Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gori and Uplistsikhe.

The ruins of the ancient rock hewn town of Uplistsikhe.

We left Kutaisi at our usual 9a hour. First destination of the day was the town of Gori and by day's end, we would be back in Tbilisi. Our few days roaming the Georgian countryside is quickly coming to an end and I'm very sad about that. I've really enjoyed being off the beaten path and in the mountains.

The first leg of our journey did take us back into the mountains but ones that were not high enough to be white peaked.  It was still very pretty scenery.


Pat has the only guidebook and she reads out about the place we're about to see.

The region we drove through is known for its pottery.  We stopped at one of many roadside stands selling pottery to see what they offer.


These are horns for drinking Georian wine.

The curvy pieces are wine amphoras.  The straight up and down pieces are tandirs.


Crocks for cooking stews.

As with many roadside stands, this one also sold a lot of really kitschy items.  I want the sheep!

It took us almost three hours to get from Kutaisi to the small city of Gori, otherwise known as the birthplace of Stalin or Uncle Joe as Salome has been referring to him as.

Street art is not a common sight in Georgia.  I was surprised to see this piece in Gori.


A Lada passed by the Joseph Stalin Museum.

In case you wonder who the home town idol is....

The restaurant we ate lunch at.  No sign to tell you it's a restaurant.  You just have to be in the know.

Shalva parked the car in the lot next to the restaurant where we would be having lunch. Salome quickly went inside to book a table for four. While she was doing that, the three of us quickly popped inside a souvenir shop for what was suppose to be just a quick look see for me. It didn't take long for me to thumb through a deck of postcards, each printed with a different Georgian recipe on it. 12 lari later and I was the proud owner of 15 recipes. Although I was curious about how to cook the dishes, I was equally amused by the instructions themselves. There's a lot that's presumed you just know which of course, you don't because you're not Georgian and by the way, the recipes are targeted at tourists. And as expected, there's quite a bit that I think was simply lost in translation. I'm thinking I'm going to give the Khinakali recipe a shot. How hard can it be to make dumplings?


From the souvenir shop, we crossed the road to check out Stalin's childhood home which is now under a protective pavilion. Along the way, we passed a train carriage. Apparently, it was Stalin's personal carriage; the man did not like to fly.




The man.

We turned the corner to see a small city park where the Joseph Stalin Museum is located.  Pat and I had no interest in going to the museum so we all just walked by it.


Situated in the center of the garden, shielded under a large pavilion that was decorated with Soviet symbols stood a small brick home. My guess is that the home was moved from another location to this spot.


Looking at the house, you can immediately see that he indeed started from very humble beginnings. Objectively speaking, it is impressive that he rose from such a starting point in life to become the great historical figure that he was. Like him or not, you cannot deny his place in history.





After our quick stroll to the park, we stopped inside another souvenir shop.  This one caught my eye because of the military uniform that was hanging on a coat rack outside the front door.  It was reminder of the times when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union.


Inside, it was all things Stalin.  If I needed coffee mugs, I might have bought a few but then again, maybe not.  People might get ideas about me and Stalin :-)



Then it was time to head to the restaurant for lunch.  It was more khinakali and tarragon lemonade for me.

I ordered a sampling of four different khinkali to try.  My favorite is still the classic pork filled one though the mushroom one was delicious.

Sampling a different brand. 

Shalva and Salome were hungry!!  Khinkali, a salad and two kebabs.

After lunch, we piled back into the car and headed down the road to Uplistsikhe.  We started out on city streets that well, in all honesty, looked like all the other small city streets we've passed through on this trip.  Nothing memorable.

More of those iconic Soviet era apartments. There must be millions of these spread across the former republics.

Then, we entered into a neighborhood.  No inspiration views here. 


Simple stone (or is it concrete?) block homes.  One thing very noticeable was that many of the homes had trellises with grape vines growing outside the front door.  Curious why the vines are out front where someone, not so nice, could abscond with grapes.  I can't imagine these are a decorative variety of grape.  Is there even such a thing?


Very plain homes with flat roofs. 

The other thing about the neighborhood was just how quiet it was.  We drove along quite a stretch of road and I don't recall seeing a single person. 


