|Established||5th century BC|
|Time zone||UTC+4 (Georgian time)|
Mtskheta (Georgian: , translit.: mtskheta [mts?x?t]) is a city in Mtskheta-Mtianeti province of Georgia. One of the oldest cities of Georgia and its former capital, it is located approximately 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Tbilisi, at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. Currently a small provincial capital, for nearly a millennium until the 5th century AD, Mtskheta was large fortified city, a significant economical and political centre of the Kingdom of Iberia.
Due to its historical significance and several cultural monuments, the "Historical Monuments of Mtskheta" became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. As the birthplace and one of the most vibrant centers of Christianity in Georgia, Mtskheta was declared as the "Holy City" by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014.
In 2016 the Historical Monuments of Mtskheta were placed by UNESCO under Enhanced Protection, a mechanism established by the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
Archeological evidences trace human settlement in the area of Mtskheta from 2nd millennium BC to early 1st millennium AD. Numerous burials of the Bronze Age (beginning of the 1st millennium BC) prove that Mtskheta already was a significant settlement at that period.
According to The Georgian Chronicles, Mtskheta was founded by Mtskhetos, the son of Kartlos, eponymous ancestor of the Georgians. The wall around the city was built by Nimrod's ancestor Ardam. By another version, more accepted by historians, Mtskheta was founded by the ancient Meschian tribes in the 5th century BC.
Mtskheta was the capital of the early Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. The chronicles mention that the Kingdom of Iberia and its capital were conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, but certain historians do not accept this. Eventually, the ruler appointed by Alexander ruined the walls of Mtskheta and left only four fortresses, one of them known today as Armazi.
Ancient sources of the 4th-3rd centuries BC mention that Mtskheta had a number of neighbourhoods. Among them, Armazis-tsikhe, Tzitzamuri, Jvari and others. Like other Georgian towns it was divided into the city proper and the citadel.
Both the excavations and The Georgian chronicles tell about considerable construction in the Hellenistic period: residential houses, palaces and fortifications. New wall around Mtskheta was built by the first Georgian King Parnavaz in the beginning of the 3rd century BC, and later strengthened by his son Saurmag in the late 3rd - beginning of 2nd century BC. In the end of the 2nd century - beginning of the 1st, the King Parnajom strengthened his relations with Persians and invited Zoroastrian priests to settle in Mtskheta. This probably lead to construction of Zoroastrian temples in the city. Meanwhile, no such archeological evidences exist. Again the walls of Mtskheta were improved during the reign of Bartom in the 1st century BC, and later also by Aderki, often identified with Pharasmanes I. The latter king is associated with appearance of first Christian communities in Kartli and arrival of the Holy Tunic to Mtskheta, brought from Jerusalem by local Jews.
The city was strongly fortified at that period. Walls were on both sides of Mtkvari River, and three forts were protecting it. The main citadel, Armazi, on Mount Bagineti was controlling the entrance from south and east, Tsitsamuri, at the base of Mount Jvari from the north, and Sarkine from the west.
Mtskheta was a site of early Christian activity resulting in Christianization of Iberia, where Christianity was proclaimed the state religion in 337. It remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Around that period Mtskheta was a culturally developed city. A gravestone dated between the end of 4th and beginning and 5th centuries, found in Samtavro necropolis, contains an epitaph in Greek, telling about the main architect and archizograph (artist) of Mtskheta Aurelius Acholis.
In the first years after the conversion of Georgia into Christianity, a small wooden church was built in the center of the city, later to become Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Archeological excavations revealed the remnants of the wooden church within the cathedral. By the 5th century AD the small church was no longer satisfying the growing community of the city, and Vakhtang Gorgasali built a large basilica, the greatest Assumption church in Georgia, Svetitskhoveli, that survived until 11th century. The first katolikos was elected in the 5th century, and his residence was in Svetotskhoveli, in Mtskheta.
King Dachi of Iberia (early 6th century AD), who was the successor of Vakhtang I of Iberia, moved the capital from Mtskheta to the more easily defensible Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. Afterwards the importance of Mtskheta began to decline, while that of Tbilisi grew. However, Mtskheta continued as the coronation and burial place for most kings of Georgia until the end of the kingdom in the 19th century.
In the 11th century, the earlier basilica of Svetitskhoveli was too small again, and Katolikos Melchizedek I built a new church on top of it.
The old city lies at the confluence of the rivers Mtkvari and Aragvi.
In recognition of its role in the Georgian Christian history, Mtskheta was granted the status of a "Holy City" by Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia in accordance with the written testament of his 11th-century predecessor Melchizedek I of Georgia.
Mtskheta is set on a lowland, surrounded by mountains, at the confluence of the two rivers, Mtkvari and Aragvi. The city is approached from the north by the Greater Caucasus and from the south by the Lesser Caucasus mountains.
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Criteria||Cultural: iii, iv|
|Inscription||1994 (18th session)|
|Endangered||2009 -- 2016|
|Buffer zone||2,382.5 ha|
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century), Samtavro Monastery (4th century) and Jvari Monastery (6th century) in Mtskheta are amongst the most significant monuments of Georgian Christian architecture, and are historically significant in the development of medieval architecture throughout the Caucasus. Of special significance are early inscriptions, which form a valuable reference in the study of the origins of the early Georgian alphabet.. Samtavro necropolis, a burial place north of the monastery, is dated between the middle of the 3rd millennium BC and the 10th century.
In the outskirts of Mtskheta are the ruins of Armaztsikhe fortress (3rd century BC), the Armaztsikhe acropolis (dating to the late 1st century BC), remains of a "Pompey's bridge" (according to legends built by Roman legionnaires of Pompey the Great in the 1st century BC), the fragmentary remains of a royal palace (1st-3rd century AD), a nearby tomb of the 1st century AD, and the fortress of Bebris tsikhe (14th century). The Institute of Archaeology, and the garden of Mikheil Mamulashvili are also worthy of note. There is also a monument to sculptor Elena Machabeli.
A mausoleum of rich woman from 1st century AD was recovered near Mtskheta train station. The structure imitates a house with well-processed quadrats and a fronton. The roof was covered with tile. Among the findings inside the mausoleum was a small bronze statue of young man playing flute.
The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta were recently placed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger, citing "serious deterioration of the stonework and frescoes" as the main threat to the site's long-term preservation.
Mtskheta is twinned with:
Notable people from Mtskheta: