Properties inscribed on the World Heritage List (3)
The construction of Bagrati Cathedral, named after Bagrat III, the first king of united Georgia, started at the end of the 10th century and was completed in the early years of the 11th century. Although partly destroyed by the Turks in 1691, its ruins still lie in the centre of Kutaisi. The Gelati Monastery, whose main buildings were erected between the 12th and 17th centuries, is a well-preserved complex, with wonderful mosaics and wall paintings. The cathedral and monastery represent the flowering of medieval architecture in Georgia.
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.
Preserved by its long isolation, the Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval-type villages and tower-houses. The village of Chazhashi still has more than 200 of these very unusual houses, which were used both as dwellings and as defence posts against the invaders who plagued the region.
Properties submitted on the Tentative List:
Alaverdi St. George Cathedral (first half of the 11th century) is located 18 km from the town of Telavi in the Alazani-River valley. Earliest structures of Alaverdi Monastery date back to 6th century. The present day Cathedral is part of an 11th century Georgian Orthodox monastery. The Monastery was founded by the monk Joseph [Abba] Alaverdeli, who came from Antioch and settled in Alaverdi, then a small village and the former pagan religious centre dedicated to Moon. At the beginning of 11th century, Kakhetian King Kvirike the Great built a cathedral in the place of a small church of St. George.
The Ananuri fortified ensemble (architect K. Bakhsarashvili), dating from the 17th century, is located on the left bank of the Aragvi River, along the famous original Georgian Military Highway, 66km from Tbilisi. It incorporates a circuit wall with turrets, a porch, a Church of Virgin, a minor Church of Gvtaeba, a tower with a stepped pyramidal roof of Svanetian type, a single-nave Church Mkurnali, tower Sheupovari, a bell-tower, a spring and a reservoir. In the Church of the Virgin are buried some of the Eristavis (dukes) of Aragvi. The Church of the Assumption, built in 1689, has richly decorated facades with the fine relief carvings featuring human, animal and floral images, including a carved north entrance. It also contains the remains of a number of beautiful frescoes.
The wall paintings executed between the 17th and the 18th centuries contain the depiction of Thirteen Assyrian Fathers (prominent ecclesiastical figures), which represent a convincible evidence for the study of the iconography of these figures.
Area of Colchis wetlands and forests is c. 74 826 ha. Due to its uniqueness, Colchis wetlands ecosystems were given a status of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1997.
This area is one of the last remains of the landscape belt, rich in tropical and sub-tropical habitats, which existed some ten million years ago and stretched as an almost unbroken line over the vast Eurasian continent. This is the unique territory with its biodiversity, wetlands and forest ecosystems variety, high endemism, richness in relics of the tertiary period and especial objects of geological and palaeontological importance.
David Gareji is located in Eastern Georgia, 25 km from Tbilisi, on Iori plateau near the border of Georgia and Azerbaijan. It includes the complex of 19 Medieval monasteries with approximately 5 000 cells for monks.
David Gareji is one of the most important landmarks of Georgia. This site is characterised by a unique combination of historic architecture, prehistoric archaeological sites, rich palaeonthological fields and important bio-geographical features widely spread within the arid and semiarid landscape of the river Iori plateau. The dozens of cave monasteries decorated with unique frescoes are the best examples of harmonious interaction of man made structures with the dramatic landscape. They bear the traditional principles of sustainable living and are considered as the masterpieces of Georgian Medieval art.
The archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of Acheulian, Mousterian, Kura-Araxes, and Trialeti cultures. Urban-type settlements of the Late Bronze and Iron Ages have also been discovered. After a gap in the classical period, significant archaeological material has come to light on Medieval sites, notably in the monasteries of the desert.
The foundation of monastic centre in the first half of 6th century in the Gareji desert is connected with the name of one of the 13 Assyrian Fathers, St. David named Garejeli and his disciples Lukiane, Dodo and others. Along with the Lavra founded by St. David Garejeli, they laid the foundation of the monasteries of Virgin (Dodos Rka) and St. John the Baptist (Natlismtsemeli).
