Nestled deep in the Caucasus a mere whisper from Georgia's second-largest city, Kutaisi, black-robed monks flit amongst shadows framed by stone mosaics. Nary a mobile phone in sight, their presence stirs the imagination, conjuring images of medieval derring-do featuring fire-breathing dragons, duels to the death and damsels in distress.
Sure, this alpine region is also a hair’s-breadth away from where Russian and Georgian troops fought to bloody ends in 2008, but here at Gelati Monastery life has a certain unchanging quality. And why shouldn’t it? First established in 1106, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has seen armies as diverse as the Persians and Mongols, only to be defeated by the topography of a country roughly the same size as West Virginia.
Gelati is a working monastery, meaning monks live there full-time.
Gelati Monastery was first established in 1106. Today it is a UNESCO World heritage Site.
Though Gelati may be far removed from its heyday as a sort-of Oriental Hellas, as it was originally intended, it is still nonetheless impressive. Perched atop a pastoral hill with spectacular views of the valley below, a quiet stream runs through the grass-covered grounds while the ensemble of two main buildings complements each other superbly. Inside the main chapel the interior contains many fine mosaics and frescos. Though the quality varies greatly—several raiding armies of the past on occasion did sack the complex—they provide an example of Georgian medieval artwork better than any museum collection. A couple hours here pass quickly, particularly if one were to bring a picnic complete with homemade khachapuri (cheese bread) purchased from a roadside stand.
Georgians have been making khachapuri (cheese bread) for hundreds of years. It makes for a perfect countryside picnic, particularly purchased from a roadside stand.
Tamar Amashukeli, left, lights a candle inside Gelati Monastery. Candles are lit to pray or to remember lived ones, a tradition dating back to the early days of Christianity.
One of the main features of Gelati are the Gates of Ganja, taken from present-day Azerbaijan as trophies by king Demetrius I in 1139.