Monday, July 29, 2013

#799 Uplistikhe, Georgia

Capadocia in Turkey receives a lot of fame for being a settlement constructed out of rock, but its far from being the only one in the region. Across the border and into Georgia, there are several: Davit Gareje Monastery (#964) is one, and Uplistikhe is another.
With many worn carvings of structural elements like stairs and decorate pieces, Uplistikhe is not magnificent in its beauty but in the imagination for what once was that it leaves with you. Once an enormous 20,000-inhabitant caravan-route cave city on the northern bank of the Mtkvari River (10km east of present day city Gori) with views for miles around, the area now visited is the Inner City (Shida Kalaki) of an ancient (one of the oldest) place of settlement dating back to around 1000 BC. Settled and developed predominantly during the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD, by the pre-Christian Kartli (a.k.a. Iberia to classical writers), it was an important political and religious center dedicated primarily to the sun goddess. Archaeological results from later periods (especially the 4th-6th centuries AD) show the struggle between Christian and pre-Christian groups. With the arrival of Christianization also appears to have been the beginning of its decline in importance, although it was strong during the Muslim conquest in the 8th and 9th centuries.
Though it began to decline before this, it was ultimately sacked by the Mongols in 1240 and remained covered until around 1957, when archaeologists took the tops of caves visible above the dirt down to the rock level. Various artifacts were found including gold, silver and bronze jewelry, ceramics and sculptures.

Important parts of the site:

  • The Theatre has octagonal designs carved on the ceiling in a similar style to the Caracalla Baths in Rome and was probably a temple from the 1st or 2nd century AD.
  • The Temple of Makvliani has an inner recess behind an arched portico, and an open hall in front with stone seats for the priests and two rounded holes on the floor for the blood of sacrificed animals.
  • The Tamaris Darbazi (Hall of Queen Tamar) has two columns built into the cliff and a stone seat. The ceiling is cut to look like wooden beams and there is a hole to let smoke out and light in. Although originally pagan, perhaps Christian Queen Tamar later occupied it. There are stone niches along one side believe to have once been a pharmacy.
  • The triple basilica Uplistikhe Eklesia (Prince's or Lord's Fortress Church) at the top of the hill dates from the 10th century and was built over a pagan temple.
  • A tunnel (see photo above) runs down to the river in an emergency escape/water collection route.
  • Other structures include a bakery, a prison and an ampitheatre.
This is the most famous image of Uplistikhe -- the face in the rock that is an accident of a doorway eroding away.
NOTE: Since 2007 it has been a tentative candidate for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List, but it is not yet fully included.
Source: Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan 3rd Edition 2008

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