Arts and Artisans of Georgia: A John Graham Invitational Tour
Monday, Oct. 2nd - Friday, Oct. 13th, 2017
- Arrive-Depart Tbilisi (airport designation TBS)
- Accommodation in high quality boutique hotels specially vetted for comfort and location (11 nights)
- No travel visas necessary for Armenia or Georgia (for US or EU passport holders) - other nationalities check your country's visa requirements
- Package tour includes 11 nights accommodation, 3 meals every day, all-you-can drink wine-beer, chauffeured minibus, airport transfers door to door, guides, entertainment, museum entrances (does not include international airfare, travel insurance)
- $2550 Full package tour
- $320 Single supplement
- Contact us for the invitational tour brochure. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact us for the registration form. Receipt of the required deposit secures your place on the tour, space limited to 16 participants
Sounds of the Tour
This newly developed tour program focuses on meeting active artists in Georgia to learn about their various art forms including visual and tactile arts as well as performing arts such as singing and dancing. As Christianity is deeply embedded in Georgian culture, we will have a chance to witness and learn about the revival of Christian arts such as fresco painting, cloisonne enamel work, embroidery, stone and wood carving, as well as polyphonic liturgical singing. Instrument building, modern art and sculpture, and carpet weaving form other strong artistic movements that exist outside the Christian sphere.
Our tour begins and ends in Tbilisi, the thriving cultural and business capital city of Georgia. Our accommodation in the heart of the rejuvenated Old City places us within easy walking distance of many sites including churches, mosques, synagogues, carpet shops, and boutique cafes. We will visit several newly reopened museums featuring high quality exhibits on pre-Christian gold jewelry, medieval Christian arts, and the Soviet occupation. The focus of our travels outside of the cities will be UNESCO-recognized world heritage sites in East Georgia. Two of the most important medieval Christian churches are the Gergeti-Sameba monastery in the highland region of Kazbegi, and the cathedral of the Life-Giving Pillar in the ancient capital of Mtskheta. Some of the finest architectural masterpieces in the Caucasus take time to find: many are hidden in remote locations. Of these, the rock-hewn frescoed caves of Davit Gareji are among the highlights.
Viticulture is another important aspect of this tour. No trip to the Caucasus is complete without indulging in some of the delicious homegrown wine. Indeed, East Georgia may have been the birth place of cultivated viticulture, as the archeological record dates this activity to 6000BC. In the Alazani Valley in East Georgia, where we will stay for two nights, viticulture is still visibly the culture of the land: many local villagers produces their own wine from their own grape varietals (more than 430 varietals exist in Georgia alone). We’ll visit some local vintners, try their vintages, and take home the best. Every day is a feast of local cuisine with local wine. And as on all of our tours, the leadership team includes singer-instrumentalists who enliven our tour with folk songs, liturgical chant, and instrumental music from each of the regions we visit.
About the Tour Leaders
John A. Graham, ethnomusicologist and Georgian chant scholar (Ph.D. Princeton University, 2015), first visited the Caucasus region in 2003 where he witnessed the political upheaval that led to the “Rose Revolution.” Enamored with the language, culture, history, and music of Georgia since that time, John has been leading uniquely designed cultural tours throughout the Caucasus since 2006. On this tour, John’s co-leaders include a team of singers and artists.
Day 1, Monday, Oct 2nd, Tbilisi
We know that you’ll be excited to explore the fascinating capital city of Tbilisi, founded in the fifth century and retaining many important historical buildings. Thus we've chosen a hotel in the heart of the Old City, convenient for your own exploration should you choose to arrive early. Our first official meeting of the tour will be a champagne toast at 6:30pm at the hotel, followed by a banquet with invited traditional Georgian singers.
Day 2, Tuesday, Oct 3rd, Tbilisi
After visits to the impressive, newly renovated National museum, and the Treasury museum of medieval Christian art, we will spend the afternoon visiting and conversing with a new generation of Orthodox Christian icon painters in their studio. This will be first of several atelier visits that represent the unique nature of this particular tour itinerary. Option to attend Vespers service at 5pm to hear traditional chanting, or go off exploring on your own! Dinner in the city featuring yet another fantastically delicious meal of fresh local ingredients and local specialty dishes (food is a big priority on this tour!!).
Day 3, Wednesday, Oct 4th, Tbilisi
We begin the day with an extensive walking tour of Old Town Tbilisi, featuring visits several Georgian Orthodox churches, an Armenian church, the one remaining historical mosque, one synagogue, the historic Persian baths, the Narikala fortress, and the Botanical Gardens - an oasis in the middle of the city. The afternoon program includes two atelier visits: one to a well-known sculptor's studio, and the second to a silversmith who specializes in miniature cloisonne enamel jewelry. Such jewelry was perfected in the Byzantine period, but the knowledge of its technique was lost until a recent revival.
