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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Silk Road Splendor at Georgia’s Ancient Churches - Page 2

Written by Benjamin Mack
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      Kutaisi itself evokes a dusty version of an alpine village in the Eastern Bloc. Though new construction abounds—such as the parliament building on the outskirts of town—it still feels more suited for horses than horsepower. Much of the city has remained empty since the days of the Cold War. Hotels are also sparse, so unless one wishes to stay in a guesthouse (the quality of which can vary wildly), the best bet is to stay in Tbilisi and make a day trip to the area. That’s precisely what I did, though the marshrutka, or minibus  was so crowded I was forced to crouch on a metal stool for the three-hour drive.

      But arriving in the area is certainly worth the exertion. A few kilometers northwest of Kutaisi is Prometheus Cave, a subterranean netherworld built on a grandiose scale. There are several caves in the region and this one is by far the largest. Although a concrete pathway leads visitors through the winding halls, much of the cave (which was only discovered in 1983) remains unexplored. Despite its sheer size and relative deepness within a heavily forested gorge, it’s not as cold as one would imagine it to be. It is, however, exceptionally damp due to the practically stagnant river that flows almost entirely throughout. A jacket, I ruefully realized, would have been a good idea, if only to keep me dry from the moisture that percolated from the gargantuan stalactites.

Discovered in 1983, Prometheus Cave is unquestionably massive. It was opened to tourists in 2011.  

      After my thorough soaking, it was time to dry off. Nearby  on significantly higher ground  lies Motsameta; a monastery that may be the most underrated in western Asia. Perched precipitously atop a practically sheer cliff (given the frequent seismic activity in the region, it’s a miracle it hasn’t crumbled into the Rioni river far below), the compact church evokes a more rustic Swallow’s Nest. While the vistas are stunning, Motsameta attracts crowds throughout Georgia for an entirely different reason: the belief that if one crawls under the small ark inside the chapel three times and makes a wish while touching the hallows, it will be granted by the saints interred within.

      Wishes granted or not, the thousand-year-old Motsameta makes a pleasant introduction to the region. It may be within a stone’s throw of volatile South Ossetia, but feels far removed from the violence. Also a popular spot for locals to baptize their children; it’s not uncommon to witness a ceremony during a visit. Just remember to dress appropriately; women are required to cover their hair, and men cannot wear shorts. I silently thanked Levi Strauss as I watched a baptism. Though I thought the baby was eerily quiet for being completely submerged in what must have been ice-cold water.

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Locals have baptized their children at Motsameta for a millennium.

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Though close to the disputed South Ossetia region, Motsameta and the surrounding area has seen little violence recently.

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Last modified on Monday, 30 December 2013

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