Historical Monuments of Mtskheta

Historical Monuments of Mtskheta

The historic churches of Mtskheta, former capital of Georgia, are outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus. They show the high artistic and cultural level attained by this ancient kingdom.

Monuments historiques de Mtskheta

Les églises historiques de Mtskheta, ancienne capitale du royaume de Géorgie, sont des exemples exceptionnels de l'architecture religieuse du Moyen Âge dans la région du Caucase. Elles témoignent du haut niveau artistique et culturel qu'avait atteint cet ancien royaume.

محمية المدينة-المتحف متسخيتا

تشكّل الكنائس التاريخية في متسخيتا، وهي العاصمة القديمة لمملكة جيورجيا، نماذج رائعة للهندسة الدينية في القرون الوسطى في منطقة القوقاز، كما تدلّ على المستوى الفني والثقافي الرفيع الذي بلغته هذه المملكة القديمة.

source: UNESCO/ERI



source: UNESCO/ERI

Исторические памятники Мцхеты

Древние церкви Мцхеты, бывшей столицы Грузии, представляют собой выдающиеся образцы средневековой религиозной архитектуры Кавказа. Они ярко свидетельствуют о высоком художественном и культурном уровне, достигнутом этим государством. Важнейшие памятники Мцхеты – храм Джвари (конец VI - начало VII вв.), кафедральный собор Светицховели (начало XI в.) и монастырь Самтавро с купольным храмом XI в. и колокольней XV–XVII вв.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Monumentos históricos de Mtskheta

Las iglesias históricas de Mtskheta, capital del antiguo reino de Georgia, constituyen ejemplos excepcionales de la arquitectura religiosa medieval en la región del Cáucaso. Atestiguan el alto nivel alcanzado por las artes y la cultura en ese reino.

source: UNESCO/ERI


source: NFUAJ

Historische monumenten van Mtskheta

De historische kerken van Mtskheta – de voormalige hoofdstad van Georgië – zijn goede voorbeelden van middeleeuwse religieuze architectuur in de Kaukasus. De komst van het christendom leidde tot een intensieve bouwactiviteit om aan de eisen van de nieuwe religie te voldoen. Veel van de toen gebouwde monumenten zijn bewaard gebleven zoals het Svetitskhoveli complex. Dit bevindt zich in het centrum van de stad en omvat de 11e-eeuwse kathedraal, het paleis en poorten van de Katolikos Melchizedek uit dezelfde periode en de 18e-eeuwse poorten van Irkali II. De historische monumenten tonen het hoge artistieke en culturele niveau dat bereikt werd door het verdwenen Koninkrijk van Georgië.

Source: unesco.nl

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Historical Monuments of Mtskheta © OUR PLACE
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta are located in the cultural landscape at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers, in Central-Eastern Georgia, some 20km northwest of Tbilisi in Mtskheta. The property consists of the Jvari Monastery, the Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral and the Samtavro Monastery.

Mtskheta was the ancient capital of Kartli, the East Georgian Kingdom from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD, and was also the location where Christianity was proclaimed as the official religion of Georgia in 337. To date, it still remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church.

The favourable natural conditions, its strategic location at the intersection of trade routes, and its close relations with the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire, Syria, Palestine, and Byzantium, generated and stimulated the development of Mtskheta and led to the integration of different cultural influences with local cultural traditions. After the 6th century AD, when the capital was transferred to Tbilisi, Mtskheta continued to retain its leading role as one of the important cultural and spiritual centres of the country.

The Holy Cross Monastery of Jvari, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery are key monuments of medieval Georgia. The present churches include the remains of earlier buildings on the same sites, as well as the remains of ancient wall paintings. The complex of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the centre of the town includes the cathedral church, the palace and the gates of the Katolikos Melchizedek that date from the 11th century, built on the site of earlier churches dating back to the 5th century. The cruciform cathedral is crowned with a high cupola over the crossing, and there are remains of important wall paintings in the interior. The rich sculpted decoration of the elevations dates from various periods over its long history. The small domed church of the Samtavro Monastery was originally built in the 4th century and has since been subject to various restorations. The main church of the monastery was built in the early 11th century. It contains the grave of Mirian III, the king of Iberia who established Christianity as official religion in Georgia.

The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta contain archaeological remains of great significance that testify to the high culture in the art of building, masonry crafts, pottery, as well as metal casting and processing, and the social, political, and economic evolution of this mountain kingdom for some four millennia. They also represent associative values with religious figures, such as Saint Nino, whose deeds are documented by Georgian, Armenian, Greek and Roman historians, and the 6th-century church in Jvari Monastery remains the most sacred place in Georgia.