Day 4, Thursday, Oct 5th, Tbilisi
On our first day excursion, we will venture south to the Azeri-Georgian carpet weaving villages along the Khrami River canyon. The scenery is gorgeous, but our focus will be on private meetings with local weavers, their lifestyles, their techniques, and the symbolic design elements they use in their fantastic carpets. In the afternoon, we travel further south to the Dmanisi archeological site, where the earliest hominid remains outside of Africa (1.8 million years old) were discovered and excavated in the 1990s. Our guide will explain the significance of the find. Nearby, there is the 12th c. ruins of the medieval summer residence of the Georgian monarch and a church from the same period. Dinner in Bolnisi before a late return to Tbilisi.
Day 5, Friday, Oct 6th, Iqalto
For two and a half days, we travel into the viticulture of Kakheti, East Georgia, staying in a superb hotel with views of the Great Caucasus mountain range and a large heated swimming pool. Our main site visit will be the Lavra monastery in the desert of Davit Gareji, where there will be an optional two hour walk to the frescoed caves in the ridge above. Near to the hotel, we'll make an additional stop at the convent of Shuamta, dedicated by Queen Tinatin of Kakheti in the 16th c. and the site of her own retirement and repose as a nun.
Day 6, Saturday, Oct 7th, Iqalto
For our day among the vineyards of the Alazani Valley, we'll visit several sites including the tallest medieval cathedral in Georgia: the 11th c. Alaverdi Cathedral. Other sites include the Nekresi Monastery, where the 6th c. saint Abibos was martyred battling local Zoroastrian factions. Just below the monastery, which sits on a ridge overlooking the valley, a large Zoroastrian Temple was excavated. In the late afternoon, we'll visit the 19th c. summer palace of the aristocratic Tsinandali family, and have a wine tasting before dinner back at the hotel with traditional singing.
Day 7, Sunday, Oct 8th, Tbilisi
After returning to Tbilisi over the beautiful alpine Gombori pass in the morning hours (with stops for photographs and flower spotting), we spend the afternoon with two atelier visits: the first to a rehearsal of a traditional Georgian dance troupe, and the second visit to a rehearsal of a semi-professional polyphonic singing ensemble! We will have a chance to discuss the revival of traditional dance and polyphony in the post-Soviet era, and its importance for Georgian national consciousness and identity.
Day 8, Monday, Oct 9th, Tbilisi
In the morning, we have two additional atelier visits: the first to a master builder of traditional Georgian lutes - the chonguri and the panduri - and the second to a master swordsmith who has been rewarded many times over for his exquisite talent and skill. The afternoon program features a visit to Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia. We will tour the iconic 6th c. Church of the Cross (Jvari monastery), the 12th c. Samtavro Convent --burial site of 4th c. saints Nana and Mirian and 21st c. St. Gabriel, a recently canonized "Fool-for-Christ" -- and the 11th c. Cathedral of the Life-Giving Pillar, site of coronations and funerals for generations of Georgian monarchs. An arch of a Roman bridge built by Pompeus in 65 AD exists in Mtskheta, and may be visible poking above the waters of the dammed Mtkvari river nearby. Free evening in Tbilisi (everyone on their own for dinner)
Day 9, Tuesday, Oct 10th, Kazbegi
For the next two days, we travel into the highlands of Kazbegi along the early 19th c. "Russian Military Highway." Our day will begin with a visit to the 16th c. Ananuri Fortress, featuring an ornately carved Russian iconostasis and church walls. Traveling up the Russian Military Highway, we’ll stop for photographs from scenic viewpoints, and cross the Jvari pass (2400 meters) in the early afternoon. Once in Stepantsminda, we’ll take 4x4 jeeps to the 13th c. Gergeti Trinity monastery. Weather cooperating, we may the impressive cone volcano of Mount Kazbegi where, according to legend, a Promethian-like hero was tied for all eternity in punishment for introducing fire to humans.
Day 10, Wednesday, Oct 11th, Tbilisi
In the morning we travel north through the Daryal Gorge to the Monastery of the Archangels at the Russian border. Option to hike to the Gveleti Waterfall. Before lunch, we'll visit the atelier of a local family to learn how they make local felted textiles, knitted stockings, and wooly hats! In the afternoon, we return to the lowlands with stops to take photographs. Free time in Tbilisi before our evening meal.
Day 11, Thursday, Oct 12th, Tbilisi
In the morning, we have our final two atelier visits: the first is to a stone carver who specializes in carving the ornate decorative facades for new Orthodox Christian churches; the second will be to the studio of a young artist who works mostly with visual arts, painting with ink and oil paints. In the afternoon, we will visit a couple of antique shops as well as the bustling flea market at the "Dry Bridge" in Tbilisi, where one can find Soviet paraphernalia, artwork, old records, pins and buttons, and a variety of ceramics and chinawear. Option for private souvenir shopping. In the evening, we will have our final banquet, with traditional singers.
Day 12, Friday, Oct 13th
Airport transfers arranged as necessary. If guests plan to stay extra nights in Tbilisi, please contact John to arrange extra accommodation. There is daily liturgy in the Sioni Cathedral at 9am, visitors are welcome to come and go as they like in the cathedral. For those still in the city, we'll organize a lunch meeting near the hotel.