In Medieval times, Gareji desert with its rock-cut monasteries and magnificent murals containing the portraits of Georgian Kings, served as one of the most important monastic and pilgrimage centres of Georgia. It was a Royal monastery with a primary and figurative meaning. The Kings themselves patronised and took care of it.
In addition to churches, chapels and cells, there were numerous caves at Gareji for practical, everyday purposes; caves which served as barns, bakeries, smithies and housing for livestock. Terraces were constructed for agricultural purposes.
Some unique mural paintings are preserved in the Gareji monasteries, the oldest of which go back to the 8th century. Analysis of the surviving remains leads to the conclusion that till the end of the 10th century they only partially painted the interiors of Churches: usually just the apse and dome, but sometimes the northern wall as well. The most ancient mural paintings are found in the Dodos Rka Monastery, on an apse of one of the small Churches. Mural paintings of the 10th century are to be found in the Tsamebuli and Udabno Monasteries.
Paintings of the small Annunciation Church in the Udabno Monastery date to the second half of the 13th century. An unknown artist inspired by the Bertubani paintings created murals of the Annunciation in the canonical manner and in a similarly free style; the colours, however, are darker.
The Mongol invasions of the first half of the 13th century brought monastic life at Gareji to an end for the time being. New mural paintings were not to be made until the 17th and 18th centuries, when serious attempt were made to revive monastic life, albeit on a small scale.
David Gareji area as a distinguished sacred site and a prominent monument of cultural heritage has never lost its importance. The historical value of David Gareji deserts monastic complex as well as uniqueness of biodiversity of its site still remains a reason for the urgent need for their care.
Recent excavations of Dmanisi have revealed an extraordinary record of the earliest hominid dispersal beyond Africa (1,75 million years ago). Several hominid individuals along with abundant well-preserved remains of fossil animals and stone artefacts have been found. The Dmanisi specimens are the most primitive and small-brained humans found outside of Africa to be attributed to Homo erectus sensu lato, and they are the closest to the presumed Homo habilis-like stream. It is widely recognized that Dmanisi discoveries have changed scientist's knowledge concerning the migration of homo from Africa to the European continent.
Dmanisi is located about 85 km south-west of Tbilisi buried below the ruins of the medieval town of Dmanisi, in the Mashavera River Valley, which drains the Javakheti volcanic chain to the west of the site. The site is situated on a promontory elevated about 80 m above the confluence of the Mashavera and Pinezaouri River valleys. Just prior to the occupations at Dmanisi, the Mashavera Valley was filled by 80-100 m of mafic lavas that formed the Mashavera Basalt. This basalt dammed the Pinezaouri Valley, forming a lake ca. 1 km long immediately south of the site. The hominid and artefact-bearing deposits (up to 3 m thick) directly cover the original surface of basalt layer (Mashavera basalt) and are magnetically normal, dated ca. 1.8±0.01 Ma and correlated with Olduvai subchron. No evidence of erosion and minimal weathering of its surface suggest that the basalt was quickly buried by volcanic ash and fossiliferous sediments.
Presently two main stratigraphic units are distinguished in the exposed sections:
Stratum A, bearing vast majority of the faunal materials and all hominid remains - consisting of pyroclastic silt and fine sand with weak pedogenic structure and pedogenic carbonates in the upper part.
Stratum B, with highest densities of stone artefacts but poorer with fossils - consisting of weathered volcanic silts and sands, with dark grey ash in the middle of the unit and prominent basal grey ash.
These two layers are separated by calcareous horizon that has halted further diagenetic damage and compaction in stratum A thus allowing remarkable fossil preservation. The structure and thickness of calcareous horizon is variable in different locations and is posing questions concerning sedimentation process that need to be clarified.
Central geographic location, dramatic biodiversity, and the extremely dynamic geologic evolution of the Caucasus region on the Neogene-Quaternary boundary, permits to generate not only new geologic information, but also new protocols for expanding stratigraphic studies and archaeological site surveys by teams working in the important adjacent regions of the Levant, south-eastern Europe, and south-central Asia.
