Sighnaghi, said to be one of Georgia’s most attractive towns, is known as the City of Love as you can get married at any time of day or night. We stopped on the outskirts for photographs of the town in the distance, and romantically posed next to a heart bearing the words ‘Love of City’.
In town, we walked up a steep incline past 18th and 19th century buildings with colourful wooden balconies, said to create a Tuscan feel. Having crossed a bridge with views across the Alazani Valley to the snow-capped Caucasus in the distance, it was hard to miss the large verdigris statue, Doctor on a Donkey.
We continued through three squares:
The first, Erekle II, had an elegant municipal building, fountain and the ‘House of Love’, but sadly there were no weddings at 10am on a Wednesday.
The second, with a bust of Georgia’s most famous painter Pirosmani, was named after Davit Agmashenebell, also known as David IV of Georgia, or more simply, David the Builder.
Solomon Dodashvili had a large statue of the philosopher standing with a book in his hand: having provided free education during the communist period, he was deported to Russia and kept in captivity. There was also a memorial made from clay tiles with battle scenes and the names of those killed in World War II.
Continuing onwards and uphill through an arch in the fortress walls, we reached St. George’s basilica where we climbed the separate 12-sided bell tower set on one of the 23 defensive towers for views of the 4km long walls.
On our return we stopped at the Sighnaghi Museum. As well as paintings by local artists, the second floor contained the country’s largest collection of Pirosmani’s paintings outside Tbilisi (he was born in a nearby village). According to legend, he bought a French dancer a million red roses, and having fallen in love with him, she moved to Georgia.
When his money ran out, she ran back to Paris. Due to his dire financial position, restaurants provided him with wine, food and lodgings in return for paintings, but he died unrecognised and in poverty in 1918. However, he gained posthumous recognition and in 2018 Sotheby’s sold ‘Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki’ to an unnamed buyer for £2.23 million. His paintings were very distinctive although the most famous, featuring animals like giraffe and lion, which he would never have seen, were in the capital Tbilisi (unfortunately when we visited, the paintings were on tour in Denmark and Switzerland).
The ground floor had displays of archaeological and ethnographic displays, including some Stone Age pieces. It was our idea of a good museum: not too big, bright, light and interesting.