The UNESCO listed Gelati Monastery in western Georgia is located on the lower southern slopes of the mountains of the Northern Caucasus, 200m above sea level and in a peaceful setting of trees, overlooking the Tskaltsitela Gorge.
The main church, the Cathedral of the Virgin, was built in the early 12th century by King David IV, known as David the Builder, which made me laugh as all I could think about was Bob the Builder. The description in our Bradt guidebook referred to the interior as a real highlight with fabulous frescoes and one of Georgia’s greatest works of art, a mosaic of the Virgin Mary with child and two archangels. Imagine our disappointment on entering to find scaffolding everywhere which meant it was difficult to see anything of importance. Scaffolding adorned some of the outside as well, as US funding is enabling full restoration.
The cathedral was flanked by two smaller churches. In the Church of St George, we could see the colourful frescoes and several of the more important ones were highlighted included the hanging of Judas and Dormition of Mary. On the other side was the smaller Church of St Nicholas, built on an unusual, arcaded base. At the entrance was an impressive metal gate made in the Persian city of Ganja, now in Azerbaijan, who apparently are keen to be reunited with it, despite the fact it had been destroyed at the bottom to make nails for the roof. The King’s burial plaque was positioned here, so that everyone had to walk over it and remember him forever. Ironically, today reverent visitors take great care not to step on it.
Around 10 monks live permanently in the monastery, and we visited their recently rebuilt Academy, where they studied philosophy, theology, sciences and painting.
Whilst the setting was no doubt stunning, it was a very hot day, and all I could think about was a cooling gelato rather than Gelati.
All in all, not the best visit of our tour.