There is a plethora of must-see and highly recommended destinations in Georgia, but the little town of Mtskheta is a place that should be visited beyond doubt!
The town is small and just a 20-minute drive from Tbilisi, making it an easy and enjoyable day trip from the capital. Mtskheta is a cozy, quiet and peaceful town and, while strolling along the cobbled streets there, you may get the feeling you’re stepping into history.
Some even call the town the “second Jerusalem” and, indeed, Mtskheta has been Georgia’s spiritual heart since Christianity was established there in the 4th century. It was also the capital of eastern Georgia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD.
Even though there are many beautiful churches in Georgia, Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta is the most significant cathedral of all. A masterpiece of the Early Middle Ages, Svetitskhoveli is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Known as the burial site of Christ’s mantle, the cathedral has long been one of the principal Georgian Orthodox churches and is among the most venerated places of worship in the region. The present structure was completed in 1029 by the medieval Georgian architect Arsukisdze, although the site itself dates back to the early 4th century. A legend surrounds a relief sculpture on the external northern wall which shows a right arm and hand holding a chisel, alongside an inscription:
“The Hand of Arsukidze,
slave of God,
may forgiveness be his.”
An inscription on the east façade further attests to the fact that Arsukidze did not live to see his masterpiece finished in 1029:
“This holy church was built by the hand of Thy wretched servant, Arsukidze.
May your soul rest in peace, O Master.”
Samtavro Transfiguration Orthodox Church and Nunnery is the second significant and historical place in Mtskheta. The beautiful antique church and the holy relics of Holy Monk Gabriel attract lots of pilgrims there.
Apart from allowing you to explore history, Mtskheta is also famous for its gastronomic delights and popular ‘Salobie’ at the entrance of the town. This is a famous spot with a mixed casual-exotic look and mouthwatering Georgian dishes, such as beans in a clay pot, khachapuri, barbeque, khinkali…
On October 14, people celebrate the special day of Mtskheta (Mtskhetoba) and the city becomes jam-packed with locals and tourists. It’s interesting to be a part of this celebration, but if you want to feel the special allure of the city, try to visit it when it’s peaceful and quiet. Mtskheta is beautiful throughout the year, but autumn is most spectacular there, when the shades of the town turn gold, yellow and red.