Dmanisi archaeological material is well dated by science-based methods to about 1.75 million years ago. The Lower Palaeolithic site has the fascinating and unusual context of being located underneath the medieval ruins of an ancient town and fortress frequently visited by tourists. In fact, the Palaeolithic excavations have all been conducted from within the walls of ancient structures. From point of view of the early palaeontology, the site has been known since 1983 when fossilized bones of extinct animals were found by medieval archaeologists in the walls of household pits of the Dmanisi medieval town. Immediately, it was clear that we were dealing with late-middle Villafranchian fauna, of approximately 1.8-1.7 million years in age. Then in 1984, with the discovery of primitive stone tools, a new page started not only in the history of the site excavations, but of one of the major events in human evolution: the peopling of the northern latitudes and eventually the entire globe. Dmanisi is the key to deciphering Homo's origins and for tracing the earliest Pleistocene hominid migrations. Dmanisi have an iconic position in the discovery and demonstration of human evolution.
Recent excavations of Dmanisi have revealed an extraordinary record of the earliest hominid dispersal beyond Africa. Several hominid individuals (4 skulls, 3 of them with maxillas, 4 mandibles, 16 isolated teeth and 24 post-cranial elements), along with abundant well-preserved remains of fossil animals and stone artefacts have been found. In 2003-04 field season another new hominid mandible, with fascinating pathologies having implications for the evolution of human disease and also social behaviour has been discovered. It was also found a new tibia and talus (ankle) bone, which will allow accurate estimations of body size, body proportions and locomotory behaviour. This is the richest and most complete collection of indisputable early Homo remains outside of Africa with good stratigraphic context, now well dated to about 1.75 million years ago. At Dmanisi, there is also clear potential to define and compare records of serial occupations in single locality.
Dmanisi discoveries are most ancient in whole Eurasia and are dated to 1.75 million years ago. There is the great potential for further finds as well.
City of Gremi, capital of vanished Kachetian Kingdom of Georgia, located on the Gilian-Shemakha branch of the Great Silk Road, was destroyed by the army of Shah Abbas in XVI c. and never been restored since then. The ruins of Gremi city are now important Late Medieval archaeological site with ruins of churches, trading arcades, baths and dwellings. Gremi attracts visitors with the well-preserved architectural complex: Church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel and the Royal Tower.
The Gremi Church was built and painted upon the order of King Leon in 1565. Peculiar relation of proportions to separate volumes of Gremi Church attaches new features to traditional structure of Georgian cross-cupola churches. The main cross of the building is very high and narrow. The arches are arrowed and have not capitals or tractions. The dome is supported on two free-standing piers and the extensions of the apse. The fabric is of so-called Georgian brick. The façades are samples of developed brick church decorative system characteristic to late feudal epoch in Georgia. The forms of décor are achieved through deepening of planes and turquoise fittings. The wall painting of construction period is preserved inside the Church. The Gremi Church has become a prototype for a whole group of other church buildings in Georgia.
The Church in Kvetera is erected on the top of a hill within the structure of the 10th century Kvetera Fortress. The Church of Kvetera Fortress is a very interesting composition, light, refined and exquisite. It is a tetraconch in plan (four-apse cross with four niches between apses) and is built of carefully hewn local tuffa stone shirimi. The central square of the church, crowned with the dome is intersected crosswise once on the naves of the cross and then bias by its three-quarter niches. We have in result as though a star with rays of different length. There are the chancel-bays in front of each apse. On the corners of each nave, there are three semi-columns. The imposts of arches have the profile, which is repeated in imposts of all under-cupola and apse arches as well as in the basis of the semi-spheres of corner spaces. All arches are round. The transition from the square to the under-cupola circle is created by the system of arches, placed at different levels. The dome is round inside with one window on the East and West and two windows on the North and South. There are also the windows in all apses and corner niches. In the chancel apse, there are three windows. The entrances to the church are in southern and western apses. The altar from the hewn stone is preserved in the chancel. From the outside, the apse ledges are pentahedral. All facets are adorned by arches. The three-quarter corner niches are round from outside. Beyond corner niches, there are four corners of the basis of under-cupola square. The drum of the dome is divided to 12 arches. The church is roofed with glazed blue tiles.
