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METEKHI CHURCH | VAKHTANG GORGASALI STATUE

#metekhichurch #kingvakhtanggorgasali #churchesintbilisi #toursingeorgia #tbilisicitytour


Metekhi is a historic neighbourhood of Tbilisi, Georgia, located on the elevated cliff that overlooks the Mtkvari river. The district was one of the earliest inhabited areas in the city’s territory. According to traditional accounts, King Vakhtang I Gorgasali erected here a church and a fort which served also as a king’s residence; hence comes to the name Metekhi which dates back to the 12th century and means “the area around the palace”. Tradition holds that it was also a site where the Saint Shushanik She was killed by her fire worshipper husband because of the religion in the 5th century. However, none of these structures has survived the Mongol invasion of 1235.


The extant Metekhi Church of Assumption, resting upon the top of the hill, was built by the Georgian king St Demetrius II circa 1278–1284 and is somewhat an unusual example of domed Georgian Orthodox church. It was later damaged and restored several times King Rostom (r. 1633-1658) fortified the area around the church with a strong citadel garrisoned by some 3,000 soldiers Due to many invasions. Tbilisi was destroyed around 40 times, and unfortunately, the church was damaged as well. However, Georgians reconstructed it again and again. One of the restorations was held by King Demetre II. Under the Russian rule (established in 1801), the church lost its religious purpose and was used as a barracks). The citadel was demolished in 1819 and replaced by a new building which functioned as the infamous jail down to the Soviet era and was closed only in 1938.

Amid the Great Purges, the Georgian Communist chief Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria intended to destroy the church as well but met a stubborn opposition by a group of Georgian intellectuals led by the painter and art collector Dimitri Shevardnadze. Beria replied to their urges, that it would surely be enough to preserve a scale model of the church so that people could see it in a museum, and then is said to have told Shevardnadze privately that if he gave up his efforts to save the church he would be appointed director of the future museum. The artist refused and was imprisoned and executed (Ami Knight, p. 84). The building was preserved, however. In the later part of the Soviet period, the church was used as a theatre. The equestrian statue of King Vakhtang I Gorgaslan by the sculptor Elguja Amashukeli was erected in front of the church in 1961.


In the late 1980s, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II launched a popularly supported campaign aiming at the restoration of the church to the Georgian Patriarchate. A well-known dissident and the future president of Georgia Zviad Gamsakhurdia went on a hunger strike in support of this demand. Despite initial resistance from the local Communist leadership, the church became functioning again in 1988.

The Metekhi Church is a cross-cupola church. While this style was the most common throughout the Middle Ages, the Metekhi church is somewhat anachronistic with its three projecting apses in the east facade and the four freestanding pillars supporting the cupola within. The church is made of brick and dressed stone. The restoration of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries mostly employed brick. The facade is, for the most part, smooth, with decorative elements concentrated around the windows of the eastern apses. Horizontal bands below the gables run around all four sides and serve as a unifying element. The north portico of the main entrance is not a later addition but was built at the same time as the rest of the church.

The cliff is connected to the opposite, right embankment of the Mtkvari River, via a reinforced concrete bridge, which was constructed in 1951 at the place of the two older bridges. Unfortunately, a unique complex of various structures and buildings dating from the 17th to 19th centuries were destroyed during the construction of the bridge. Recently, the city’s government announced its intention to restore this part of historic Old Tbilisi as it was in the first half of the 20th century.

After Georgia became the part of the Russian Empire in the 18th century, a prison was built under Metekhi Church. Even Stalin and other revolutionaries were once imprisoned here. There is one hole that was dug out by the prisoners to escape from the prison. On the walls, there are the scratches from the prisoners still visible. After a while, the prison was closed. From 1988, thanks to our Patriarch Ilia II, Metekhi Church was returned to its real function, and a new cross was placed on the dome of the church.


There is one legend that is connected to the name of ‘Metekhi.’ The head of Ossetians called Bakatari kidnapped the sister of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. The king decided to save her life with the help of the letter from his sister. She informed him that Bakatari was always wearing the armour to protect himself. However, killing him was only possible by shooting him in the armpit. When they met each other, the head of Ossetians asked the king not to shoot him until he would cross the river Mtkvari. However, the king broke his promise and killed him. As Gorgasali broke his promise that was against his conscience, he decided to build a church. So, he called this church ‘Metekhi’, which translates to ‘I broke my promise.’ One more Legend has it also that the Metekhi cliff was a site of the martyrdom of Habo (8th century), Tbilisi’s patron saint. A small church in his honour is now under construction at the foot of the cliff.


Metekhi was first mentioned in the chronicles in the 13 century. The temple was repeatedly destroyed and restored. It suffered the most during the Mongol invasion after which the first restoration took place. In the 15 century, it was destroyed again by Persians. The Georgian kings rebuilt the temple in the 16 to – 17 centuries. The next restoration was in the mid-19 century; back then all the surrounding fortifications were dismantled and replaced with the prison building.

#oldtbilisi

The Metekhi Church is a cross-cupola church. While this style was the most common throughout the Middle Ages, the Metekhi church is somewhat anachronistic with its three projecting apses in the east facade and the four freestanding pillars supporting the cupola within. The church is made of brick and dressed stone. The restoration of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries mostly employed brick. The facade is, for the most part, smooth, with decorative elements concentrated around the windows of the eastern apses. Horizontal bands below the gables run around all four sides and serve as a unifying element. The north portico of the main entrance is not a later addition but was built at the same time as the rest of the church.


The cliff is connected to the opposite, right embankment of the Mtkvari River, via a reinforced concrete bridge, which was constructed in 1951 at the place of the two older bridges.

Nowadays, Metekhi Church proudly stands in the Old Town, and there is a statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali as well, who is the founder of the city. While visiting Tbilisi, do not miss Metekhi Church, one of the most ancient monuments of Georgia. It is also one of the symbols of Tbilisi that speaks about the history of the city.



Views from Metekhi Church can be seen on Old Tbilisi, Narikala Fortress, Abanotubani, Peace Bridge, Rike Park. These places are the face of old Tbilisi.

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