pay homage to Saint Gabriel Urgebadze, a saint of our times.

The guide who accompanied me knew the monk Gabriel, who passed away in 1995 and was canonized by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2012.

To ask for blessings, one places their hand on the saint’s tomb, silently makes their request, and then places the hand that was on the tomb on their forehead.

Furthermore, the saints Abibos Nekreseli and Shio Mgvime are buried in the church’s altar. These saints were among the famous thirteen Assyrian fathers who came to Georgia in the 6th century to strengthen Christianity in the region.

Inside the monastery, there are other sacred objects, such as an image of the Iberian Mother of God, said to have miraculous power, and the image of Saint Nino, among others.

King Mirian III, who made Christianity the official religion of the Iberian State, an ancient kingdom preceding Georgia, and his wife Nana, are buried in Samtavro.

Visiting the Jvari Monastery

Visitar o Mosteiro Jvari num tour de Tbilisi.
Visiting the Jvari Monastery on a tour from Tbilisi.
Entrada para o Mosteiro Jvari.
Entrance to the Jvari Monastery.
Cruz de madeira no Mosteiro Jvari.
Wooden cross at the Jvari Monastery.
Zona de oração no Mosteiro Jvari.
Prayer area.
Interior do Mosteiro Jvari.
Interior of the Jvari Monastery.
Explorar a zona à volta do Mosteiro Jvari.
Exploring the area around the Jvari Monastery.
Sinos antigos junto ao Mosteiro Jvari.
Ancient bells.
Saída do Mosteiro Jvari.
Jvari Monastery.

The Jvari Monastery was the first Christian monastery in Georgia and also the first monument to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in this country.

In fact, Jvari means cross, and almost everything you see in this monastery is original, as it has undergone few alterations since its construction in the 6th century.

Upon entering the monastery, you will notice a huge wooden cross placed in the center of the temple.

By the way, it’s worth mentioning that this wooden cross inside Jvari is not original from the 6th century.

On the walls of the Jvari Monastery, you can see paintings with words in the Asomtavruli script, which are some of the earliest examples of Georgian writing.

Quadro com alfabeto Asomtavruli, no Mosteiro Jvari, em Mtskheta - Geórgia.
Painting with words in Asomtavruli script, at the Jvari Monastery, in Mtskheta – Georgia.
Confluência dos rios Kura e Aragv, a partir do Mosteiro Jvari.
Confluence of the Kura and Aragvi rivers, seen from the Jvari Monastery.

These words and the paintings on the walls tell the story of how King Stepanoz I ordered the construction of the Jvari Monastery.

But it’s not just the history of the Jvari Monastery that attracts so many visitors to this place.

From up there, you can perfectly see the confluence of the Kura and Aragvi rivers, and sometimes you can even notice the difference in the waters. During the Soviet period, the Jvari Monastery remained closed.

Fun fact: Did you know that the Kura River originates in Turkey and flows through Georgia and Azerbaijan before flowing into the Caspian Sea? In total, it spans 1364 km, including through the Caucasus Mountains.

How to Visit Mtskheta?

Tour de Tbilisi para Mtskheta.
Tour from Tbilisi to Mtskheta.

I visited Mtskheta on a half-day tour departing from Tbilisi and I highly recommend this tour for those who specifically want to visit this place.

This was the tour I booked, but there are many alternatives available.

Although I was in Georgia for 10 days, the truth is that I already had the remaining days occupied with other trips and only had one free afternoon. If I had more time available, I would definitely choose a tour to Mtskheta with stops at other places.

This is because the difference in terms of cost between a half-day tour and a full-day tour is almost insignificant.

So, here are my suggestions for tours to visit Mtskheta departing from Tbilisi:

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