Criterion (iii): The historical monuments of Mtskheta bear testimony to the high level of art and culture of the vanished Kingdom of Georgia, which played an outstanding role in the medieval history of its region. They express the introduction and diffusion of Christianity to the Caucasian mountain region and bear testimony of the social, political and economic evolution of the region since the late 3rd millennium BC.

Criterion (iv): The historic churches of Mtskheta, including Jvari Monastery, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery, are outstanding examples of medieval ecclesiastical architecture in the Caucasus region, and represent different phases of the development of this building typology, ranging from the 4th to the 18th centuries.


The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta is a serial property that includes the Holy Cross Monastery of Jvari, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery, all attributes that represent the development of the building typology from the 4th to the 18th centuries. The components of the property have retained their material integrity and significant features conveying their Outstanding Universal Value. The impact of deterioration processes is controlled through ongoing conservation and maintenance programmes. The monuments form important landmarks within the cultural landscape of the Mtskheta river valley. The visual qualities of the setting are maintained through legal and administrative measures as part of the management regime. However, unifying the buffer zone remains a crucial measure to enhance the protection of the property and to allow a clear understanding of the archaeological and visually sensitive areas around the property. Potential threats to the setting of the property, derived from development projects, will also need to be controlled through appropriate land use planning.


There have been a number of reconstructions and restorations at the Jvari Monastery, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery. Many of the works carried out in the 19th century were typical for their time and do not conform to modern conservation standards. Notwithstanding, in terms of materials and techniques, the architectural ensemble retains a relatively high level of authenticity, while the authenticity of the setting and the archaeological sites is significantly high. In addition, Mtskheta has maintained its role as the spiritual and cultural centre of the country, assumed ever since the introduction of Christianity in the region.

Protection and management requirements

Based on the respective legal acts of the National Legislation of Georgia enforced in 1940 and 1957, Mtskheta and its surroundings were granted the status of Archaeological-Architectural Reserve in 1977. Mtskheta was defined as a town-museum and a plan for its development, which provided for the preservation of the scale and townscape, was approved in 1973. Since the 1990s, the protection of the property has been regulated on the basis of the national cultural heritage and spatial planning legislation.

The system of cultural heritage protection zones was enforced in 2006 and amended in 2012. A Management Plan has been prepared but there are still challenges in improving the site management mechanism and the coordination between the different management stakeholders. This would guarantee more coherent decision-making over the land use in the buffer zone of the property and prevent inappropriate interventions in the landscape setting of the property. The implementation of Urban Land-Use Master Plans, which include zoning regulations to establish no construction zones and limit development in relation to the attributes of the property and specific landscape setting, with associated important views and connection lines, will be crucial for sustaining the conditions of integrity.

Long Description

The group of churches at Mtskheta, outstanding examples of medieval ecclesiastical architecture in the Caucasus region, testify to the high level of art and culture in the vanished Kingdom of Georgia, which played an outstanding role in the medieval history of its region.

The strategic location of Mtskheta at the crossing of ancient trade routes and the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers, its mild climate, and its fertile soil contributed to early human settlement in the area (3000-2000 BC). With the collapse of the empire of Alexander the Great the east Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Iberia came into being with its capital at Mtskheta, which at this time straddled both banks of the river and was divided into several quarters. The Armaz-tsikhe (citadel and royal residence) was at the heart of the city and fortified quarters allocated to specialized trades clustered around it, making up 'Great Mtskheta'.

The city was destroyed by Pompey the Great after his defeat of Mithridates the Great of Pontus in 65 BC. In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, Iberia played an important role in the politics of the region. Christianity was brought to Mtskheta in the 4th century by St Nino, and became the official state religion in 334. The first wooden church was built in the palace garden, where the Svetitskhoveli church now stands. Although the capital of Kartli was transferred to Tbilisi by Prince Dachi in the 6th century, Mtskheta retained a prominent role as the religious centre of the country and the seat of the Katolicos (later elevated to Patriarch).

When Georgia became part of Russia in 1801 Mtskheta was no more than a village in the Dusheti district; however, its economic situation was improved when the Poti-Tbilisi railway was built in 1872.

The citadel (Armaz-tsikhe) of Great Mtskheta is located on the side of Bagineti mountain on the right bank of the river Mtkvari. The Hall of Columns, located on the lower internal terrace, is rectangular and contains an axial row of six columns. Other ruins from this period include a temple on the top of Bagineti mountain and an impressive barrel-vaulted tomb. Excavations in the Armaziskhevi valley have revealed many burials and structures from as early as the Neolithic, including a bath-house and fragmentary remains of what must have been a sumptuous palace in proto-Hellenistic style. Of special interest are the above-ground mortuary houses of the 1st century AD onwards.