As a certain squad in the history of architecture, Kvetera Church is interesting due to its composition conception. Kvetera Church has been forethought and configured by its architect as a graceful, miniature and decorative building. Within the framework of capacities of the 10th century Kachetian architecture, without using ornamental carving, architect created fascinating monument. Kvetera Church is a small elegant building, which reproduces, with innovative and creative modernisation, the earlier achievements of the ecclesiastic architecture in Georgia.
Mta-Tusheti, a small historic geographic region in Eastern Georgia located on the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, covers the area of approximately 796 sq. km. It is one of the most ecologically unspoiled regions in Caucasus. Mta-Tusheti vernacular architecture in general and fortress-like residential buildings in particular represents special interest in terms of their unique and distinctive architectural forms. This region is remarkable for the extraordinary beauty of its alpine landscapes and represents greatest importance as a habitat of numerous rare and endemic animal and vegetative species.
Forest belt with its upper part is represented by the sub-belts of Pinus sosnowskyi and Betula litwinowii, from 1650 meters to 1800-1900 meters above the sea level. Sub-alpine belt goes higher (up to 2500-2550 meters a. s. l.), where the forest vegetation is represented by the same formations. Pinus sosnowskyi are featured by geo-botanical diversity. Here the large group of associations is represented, among which the typical Northern (boreal) associations as well as the associations peculiar to the Caucasus pinous associations, are noted. Berch forests dominate on the Northern slopes and the slopes of the exposition transient to North. The birch forests are represented by the two association groups: Rhododendron caucasicum and Betuleta herbosa. In subalpine and alpine zones the meadows (hayfields and pastures), also those of Rhododendron caucasicum are widely spread. Above 2300 meters (Sub-alps, Alps) primary high mountain meadows and Rhododendron caucasicum are spread. On the slopes of Northern exposition in Sub-alps (also the upper sub-zone of forest zone) the Juniperus oblonga, J. depressa, J. Sabina are spread. High grass is found in form of small areas and fragments on the slopes of Northern exposition, flatnesses, and hollows. High grass of Tusheti is totally deprived of Kolkhetian species such as Heracleum sosnowskyi, Telekia speciosa, Aconitum orientale, Senecio rhombifolius, Veratrum lobelianum and others. Highland meadows are phitocenologically diverse. Especially widespread are Nardus glabriculmis, Festuca varia, Alchimilla sp., Sibbaldia parviflora, Carex tristis medows. In subniveal zone (3000 meters above the sea level) the open cenoses are found (vegetation of rocky places and scree vegetation), while in relatively favourable conditions we can see small areas and fragments of Alpine meadow (Festuca varia, Colpodium variegatum, Sibbaldia semiglabra, Veronica minuta, Cerastium purpuraglens and others).
From mammals found here, the Front-Asian panther is notable. From the Bovidae family, Capra cylindricornis and Rupicapra rupicapra caucasica are found here, the number of which is being reduced in the whole Caucasus. From other hoofed animals, roe deer and wild boar are found here. From other beasts of prey, apart from Front-Asian panther, there are lynx, wild cat, and wolf. From other predators, endangered Lutra lutra meridionalis is notable. From bird species, Gypaettus Caucasian endemic species are notable: Tetrao mlokosiewiczi, and Tetraogalus caucasica. From amphibians Vipera kaznakovi Caucasian endemic specie is notable.
The Nicortsminda Cathedral of St. Nicholas is one of the most important architectural monuments of the medieval Georgia. It is located in the village bearing the same name in the mountainous region Racha in Western Georgia. According to the epigraphy on the western entrance, Nicortsminda Cathedral was built during the reign of King Bagrat III in 1010-1014.
The Cathedral is interesting because of its plan: it is inscribed within a hexagonal whose sides, with the exception of the West one, are flanked by the apses; from the outside, it is cruciform. The chapels were added later, but also in the 11th century. Cathedral is generously decorated with rich ornamental relief depicting Transfiguration, Doomsday and other evangelic subjects, figures of the Saints, and of real and fantastic beasts. Nicortsminda lapidary decoration testifies to the superb skill of the craftsmen and the artistic standards, which make this Cathedral one of the most outstanding examples of Georgian architecture.
The interior is decorated with wall painting of 16th and 17th centuries with numerous portraits of feudal rulers.
Samtavisi domed Cathedral, built in 1030 by architect Hillarion Samtavneli, is remarkable due to the beauty of proportions and refinement of carving on the façades. Compared with other similar structures of the same period its plan is somewhat truncated, almost square. There is a new system of decoration on the eastern façade, which was later developed more fully and became popular it is a composition in the form of a large ornamented cross and decorated window surrounds with lozenge pattern beneath them. A blind arcade forms an organic part of the overall decoration of the façade. Besides the splendidly executed carving, there is an interesting bas-relief of griffin, under the right-hand arch. There are fragments of 17th century frescoes in the interior.
The Cathedral has been repaired repeatedly. In the 15th century, the dome and the western wall were built anew. Within the enclosed area of the Cathedral, there are the remains of a dwelling, the so-called bishop's palace. At the entry to the enclosure stands a gate belfry of the late feudal period.
Tbilisi is a grand sample of Georgian urban heritage, in which an interesting process of adoption of foreign influences penetrating in the course of the centuries, their creative transformation and adaptation to the traditional Georgian dwelling and its planning structure is still alive. Major factor determining a character of the original national culture - geo-political location of Georgia on the cross-roads of Europe and Asia with all consequent historical conditions - had drastically affected Tbilisi, fifteen century old capital of the country, being reflected in its unique artistic and architectural integrity.
Remarkable peculiarity of the city is preconditioned by the active part played by the specific natural setting in the creation of its general aspect and despite significant interventions, original interconnection of the city and environment is still preserved. Narrow portion of the river bed selected for its location, mountain ridge on the right bank of the river destined for the citadel, picturesque rocky plateau on the opposite side, are stressedly perceptible in the general silhouette of the city. Minor structures of the Late Medieval urban fabric provide favourable background to the architectural accents - Narikala fortress and Metekhi church - crowning these monuments of nature.
Great is the historical significance of Tbilisi, permanent capital of the Christian Georgian state from the days of its foundation up to present, "grand city" of the historical Silk Road in the course of centuries, centre of the whole Caucasus from the 19th c. onwards.
Building layers dating to the foundation of the city together with spontaneously developed urban fabric of the feudal epoch, 19th century regular planning, buildings of "Stalin period" (already heritage of the past), all these form intricate city organism reflecting diverse stages in its history, being united by the unique "Tbilisian spirit" and, despite its certain eclectic character, combining it into an organic indivisible integrity.
Main determinant of the city architectural aspect - unique "Tbilisian spirit" and character of residential houses - is formed within its community, being imbued with its characteristic traits; these houses, with their age-old traditional dwelling types, preconditioned emergence of not only mode of life and tastes of always multi-national, free and tolerant in the respect of religious confession, united by the "Georgian habits and behaviour", open-hearted inhabitants of Tbilisi, but also universal warm and human environment, which is highly acceptable and desirable even today. Alongside functional perfection of the traditional dwelling, these houses reflect amazing diversity of the national artistic creativity, which is displayed in their spatial-compositional and artistic-aesthetic aspects. Apart from the unique listed dwellings with superb architectural and decorative rendering, distinction of each structure manifested in the originality of its solution and interrelation with the setting, give birth to numerous unexpected effects, imparting inner life to the city and despite rude disfigurement, still preserve their originality.
A balcony and a courtyard - characteristic elements of the traditional southern dwellings - are turned into indivisible components of Tbilisi dwelling houses, in which possibilities of homogeneous building material - wood and brick - are fully revealed. Interesting "Tbilisian" model of "open dwelling" is elaborated by means of well thought off connection of the courtyards and balconies with the street. Here a balcony had undergone interesting development in the process of adaptation to the common European style façades; the same is the case with the courtyards, which had even penetrated into the Art Nouveau style buildings contributing to the creation of its unforgettable "Tbilisian" samples.
