The city of Mtskheta in Georgia is one of the most visited attractions of the country after Tbilisi. Today it is a small, but very ancient and significant town 25 km from Tbilisi with a population of only 7500 people (according to 2005).
Mtskheta is more than two thousand years old. It is considered a holy place, a spiritual center and even the “Second Jerusalem”. The settlement is included in the UNESCO list.
What is interesting in the city of Mtskheta
Mtskheta was founded in the first millennium BC. at the confluence of two rivers. This city was the first capital of Georgia and the cradle of local culture. Then, on the top of the mountain, from which the rivers were clearly visible, a fortress was built, and at the foot of the mountain a city grew. This place was doubly profitable, as trade routes passed through it. It was from Mtskheta that Christianity spread throughout the country.
Now Mtskheta is one of the most popular attractions in Georgia, which is not deprived of attention either by local residents or tourists. After restoration, the central part of the city looks attractive and neat in a European way. There is a pedestrian street with souvenir shops, two large temples, the ruins of the Bebritsikhe fortress and the main attraction – Jvari, the monastery of the Holy Cross. A canonical view of the confluence of rivers and the whole city opens from the site of this ancient temple.
How to get there
Distance Tbilisi – Mtskheta is from 21 to 27 km (depending on the choice of route).
On the minibus
Buses can reach the center of the town in 25 minutes. Minibuses to Mtskheta go from the station (Didube metro station) on average every 15 minutes. A ticket can be bought at the box office for one and a half lari, and a minibus will also stand near the box office.
Get out not at the last stop, but on the square in the city center – near the Svetitskhoveli temple. Here you will see stalls with souvenirs and Georgian sweets. To navigate in Mtskheta itself, you can use the maps.me application, after downloading the offline map of Georgia. The maps in the application are very detailed, so you just have to figure out where to go.
You can also take a train from the train station in Tbilisi. A train ticket will cost 1 GEL. You can get to the center from the Mtskheta station by the road along the river (1.5 km).
If you are interested in other ways, how to get from Tbilisi to Mtskheta, you can take a taxi. The cost of a round trip will be from 50 GEL (including waiting).
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Sights of Mtskheta
There is no industrial production in Mtskheta: the local population receives the main income from tourism and pilgrimage. Orthodox believers from all over the country seek to visit the main temple of Georgia – Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. It can often be seen in photos of Mtskheta and Georgia in tourist avenues.
This Orthodox church was built in 1010-1029. King Vakhtang on the site of another ancient temple built in the IV century (at that time Georgia adopted Christianity). The latest changes in the architectural appearance of the cathedral were made in the 15th century. Since then, it has remained unchanged.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is one of the most popular attractions in Mtskheta. It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and is considered the spiritual center of Orthodox Georgia. According to local legend, after the execution of Jesus Christ, a shroud was brought to the cathedral from Jerusalem. It was laid at the base of the building, and then a cedar grew in its place. The tree was cut down and made of it seven columns, which became the foundation of the future cathedral. This explains the origin of the name of the temple, which translates as “life-giving pillar.”
Although the cathedral still operates, there are no strict rules for tourists. The church is very light, visitors are even allowed to take pictures. You can enter the cathedral for free: it works daily from 08:00 to 19:00.
Church of Antioch
Not far from the Svetitskhoveli temple is the small church of Antioch. You will come to her if you go down a little lower, towards the mountain with the Jvari monastery. Initially, there was a very ancient church, but in the VIII century it was burned by the Arabs. The building was restored in the XV-XVIII centuries., And today it houses the convent of St. Stefan.
Although the church of Antioch is little visited by tourists, it is very interesting for its unusual architecture and the picturesque, cozy monastery courtyard. Inside the church you can see the preserved fragments of ancient frescoes.
A short walk from Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is Samtavro Convent, which is especially popular with locals. This is the second largest temple of Mtskheta, which was founded in the 4th century by King Mirian III. The church was destroyed several times and then rebuilt. In the XI century, it was expanded and decorated with a unique ornament, which has no analogues in Georgian architecture. The temple is interesting not only in architecture, but also in the many shrines inside. In the 1990s, the famous Georgian monk, Archimandrite Gabriel, lived in the tower of Tsar Mirian in this church.
The Bebrsikhe fortress is an important historical landmark of Mtskheta and Georgia with an area of 1,500 m2. The fortress was built in the 9th century, but the ruins of an even more ancient fortress built before our era were discovered on its territory. You can walk to the fortress. There is nothing inside the building, but from here you can see most of the settlement and take very beautiful photos of Mtskheta. Some tourists catch a minibus near the fortress when they return to Tbilisi.
On the top of the Cross Mountain, on the other side of the city center, is the famous Holy Cross Church, better known as the Jvari Monastery. This masterpiece of architecture with perfect forms was built in the VI century. For some time the monastery was in danger of destruction, and then became the first attraction of Georgia on the UNESCO list. By the way, Jvari, together with the Zedazen Monastery, is considered to be the scene of Lermontov’s poem “Mtsyri”.
If you overcome a rather difficult climb up the hill, you will get the opportunity to admire not only the Jvari temple, but also the most beautiful view of Mtskheta and the confluence of the Kura and Aragvi rivers. From here you will see the whole city, as if in the palm of your hand. In good weather, even Mount Kazbek and the Georgian Military Highway become visible from here.
How to get to Jvari Monastery
If you get to the monastery on foot from the city center, the road will take from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the route. You can go on a bypass road or on the side of a mountain. It is advisable to study the route in advance, use an online map or a printout of the area. You will need to go about 5 km: to the foot of the mountain and up the serpentine or footpath for pedestrians.
If you want to start your trip to Mtskheta with a visit to the Jvari temple, then ask the driver to stop at the foot of the Cross Mountain. To climb to the top, you will need to spend about 40 minutes (if you have a small child, twice as much).
You can get to the Cross Mountain on minibuses to Kazbegi, Gori and Kutaisi from the train station in Tbilisi. You can also take a minibus to Mtskheta, but you will need to get out near the turn, at which you will see a pointer to Jvari.
Public transport does not go to the mountain itself, but you can take a taxi or hitchhike. A taxi rank is located near the Mtskheta railway station. A trip in both directions will cost about 20 GEL.
How to leave Mtskheta
You can get back to Tbilisi in the same ways that we listed above. If you are traveling to another city in Georgia, you will still have to first return to the train station in Tbilisi. You can’t get on a minibus on the road, because in Georgia they don’t stop on the road and leave from the starting point without empty seats.
Is it possible to stay overnight in Mtskheta
If you want to visit different cities of Georgia while traveling, it is better to stay in Tbilisi. You won’t be able to travel from Mtskheta, because all the distant minibuses do not enter the city. But if you want to live in a small, colorful and calm town, then Mtskheta in Georgia will be a great option. The city rents many rooms in guest houses and apartments. You can book your accommodation on Booking.com.
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To see how scenic Mtskheta looks from the air – watch the video below.