The coming of Christianity resulted in intensive building activity to meet the requirements of the new religion, and many of these monuments have survived to the present day. The Svetitskhoveli complex in the centre of the town includes the 11th century cathedral, the palace and gates of the Katolikos Melchizedek from the same period, and the 18th-century gates of Irkali II. The cathedral is domed and cruciform in plan. The interior was originally covered with wall paintings, but these were whitewashed over and only recently have fragments of them been revealed again. The facades are ornamented with decorative arcading which unites the separate components of the structure. Severely damaged by Tamurlaine, it was rebuilt in the 15th century; more serious alterations took place in the 1830s on the occasion of a visit to the Caucasus by Tsar Nicholas II, when richly ornamented galleries and subsidiary chapels were ruthlessly swept away.

Opposite Svetitskhoveli on the top of the hill on the left bank of the Aragvi river is the Mtskhetis Jvari (Church of the Holy Rood), the most sacred place in Georgia, where a cross was erected by St Nino to replace heathen idols. The complex contains several buildings from different periods. The cruciform church, with porticos to north and south, dates from the mid-6th century. By the end of the century it was adjudged to be too small and so a new church (also cruciform, but much larger) was built on the site of the cross itself. The third important monument of Mtskheta is Samtavro (the Place of the Ruler) in the northern part of the town, where legend has it that St Nino lived. A small domed church was built in the 4th century and survives in a much-restored condition. The main church of Samtavro, built in the early 11th century, is cruciform and domed. The graves of Mirian, the Georgian king who adopted Christianity, and his wife are in the north-west comer of the church. In addition to these two churches, there is also a 16th-century two-storey bell tower and a number of monastic structures at Samtavro.

Historical Description
[in French only]

La situation stratégique de Mtskheta au croisement de routes commerciales anciennes et au confluent des rivières Aragvi et Mtkvari associé à un climat doux et à un sol fertile ont très tôt contribué à la création d'un village dans cette région. Des fouilles archéologiques ont montré qu'il était déjà très actif à l'âge du bronze (3000-2000 avant J.C.). Une société riche et hiérarchisée s'y développa basée sur l'agriculture, l'artisanat et le commerce. C'est au 4ème siècle avant J.C., qu'apparurent de puissantes tribus géorgiennes. Avec l'effondrement de l'empire d'Alexandre le Grand, le royaume de Géorgie orientale de Kartli-Ibérie vit le jour avec Mtskheta comme capitale.

A cette époque, Mtskheta s'étendait sur les deux rives du fleuve et était divisée en plusieurs quartiers distincts: l' Armaz-tsikhe (citadelle et résidence royales) était au coeur de la ville et groupés autour de ce centre se trouvaient les quartiers fortifiés consacrés à certains commerces spécialisés, le tout formant la "Grande Mtskheta". La ville fut détruite par Pompée après la défaite de Mithridate le Grand, roi du Pont, en 65 avant notre ère. Cependant, la ville grandit encore après le retrait de celui-ci et aux premier et deuxième siècles après J.C., l'Ibérie devint un état puissant qui joua un rôle important dans la politique de la région.

La religion chrétienne arrive à Mtskheta au 4ème siècle avec saint Nino ; elle devient religion officielle en 334. La première église en bois fut construite dans le jardin du palais à l'emplacement de l'église actuelle de Svetitskhoveli.

L'évolution de la situation politique aux quatrième et cinquième siècles eut pour résultat le transfert de la capitale de Kartli à Tbilissi par le prince Dachi au 6ème siècle. Cependant, Mtskheta garda un rôle de tout premier plan en tant que centre religieux de la région et siège du katolicos (plus tard élevé au rang de patriarche). La ville eut à souffrir de l'invasion de Murvan-Kru (736-738) et se trouva réduite à une petite zone entre les deux rivières Mtkvari et Aragvi. La ville fut une fois encore ravagée par Tamerlan le Grand au 15ème siècle. Pourtant, un bon nombre de monuments de périodes très anciennes ont survécu.

Quand la Géorgie est devenue une partie de la Russie en 1801, Mtskheta n'était plus qu'un village du district de Dusheti. Sa situation économique s'est néanmoins améliorée depuis la construction de la ligne de chemin de fer Poti-Tbilissi en 1872.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation