Mtskheta lies at the junction of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. Archaeological evidence dates its origins back to the 2nd millennium B.C. The ancient Greek travellers, Strabon and Pliny, noted Mtskheta’s Armazistsikhe fortress; in pagan times the city was dominated by a giant copper statue of the god Armazi. For about 1000 years, up to the 5th century AD, Mtskheta was the capital of Kartli; the origins of the Georgian written language and the establishment of Christianity are closely associated with the city. Mtskheta and Jvari are one of the most interesting sights in the country so if you are coming for a Georgia tour you should not miss it.
Getting to Mtskheta and Jvari
You can get a taxi, marshroutka or bus from Tbilisi. The buses and marshroutkas go from Didube station (Tbilisi) and take only about half an hour – you’ll probably need a taxi to get up to Jvari, though.
Didube bus station is on the main metro line and on marshroutka routes 9, 9a, 12, 12a, 26, 38, 42, 42a, 58, 59, 62, 67, 68, 73a, 75, 77, 80, 81, 94, 95, 99, 104, 126, 127, 135, 142, 147, 150, 151 and 158. Landmarks: railway tracks and a big market. The Mtskheta marshroutka costs 80T. Pay the driver. The journey takes about 30 min. Get out with just about everyone else. Head for the cathedral tower, or ask: “Sveti-Tskhoveli, sad aris?”
What to see
The must-see attraction is Sveti Tskhoveli (the Cathedral of the Life-Giving Pillar), which is considered the holiest cathedral in Georgia and is where many Georgian kings are buried. Over the central arch of the northern facade is a relief of a hand holding a bevel square – according to one legend, the Cathedral’s architect Arsukisdze had one of his hands chopped off by his teacher who was jealous of his talent. There are plenty of other churches in Mtskheta, but the other really important one is Jvari, high on a hill above the road to Tbilisi. Jvari dates from 580 AD, making it some 500 years older than Sveti Tskhoveli.
There’s a market selling (mainly) souvenirs outside the entrance to the Cathedral of the Life-Giving Pillar.
Vit Georgia, one of the Georgian first-division football (“soccer” to our American cousins) teams, play their home matches in Mtskheta. It’s much more of a football “ground” than a stadium, though.
Safety in Eastern Georgia
Eastern Georgia is calm and I am not aware of any special dangers (other than the occasional snake). Some prospective visitors are worried to see on maps that north-eastern Georgia shares a border with Chechnya (the most anarchic and dangerous republic in the North Caucasus). However, even getting close to the border takes a very determined effort and considerable mountaineering skills – it’s not only way off the beaten track for tourism, but there are literally no roads across the border. This effectively insulates Georgia from Chechnya’s turmoils.