Apart from all mentioned above, organic inter-connection of the city "weaving over" the mountain slope and rocky plateau with the environment, dynamics of outlines of the streets, dwellings, views, ensembles of buildings formed by their planning and spatial-conceptual integrity, multi-layer and diverse urban fabric, which was given birth by the local highly artistic individuality of the city, its cosmopolitan nature and historical destiny - permanent destruction and renovation, all form quite a strange complex of values, turning Tbilisi into a specific urban phenomenon, definitely manifesting its significance.
Uplistsikhe Cave Town-Fortress is situated on a rocky massif in 15 km eastwards to town Gori on the left bank of the river Mtkvari. The fortress is mentioned in chronicles from earliest times. Its history begins in the I-II millennium B.C. Uplistsikhe was an important religious, political and cultural centre in the Hellenistic and the late Antique periods (IV c. B.C. - IV c. A.D.). The town was in its heyday as far back as the 9th - 11th centuries. In 13th century, it was ravaged by Mongols.
Living quarters and premises for communal purposes occupy a cliff territory of almost 8 hectares and are connected by footways. The majority of the caves are devoid of any decorations. The central ensemble, a big hall with coffered tunnel-vaulted ceiling, and the palace complex, is the most interesting one architecturally. The natural rock easily lent itself to various kinds of treatment, making it possible to create complex decorative compositions. The ribbed ceiling with an aperture, a smoke outlet which also admitted light, was supported by two columns carved from the living rock; the hall had niches-loggias on three sides. Next to this hall, a three-nave basilica was hewn from rock in the second half of the 6th century, and to the east of it, a three-church basilica of brick was built in the 9th - 10th centuries. The cave complexes dating to high medieval times usually included a number of small hall-churches beside the dwellings.
Archaeological excavations have revealed extraordinary artefacts of different epochs: beautiful golden, silver and bronze jewellery, magnificent samples of ceramics and sculptures.
Vani (7th -1st centuries BC) is an ancient temple city in the Colchis Lowlands located on the western bank of the Sulori River at its confluence with the Rioni River. It is located on a hill bordered by two ravines and overlooks the plains through which the Rioni River flows. There are beguiling views of the Sulori River Valley with its surrounding hills and the Meskhetian Mountain Range in the background. Ancient Colchians chose this strategic location as the political, economic and spiritual centre of their community. The name of this ancient city is still unknown but four distinct stages of uninterrupted occupation have been identified.
The site seems to have been dominated by a local aristocracy with a socially stratified, urbanized society. The Early Hellenistic Period of the mid 4th to the mid 3rd Century BC gave rise to a more marked Greek influence. Stone structures are utilized for the first time and many elements of Greek architecture are used. There is evidence of Greek customs being imitated in their burials and Greek innovations in gold fabrication techniques are observed. However, roof tiles, pottery and coins from Sinop as well as Cappadocian influences on signet rings and other glyptic items indicate an expansion of commercial activity with other areas and coincide with the decline of Attic imports in the Black Sea trade.
The antique city of Vani is again coming to light thanks to the work of archaeologists. Temples and sacrificial altars from the period before the Birth of Christ have yielded up beautiful examples of gold and silver jewellery and coins, all of which are now on display at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi.
Vani is best known for the extensive archaeological excavations that have taken place there during the past 100 years. Although only a third of the site has been studied, it has produced an astonishing number of artefacts: Colchis pottery, exquisite golden jewellery unique to Colchis, imported Greek luxury items, graceful bronze sculptures and a vast array of funerary pieces. Artefacts (mainly Colchis pottery) of the first stage, 8th to early 6th Century BC, are relatively few and badly damaged. A sacrificial area was found with clay animal offerings suggesting some importance of Vani over the adjoining areas, which yielded no similar findings. The second stage, early 6th to mid 4th Century BC, reveals many changes. An abundance of artefacts are found including imported Greek painted pottery and new types of pottery for the storage or transportation of cereals, oil and honey as well as the fermentation and storage of wine. Rich burial sites with large quantities of golden jewellery, silver and bronze adornments, pottery and luxury items befitting the status of the deceased indicate that the ruling elite were buried here while poorer graves were found only in the surrounding areas.