As the Chinese saying goes, Shalva and Salome had eyes bigger than their stomachs.  Their leftover khinkali got thrown out the window to a couple of dogs.  At least the food did not go to waste.

What was that that hit the ground?  Is is something to eat?

Georgians are well trained to not litter which is why the country is so clean. 

In short time, I could see the ruins at Uplistsikhe in the distance.


Shalva parked the car and we all got out. As I closed the car door behind me, I looked up the hillside to see a small church standing on the very top.

Uplistsuli Church, a Christian basilica built of stone and brick built in the latter part of the 10th century.

All around it looked to be cave dwellings of some sort or another. It reminded me a lot of the cave dwellings in Cappadocia, Turkey. At the entrance, Salome bought the 3 lari tickets for all four of us; we paid for our own.


 Salome led us past what would be the typical starting point for the walk up the hill to Uplistsikhe.


Because of my left ankle, she thought it would be easier if we started the route in reverse. She led us on a path that ran alongside the river.


Mtkvari River.

Shalva checking out the pretty poppies.  It's the time of year they bloom.

About to enter the tunnel.

At the end, there was an entrance to a tunnel.  The layout of Uplistsikhe can be divided into a lower, a central and an upper area. The central area, which contains most of the rock-cut structures, is connected to the lower area by narrow tunnel.  A set of metal steps led up, through the tunnel, to the central part of the town.  Standing at the base of the steps, Salome gave us an intro to Uplistsikhe

Map of Uplistsikhe by Kalan.  (Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In a nutshell.  Uplistsikhe (The Fortress of the Lord) is situated on a hillside overlooking the Mtvari River.  The town was founded in the Bronze Age, around 1000 BC, and carved out of rock.  Before the introduction of Christianity in the 4th century AD, Uplistsikhe was the major center of pagan worship in Kartli (Eastern Georgia).

At its peak the cave city had a population of 20,000.   However, after St. Nino converted King Mirian II of Iberia to Christianity in the 4th century, the pagan temples of Uplistsikhe were sacked and the city went into long-term decline.  Its decline was hastened by devastation at the hands of the Mongols in the 12th century, although it remained inhabited, serving as a stop along the Silk Road until the 15th century.

Uplistsikhe suffered long years of neglect and vandalism.  The dwellings, palaces and temples were deserted and over the centuries seismic activity caused many of the roofs to fall in and the walls to crumble. When archaeologists arrived in the 1950s only the tops of a few caves were visible among the rubble.  Uplistsikhe is currently undergoing significant restoration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I had a hard time finding good online information on.... The best site was an article by Mirian Gamrekelaschwili posted on the academia.edu website.  Reading the arti

We climbed the steps to begin our tour through this ancient rock hewn town.

There were a lot of steps!

Pointing the way up, the final set of steps, to Uplistsikhe.

Looking back down towards the entrance to the tunnel.

Shalva, the mountain goat, was already waiting for us by the time I made it to the top of the steps.

The view as I emerged from the tunnel.  It's pretty up here.

Exiting the tunnel, there was no clear path or sign to point us which way to go and there was no map, either paper or posted. Thankfully, we had Salome to guide us around. We clamored up and down rocks to make our way to the central area of the site.   We followed Salome along a very narrow channel that had been chiseled out of the stone. This was most likely a drainage channel of some sort.





Whenever we did have to clamor over rock, I was extremely careful of every step I took and was not hesitant to take either Salome's or Shalva's hand if I felt I needed extra support - especially if I had to climb up.



The central area of  Uplistsikhe.  Notice the triangular shaped roof structure on the left and the basilica on the right.


We began our visit with a stop at the ruins of a place that has been named *Blackberry Hall* so named because of the large blackberry vine that once clamored all over its roof.   I quickly figured out that only a few of the structures were named and those were the ones we visited.




A glimpse of the basilica from Blackberry Hall.





We passed quite a few pits.  No one really knows what they were used for.





We also passed by a stretch of rock that had holes chiseled out every few inches.  If I remember correctly, were likely property boundary markers.



