Gelati Monastery is located in Western Georgia on the left side of the river Tskhatsitela, some 12km east of the city of Kutaisi and 8km west of Tkibuli. The site is located on a hillside extending towards a plain to the south and south-west.
The ensemble of Gelati Monastery was established by King David the Builder in 1106, with launching of the construction of the Main Church dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin. The site consists of a group of well-preserved historical monuments dating from the early 12th and 13th centuries. These are three churches: Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, Church of St. George, and Church of St. Nicholas, as well as a bell tower and the Academy. The Monastery also includes several residential buildings dating from the 18th to the 19th centuries. The site is surrounded by a low stone wall with two porches, one in the east that is the current entrance, and another in the south that used to be the original main entrance.
The main church dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin is located in the centre of the enclosure. To the east of it there stands a smaller building - the church of St. George; to the west - a two-storied church of St. Nicholas and an academy building behind it. To the north-west of the main church there runs a stream, above which a bell-tower is erected. These monuments form an architectural ensemble of perfect unity, its dominant being the main church. Together with the other buildings the monastery is seen as a single artistic entity.
The Monastery is important for its architecture, the mosaics, the mural paintings, as well as metalwork and enamel. The mural paintings of Gelati cover a chronological range which extends from the 12th to the 17th centuries, and it is therefore significant, as a kind of a museum of Georgian monumental painting. Gelati was not only a monastery, but also a centre of science and education. The Academy, which was founded here, was one of the most significant centres of culture in the ancient Georgia. Consequently, Gelati monastery both for its architectural merits and for the magnificent samples of Georgian culture represents a unique cultural treasury and a rare collection of excellent monuments of high artistic value, gathered in a single ensemble.
Entrances: The territory of Gelati monastery is fenced within a stone enclosure. The present entrance is from the east. Originally however the road led to the south porch, where the greatest Georgian king David IV the Builder was buried beneath the tombstone bearing an ancient Georgian Asomtavruli inscription: "This is my abode forever and ever, for I wish it. I have found eternal peace here". The iron gates of Ganja, brought by David's son, King Demetre I (1125-1156), in the memory of his victory, after the seizure of Ganja, are placed in the south porch. In the course of the centuries the south porch was rebuilt more than once, being finally closed and transformed into an annex.
The main church of the Nativity of the Virgin (12th century) is located in the centre of the ensemble. It is a cruciform-domed building, faced with large ashlars. Originally there was intention to make a three-sided ambulatory around the main building. However when the construction was finished, during the reign of Demetre I (1125-1156), separate annexes were built around the church including an annex with a porch on the south and the narthex on the west side. Annexes on the north side were built subsequently during the 13th century.
The building is faced with yellowish limestone. The massive forms of the main church are embellished by the decorative arches in the upper part, on all the four façades of the building. Three polyhedral apses are projecting from the east, of the building. Alongside the decorative arcade, exterior decoration of the church comprises of carved stone framings of the windows and large rosettes.
The interior of the church, surmounted by a wide dome, leaves the impression of ampleness and solemnity. The light is flowing lavishly into the church through many windows. The first floor gallery is connected with the central part by means of the arches. A staircase arranged in the west wall of the church leads to the gallery.
Three doors of the main entrance are located in the west. Entering the church the eye is caught by the 12th-century mosaic in the apse conch - the Virgin and two Archangels are depicted in colour tesserae against the golden background. The frescoes, covering the walls are of a later periods. Alongside Biblical scenes, the portraits of the historical persons are also seen here.
The wall-paintings of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin belong to the following periods:
- the mosaic of narthex and conch: 12th century
- the niche in the East wall of the North-West chapel and the South-East chapel: 13th century
- the gate of the South-East chapel: 14th century
- the South-West chapel, Southern and Northern arms of the central area, the lower part of the chancel, the upper part of the Western arm, the entrance of the North-East chapel: 16th century
- the North-West and East chapels, the lower part of the central area of Western arm, the baldachin built by the king Alexander III (1639-1660) in the Narthex: 17th century.
The paintings of the Church of the Virgin represent a unique work of art of medieval Georgia. They include almost all stages of development and history of Georgian mural painting. It affords an opportunity to trace back the iconographic and artistic characteristics of painting over a considerable length of time, starting from the 12th century and including the 18th century.
The church of St. George (13th century) is a domed building. Among the three projecting apses, the middle one is embellished with arches. The door and the windows are decorated with moulded framings. The dome is supported by two massive stone columns and apse angles. The west porch was adjoined somewhat later. It bears the fragments of the contemporary murals. The murals of the church are ascribed to the 16th century. Painted chancel barrier is also dated to the 16th century.
To the north of the main church there is a spring. In the 12th century, a stone vaulted canopy on four columns was built over the spring, in the 13th century a room was built over the vault. Upper above there is an open arched part of the bell-tower.
The church of St. Nicholas (13th century) is erected to the south of the main church. It is a two-storied building, the ground floor of which is open on all the sides by the arches. A small domed church is located on the first floor. A stone staircase, built to it later, leads to the church. Earlier one could get into the church with the help of a ladder. This monument is of special interest as a rare sample of a two-storied cult building. The first floor - the church proper - is of a polyhedral form. Its walls are faced with accurately hewn ashlars. The windows are embellished by minute, articulated framings.
The Academy building was erected during the reign of David the Builder (1025-1125). This large structure is lighted through wide-arched windows. Originally the building was supplied by three entrances from the east (one of them is filled up at present). In the early 14th century, a richly decorated porch was built to the middle entrance. Originally the walls of the Academy were painted. Stone seats are arranged along the hall walls. Alongside the lectures, disputes and receptions were also held in the Academy, preconditioning the necessity of building a main entrance and lighting the hall through the wide windows, opening a view on a fascinating gorge. In Late Middle Ages, when Gelati Academy ceased functioning, the building was turned into a refectory
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