Vardzia-Khertvisi, comprising a vast territory in the upper reaches of the river Mtkvari basin, and spread over 18 km from Khertvisi (Medieval residence) to Vardzia (12th-13th cc. rock-cut monastery) is significant in many respects: unique natural conditions contributing to the specific microclimate and landscape, historical context and diversity of cultural heritage.
Rock-cut complexes forms integrate part of the landscape. Rock-cut structures of the nominated site have preserved interiors and planning type, which have not reached us in the samples of built architecture. This is especially vivid in the samples of vernacular architecture, monk cells, subsidiary and public structures. Rock-cut monuments preserved in Vardzia-Khertvisi gorge comprise quite vast chronological limits - from the 8th-9th cc. up to 15th-16th cc. They make to possible to trace development of the type from simple caves up to grand, multi-tiered complexes. This gorge has preserved rock-cut villages with the unique samples of dwellings, minor and great monastic complexes, with the masterpieces of the medieval mural painting, as well as epigraphical monuments containing important historical records.
Murals preserved in the site are not numerous, but have crucial significance in the development of the Medieval Georgian mural painting. They range from the earlier period (10th c.), when a tradition of complete church decoration was not yet fully established in Georgia, up to Late Middle Ages (16th c.). Of special significance are the murals in the main church of Vardzia rock-cut monastic complex (12th.), containing portraits of the Georgian royal family. This epoch marks a heyday of the Medieval Georgian mural painting, being reflected in the highest development of the national artistic traditions and clear cut originality of its brightest samples, which greatly differ from the contemporary Byzantine monuments.
Archaeological excavations provide evidence on dense habitation of this area beginning from the Eneolythic epoch. Burial-mounds unearthed here (17th-16th cc. BC) confirm existence of the local centre of Trialeti culture. They show that at that period the gorge was inhabited by separate families united in tribal organisations.
This area is rich in the epigraphical monuments - building and memorial inscriptions, executed in old Georgian uncial script "Asomtavruli", which represent an important historical source. Vast chronological range of these monuments show development of the letter outlines from the 9th c. up to 18th c. Of special interest are painted inscriptions and inscriptions written in ink.
Numerous rock-cut samples of Georgian vernacular architecture preserved in the Vardzia-Khertvisi area, make it possible to identify spatial and planning organisation of dwellings, fortification system, arrangement of dwelling chambers and subsidiary structures.
Among the monuments preserved in the site, distinguished are tetrahedral stone stelae erected in the open air (Zeda Tmogvi, Pia, etc.). Tradition of erecting such stelae in Georgia goes back to the period of Christianisation of the country (4th c.). These monuments are decorated with ornamentation, symbolic and figure representations. Chronological range of these interesting samples of the Medieval Georgian art covers 6th-9th cc.
Vardzia-Khertvisi area has preserved both churches of high artistic value and ordinary modest chapels. These are mainly domeless structures. Special mention should be made of the two aisled churches type samples of which are also preserved here (Zeda Vardzia 11th c.). It should be noted that development of this architectural type wide spread in Georgia could be traceable on the example of Georgian samples only. Ordinary chapels are characterised quite high building mastery and interesting artistic solution. They belong to the local so called "Javakhetian" architectural school.
Landscape of the nominated area is a distinguished monument of nature and human activity. Villages and their arable lands located in the deep canyon of the gorge are situated on the terraces following topography of the gorge. Fortresses and churches erected on high mountains and hills are perceived as distinguished vertical accents in such a horizontally developed setting. They terminate and emphasise natural verticals, being in perfect harmony with the latter. They introduce great emotional impulse imparting specific grandeur to the whole environment. The same artistic affect is created by rock-cut monasteries and villages arranged in several tiers on high rocky mountain slopes.