Mtskheta (მცხეთა) is an ancient town of extraordinary importance to the Georgian nation, located about 20km out of Tbilisi. It was the capital of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. Mtskheta was the site of Georgia's adoption of Christianity in 334 and remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Mtskheta is of primary interest to any travelers interested in Georgian history or Orthodox Christianity.
Svetitskhoveli (Life-giving Pillar) Cathedral
Svetitskhoveli (Life-giving Pillar) Cathedral
View of Mtskheta from Church of Jvari
You can take a taxi from Tbilisi or book a guided tour.
Marshrutkas run regularly every day of the week between Tbilisi's Didube market and the main street in Mtskheta. From the Didube metro station, you walk out and around the one-story shops that are ahead and to the right. In that lot, there is a 'cash desk' where you can buy a ticket for the marshrutka. There are minibuses leaving for many other destinations from this market and it is difficult to find your bus. If you do not speak Georgian or Russian, write down the name of the town using Georgian characters or save it on your phone to show a local. The cost to Mtskheta is 1 GEL per person. You will need to pay attention for when you're near the historic center of Mtskheta because the marshrutkas continue to the Mtskheta bus station which is a few kilometers north of Mtskheta's cathedral. Note that there are fewer marshrutka drivers operating on Sundays and that this mode of transportation therefore becomes less dependable and more crowded.
~20GEL from Tbilisi to Swetitskhoveli Cathedral. You have to negotiate the tariff before starting.
Mtskheta is small enough that it is possible to see the entire town on foot. The one exception to this rule is Jvari monastery, which is 5 km from the town center and located on top of a mountain. As there is no public transport to Jvari, it may be best to hire a cab in town. The cab will take the (longer) tarmac road. There is a tourist office opposite the cathedral where you can get a map of the city and the surroundings.
- Svetitskhoveli (The Life Giving Pillar) Cathedral. Svetitskhoveli is one of the most sacred places in Georgia and, along with Jvari Monastery, the clear highlight of a trip to Mtskheta. It was founded in 1010, built on the site of Georgia's first church, and contains the graves of the ancient Georgian kings, including Sidonia, who was said to have been buried holding Christ's robe. There are many (unaggressive) beggars at the entrance gate. There is a tourist information office just outside the church and adjacent to the wedding chapel with helpfull personnel. Some can speak English. free. edit
- Jvari (The Cross) Monastery. The 6th century monastery of Jvari is situated on a cliff above Mtskheta. It is the culmination of a number of artistic and architectural aspiration in early Christian Georgian architecture. The view from above is amazing. Be sure you travel there when there's clear weather and before dusk. A taxi from Mtskheta will cost around 15GEL (round trip and about half an hour waiting time). Walking from Mtskheta is possible (despite what taxi drivers and tour operators will tell you) if a bit adventurous: walk north of the town's historical center until you hit Teatroni park (on your right side), cross it and you'll find a pedestrian bridge over Aragvi which is not on all maps (marked with a dotted line on the tourist map you get in Mtskheta Tourism Info Office); after you've crossed the river, you have to cross the highway: There is a truck-sized underpass about 1 km south. It is located next to a cement mixing yard, just after the green road sign indicating the distance to Tehran. After the underpass, several trails branch off; there is broad, gentler path taking a wide arc, plus several more irregular paths that are a lot steeper but more direct. You'll have Jvari monastery in view almost the entire time so you can't get lost. Watch out for snakes! The whole trip up is about 70-90 minutes and then you'll have to either come down the same way or hitch a ride (if you're lucky) to Tbilisi. (N.B. The bridge, the underpass, as well as major paths up the hill are all marked on the MAPS.ME offline app.) edit
- Samtavro (Place of the Ruler). Samtavro is located to the north up the main road, within easy walking distance from the Svetitskhoveli complex. According to legend, St. Nino actually lived on this site and prayed within the smaller of its two extant churches. This small church dates from the 4th century. The larger church on this site was built in the 11th century and contains the graves of Mirian, the Georgian king who adopted Christianity, and his wife, Nana. edit
- Bebris Tsikhe (The Elder's Fortress). Located further up the main road from Samtavro, the ruins of Bebris Tsikhe are fun, if a bit dangerous, to climb on for views overlooking Mtskheta and the valley formed around the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. free. edit
- Georgian Air Baloon Open Competition- happening in October
- Enamel Jewelry Workshop, Tserovani IDP Settlement, Row 11, Cottage 1624, ☎ 599410250, . Design and make your own enamel jewelry while participating in a unique cultural exchange in the Tserovani IDP Settlement. The women of the social enterprise, Ikorta, lead a hands-on enamel jewelry workshop while sharing their artistic and cultural heritage from their former home in South Ossetia. Note: Jewelry needs finishing work after workshop and will be delivered to you within a week. edit
There are some traders and a small shop in front of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral where you can buy souvenirs and drinks.
The Georgian cuisine available is outstanding and costs far less than a comparable meal in Tbilisi. It's almost worth it to come from Tbilisi to Mtskheta just for dinner here! Another extremely popular place is "Salobie" on the way to Mtzkheta to Tbilisi. It's a large restaurant with both outdoor and indoor seating areas and the food is exceptionally good.
There is also a relatively large grocery store ("უნივერმაგ" or "Универмаг") located north of Samtavro on the main road (between Samtavro and Bebris Tsikhe) where you can buy cheap basic foods and drinks.
Mtskheta is an easy and exceptionally rewarding place to visit. The accomodation here is cheaper and generally better than the budget accomadation on offer in Tbilisi, and the easy mini bus connection to Didube metro station, makes it a good alternative place to stay.
- Guesthouse Lizi, Agmashenebliz 52, . Clean, comfortable rooms in a family-run B&B. Free internet. Good food, and within easy walking distance of all sights in Mtskheta. Very pleasant and quiet place to stay. 30 min. by bus to Tbilisi Didube metro station. 30 Lari per person including breakfast and dinner. edit
Again, taxis or the marshrutka are the main options. Taxis are a bit more convenient, albeit occasionally difficult to find within Mtskheta; the marshrutka is cramped, but cheap. To be on a safer side get a phone number of a cab company while still in Tbilisi, they will always send a car to pick you up on the way back.
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