We stopped to peer down a very deep hole.  According to Salome, it was the prison and it was deliberately located along what would have been a busy pathway so people could see the guilty ones below.  A walk of shame of sorts.


Looking around the complex of ruins, it's hard to envision that in the heydays of Uplistsikhe, there were literally hundreds of different structures  – temples, public buildings, houses, streets, squares etc. were cut inside the rock.  Additionally, the city was surrounded by the protective moat surrounding it from the east and the north.  And at least 20,000 people going about their daily lives here.  It must have been one hopping place!

Looking across part of the site to the Mtkvari River.  It's a pretty view.


Despite the non-standard approach to the construction, the buildings of Uplistsikhe accurately repeat the samples of conventional architecture: columns, pilasters, capitals, arches, etc.  We saw the first example of this at the Three Nave Basilica.


Entrance to the basilica. I forget what the pit was used for.


You can roughly make out the outline of a carved column.

Located right across *the street* from the the Three Nave Basilica is Queen Tamar's Hall.



Scholars speculate that deluxe cave dwelling was an apartment for the towns rulers though Queen Tamar herself never resided here.  The apartment was divided into several areas - the western area was reserved for the king, and the northern and southern portions housed other political leaders. Two columns, which stood here until the 19th century, separated the central room into two naves. 


Notice how the stone ceiling was carved to simulate wooden beams.



Niches were carved into the wall for storage and entrances to side chambers were carved through the stone.  There was even a wine cellar conveniently located steps away from the apartment!



We walked over to one area of the complex where we took in a view of the Mtkvari River and its surroundings.

From high above, we could see the ruins of the lower part of Uplistsikhe.

It was surprisingly very windy making the walk more challenging than expected.  I decided to shot a bit of video to capture the panoramic view and was attempting to do some narration but the sound of the wind is all you hear.


Profile of a man carved in stone.  See his nose and eye?  He was the guardian of the ancient city.

The Red Halls had walls that looked like they had been blackened by smoke.  Smidges of red would lead you to think that the walls were once painted that color.  Of the dwellings we visited, this one had the most architectural details of all of them.



Salome pointed to a handprint on the wall.  As you might expect, several of us placed our own hands atop it to see if it would match.  The hand was larger than mine.  In any case, in Georgian tradition, a handprint symbolizes authority or craft.


Relatively speaking, there was quite a lot of detail carving in the Red Halls - both on the ceiling and the walls.



I don't think these amphoras date back to the days of Uplistsikhe though there was no sign indicating how they got here.

The Uplistsuli Church, built of stone and brick in the latter part of the 10th century, stands at the highest point of the central area of the site.  The church was erected in the place of an earlier pagan temple.  It's the only structure that is recognizable to people of today.  The doors were open but neither Pat nor I ventured inside to take a look.  I think we're *churched out*.

Uplistsuli


Temple known as Hall with Caisson.  In this case, caisson means *coffer*  We didn't visit this dwelling but apparently underneath the
triangular roof is a coffered, vaulted ceiling.

At the end of our visit, we backtracked our steps and headed back down through the tunnel.  As we left, I wondered what we had missed out on because we did not approach from the proper entrance to the site.  Thankfully, I enjoyed what we did see.  I love ruins like this.  Reminds me a lot of the rock hewn places in Cappadocia, Turkey - particularly the Selime Monastery though that was just a few structures, not an entire town.

Our next stop was our final stop of the day. Yesterday and today, Salome had been in touch with our Tbilisi Airbnb host, Oleg, to coordinate our arrival to his apartment as he needed to give us the key.

Entering back into the hustle and bustle of the big city, I immediately missed the relative peace and calm of the countryside we had just left behind. Even the smaller towns were tranquil compared to the noise and traffic congestion of Tbilisi. In no time, we were stuck in traffic. For our return visit, I had booked us into an apartment in the modern day city.  Pat and I were immediately struck by how different the *new* city of Tbilisi looks and feels from the *old* city that we had spent our first two days in. Our apartment is located in a popular area in town - full of shops and restaurants. The place was filled with cars and people. Shalva knew exactly where our apartment was located. He parked the car nearby and we all got out and unloaded our luggage from the trunk.

Greetings from Tbilisi!