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Mtskheta Travel Guide | Discover the Holy City of Georgia

by Steven
Published: Last Updated on

Mtskheta is a historic town 20 kilometers north of the capital Tbilisi. It lies at the mouth of the Aragvi River in the Mtkvari, and from the Jvari Monastery, built in the sixth century AD, you have a beautiful view of Mtskheta. In the town itself, you will also find a number of historic buildings, of which the Svetitschoveli Cathedral is the best known.

This dates from the eleventh century. Since 1994 the historic monuments have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List and anyone visiting Georgia should definitely take a look at this lovely place. Let’s go to Mtskheta …!

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View from Mtskheta to the monastery of Jvari
From the Svetotskhoveli Cathedral, you have a beautiful view of the monastery of Jvari

History of Mtskheta – Here’s what you need to know….

Mtskheta belongs to one of the many historical sites in Georgia. It is not for nothing that the historical monuments of the place have been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1994. A history that began long before the birth of Jesus around the year 0. Historical excavations indicate that around the year 1,000 BC a special settlement would have stood here.

But the most important period in Mtscheta’s existence began in the third century AD when Mtskheta was the capital of Caucasian Iberia (302-580). Although a small place, it was the main political and economic center of the empire. With the advent of Caucasian Iberia, Christianity became the main religion. It thus replaced Zoroastrianism and paganism.

At the beginning of the 6th century, King Dachi of Iberia moved the capital to Tbilisi because it would be easier to defend. But Mtscheta remained important when it came to the coronation of a new king or the burial of kings. This ritual continued until the 19th century.

In 2014, the Georgian Orthodox Church proclaimed Mtscheta a Holy City because of the important role it played in the spread of Christianity in the country. In the next chapter, you will learn more about the main (Christian) attractions of the city.

View of the Svetotskhoveli Cathedral from the Jvari Monastery
View of the Svetotskhoveli Cathedral from the Jvari Monastery

Sights in Mtskheta – What to see and do?

Surely the Holy City of Georgia should not be missing from your bucket list? The best travel time to visit Mtskheta is between April and October. In summer it can reach around 30 degrees, in winter around freezing. Most tourists visit this place as a stopover before traveling to Gori. Usually, you have seen most of the city within 3 to 4 hours. Below are a number of interesting sights.

Svetotskhoveli Cathedral

In the center of the town stands the Svetotskhoveli Cathedral. It dates back to the 11th century, although archaeological excavations have found wooden remains of the cathedral’s predecessor. These finds date back to the 5th century when Mtscheta was still the capital of the Caucasian Empire. The Svetotskhoveli Cathedral is one of the largest in the country and its meaning is Cathedral of the Living Pillar (Sveti = pillar and tskhoveli means living). According to sources, 10 kings are buried here, although only 6 graves have been found.

The Svetotskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia
The Svetotskhoveli Cathedral in the center of the city is the main attraction of the Holy City.

Samtavro Monastery

North of the Svetotskhoveli Cathedral you will find the Samtavro Monastery. It is believed that King Mirian III ordered the construction of this shrine in the 4th century, with it being reconstructed again in the 11th century. For many pilgrims, this is an important place to visit the tomb of the monk Gabriel Urgebadze (1929-1995). A number of miracles (healings) are attributed to him and the Greek Orthodox Church canonized him in 2012. You will also find the tomb of King Mirian III and his wife Nana here.

The interior of the Jvari Monastery in Georgia
The wooden cross of Saint Nino in the monastery of Jvari

Holy Cross Monastery of Jvari

Have you ever seen such a beautiful place for a church? From the monastery of Jvari, you have a beautiful view of Mtskheta and the mouth of the river Aragvi in Mtkvari. The monastery dates back to the 6th century AD and is situated 650 meters above sea level. It is the place where Saint Nino converted King Mirian III to Christianity in the 4th century AD and where he erected a large wooden cross. According to tradition, the cross was capable of performing miracles and is therefore still an important place for pilgrims.

Jvari Monastery in Mtskheta, Georgia
Jvari Monastery in Mtskheta, Georgia

Bebris Tsikhe Fortress

Even further north, about a 10-minute walk from Samtavro Monastery, you will find the remains of the Bebris Tshikhe Fortress. It was built in the 9th century AD to defend Mtskheta and Tbilisi from invaders from the north. In the 18th century the fortress fell into disrepair and today you can visit it for free.

The citadel of Armazi in the mountains of Georgia
The citadel of Armazi in the mountains of Georgia

Visit the ancient ruins of Armazi

Are you a little adventurous? Then pay a visit to the ruins of Armazi. These are located on the other side of the river and part of it is easily accessible. Amrazi was part of the capital Mtskheta and was destroyed by the Arab invasion in the 730s. What remains today are some remnants of what once was a palace or citadel.

Since 2010, the Georgian government has been working to uncover these archaeological finds. The Amrazi citadel is a more enjoyable task. For this, you need to be near the train station and can only be reached by a climb up. Or you can drive to the Amrazi monastery, from where it is a short walk. There is not much left of the ruins, but still interesting if you like history.

The view of Mtskheta from the Jvari Monastery
To the right the holy city of Mtskheta, on the other side of the river (left) the ruins of Armazi

Staying in Mtskheta?

As mentioned, Mtskheta is ideal for staying a few hours and then traveling on towards Gori and Kutaisi. But if you plan to spend the night in this quiet little town, there are more than 100 hotels in the town and its surroundings. I didn’t spend the night here myself, as I continued on to Gori in the afternoon. A double room can be found for just over € 10 per night.

Looking for accommodation in Mtskheta? Look here for the options

The city center of Mtskheta in Georgia

Transport – How to get there?

Mtskheta is located about 20 kilometers north of the capital Tbilisi. This makes it doable as a day trip, but for those who want to head further west, it is an ideal stopover. By bus from Didube Bus Station, you can reach Mtscheta within 20 minutes. Another option is to rent a car. With that, you have all the freedom to discover beautiful Georgia. I booked a car with Sunny Cars. This rental company is slightly more expensive than most organizations, but you are immediately All Risk insured and everything is well taken care of for you. For more information, please visit All-in car rental according to Sunny Cars.

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