History of Georgia

Article Index


Georgian architecture witnessed particular growth in the 11th and 12th centuries. Large and important churches were built, clearly demonstrating features of a new style. To 11th-cent. monuments belong the Bagrat church in Kutaisi, Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta, Alaverdi cathedral in Kakheti, Samtavisi church in Kartli (Iberia), etc. The 12th century witnessed the building of the big church of the monastery of Gelati, the domed church at Tighva, the churches of Ikorta, Betania, Kvatakhevi and others.
Of civic buildings erected in the 11thcentury Geguti palace deserves special mention (part of the palace is dated to an earlier period); it was designated to serve as a retreat and for hunting. What remains of the palace points to its grand scale, allowing to conjecture that the royal residences in the capital cities of Tbilisi and Kutaisi must have been even more impressive. Ruins of urban houses have been discovered at the sites of Dmanisi, Samshvildh and in the Gudarekhi monastic ensemble. With regard to style urban buildings were close to their church counterparts, the difference between them being mainly functional.
Among civic buildings Gelati Academy (12th-cent. monastic ensemble) deserves special mention. The one-storied building is actually a large auditorium with two entrances.
The rock-cut monastic complexes of David Gareja and Vardzia occupy an important place in the history of Georgian architecture. The Gareja monastic complex was founded by David of Gareja. Continuing to exist and growing in the Middle Ages, it consists of several monasteries (David's laura,See Bertubani, Udabno, Natlismtsemeli, Chichkhituri, etc.). Numerous cells are cut in the rock, as well as a refectory, a church and a chapel. Many of these were adorned with murals.
The architectural ensemble of Vardzia was begun by Giorgi III and completed in the reign of his daughter Queen Tamar. Vardzia comprises a great number of cells (several hundred). During incursions Vardzia served as a stronghold. An important feature of this complex is a large church painted with frescoes, among which are the portraits of Giorgi III and Tamar.
In the mountains not far from Vardzia there is the Vaghani or Vani cave - also for monastic use. Other similar rock-cut complexes have survived, e.g. at Samsari and in Javakheti.
Important monuments of 11th-1 2th-century engineering are the Shio-Mghvimé-Skhaltba irrigation canal (built in the reign of Queen Tamer), as well as bridges spanning the Besleti (near Sukhumi) and the Dondali (in Achara). The building of fortresses was developed. They were built on sheer cliffs to protect roads, gorges and towns. Fortresses built in those days had no loopholes (which was natural, for they were built before the advent of firearms). It is noteworthy that the fortresses blended so harmoniously with the rocks on which they stand as to make an impression of a single structure. The fortresses in Southern Georgia are monumental and majestic, e.g. Khertvisi, Atsquri, Okrostsikhb, Tmogvi, etc.
The 11th and 12th centuries witnessed a flowering of fine arts. In the first half of the11th century a marked tendency to sculptural decor was noticeable, becoming less pronounced in the subsequent period when relieves on the facades of churches become rare. In goldsmith's work (especially in the 12th cent.) decorativeness (ornamental design) came to the fore. A vivid example of this trend is the Khakhuli icon of the Virgin and Child from Gelati, a unique work of goldsmith's art (dated to the first half of the 12th cent.).
The goldsmiths Beshken and 8eka Opizari flourished in the reign of Queen Tamar. The chased setting of the Tsqarostavi Gospel (with the scenes of the Crucifixion and the Praying), as well as the repose work in Anchiskhati church (figures of the Virgin, John the Baptist and other saints with an ornamental design around the edges) were done by Beka Opizari. Beshken Opizari executed the chased setting (book-cover) of the Berta Gospel.
Several styles are observable in the goldsmiths' work of the period. There existed several schools (at Opiza, Tbeti and Gelati), each having its own, to a certain extent individual, monumental manner. Works of Georgian goldsmiths were in no way inferior to those of Byzantine masters; many of them occupy a prominent place in world art.
The art of illumination of manuscripts and miniature painting was also developed in 11th-12th-century Georgia. Rare examples of mediaeval illuminated manuscript books have come down to us. Georgian books of that time are characterized by beautiful calligraphy, variety of ornamental designs and refined miniatures.
The art of enameling objects of gold, silver and copper was known in Georgia from ancient times. Georgian cloisonné enamels enjoy special renown. In the 12th century this art was on a par with architecture and the art of fresco painting. A vivid example of this is the Khakhuli icon; only the face,See hands and part of the halo have survived. Georgian enamels are characterized by special hues (flesh, translucent green) and depth of color.
Applied arts were also well developed in the 11th-12th centuries. The highly artistic pottery and copper ware attest to the penetration of art into everyday life. The production of gold-brocaded fabrics (oksino) occupied a significant place in textile production.