Cathedrals of Tao: A John Graham Invitational Tour

A tour to the historic medieval kingdom of Tao-Klarjeti (Georgia and Turkey)

Monday, June 25th - Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Featured in the New York Times!

Registration: FULL (Max 14 participants) - Waiting List

Tour Details:

  • Arrive-Depart Tbilisi (airport designation TBS)
  • Accommodation in high quality boutique hotels specially vetted for comfort and location (12 nights)
  • No travel visas necessary for Georgia (for US or EU passport holders) - other nationalities check your country's visa requirements. Visas for Turkey may be obtained here.
  • Our full on-ground package tour includes 2 airport transfers, 12 nights accommodation in selected hotels, 3 meals every day, all-you-can drink house wine/beer, chauffeured minibus, guides, entertainment, museum entrances (does not include international airfare, travel insurance)


  • $2850 Full package tour
  • $360 Single supplement



  • Contact us for the registration form. Receipt of the required deposit secures your place on the tour, space limited to 14 participants

Post-Tour Weekend Trip to Kazbegi (July 7th-9th)

  • Details in the tour brochure.

Sounds of the Tour


Travel Program...

Back by popular demand, this unique itinerary to the ruined cathedrals of Tao-Klarjeti promises to be even more successful than our 2016 excursion, one featured in the New York Times.

The tour starts/ends in Tbilisi, the fresh capital city of Georgia which has received a rebuild since the Soviet period but still features a medieval fortress and many historic buildings as its downtown nucleus. On our way to Turkey, we'll visit Mtkheta, the ancient capital of East Georgia, and Akhaltsikhe, an important northern fortress city for the kingdom of Tao-Klarjeti, whose period of vitality spanned the 8th-11th century period. From there we travel south, ascending the eastern Anatolian plateau to the ancient Armenian city of Ani in the Kars region, descending West into the canyonlands of the Chorokh river watershed, and finally turning north towards Georgia once again.

Along the way, we visit the major architectural remains of this forgotten kingdom: half-ruined fortresses perched on rocky crags above river narrows, and spectacular cathedrals hidden in the box canyons or in forests atop mesa-like plateaus above fissured river valleys.

Our accommodation is only top class. In Tbilisi, we will be located in the heart of the Old Town district, within walking distance of all of the major medieval sites and national museums. In Kars, (Turkey), we will stay at the Turkish Bureau of Tourism hotel, Kars Otel, otherwise reserved for official guests of the government. In Yusipeli, our modern hotel strides a rushing trout stream, and offers modern facilities and restaurant. In Artanuji, the Gevernik Otel was completed in 2016, and features balconies with views to the ancient fortress that was once the civic capital of the kingdom. In Georgia, we stay at the Vardzia Resort Hotel, completed in 2016, and featuring two outdoor swimming pools, restaurant-bar, and views to the 12th century cave complex of Vardzia.

The tour begins in Tbilisi! 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.

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 will be joined by his trusty singer friends whose humor and companionship lend to overall authenticity of experience in the Caucasus as they help negotiate our interactions with locals, order the best in local cuisines, and stay in fresh spirits with song and laughter. Our driver is a professional of many years who has traveled to the Tao-Klarjeti region more than 100 times with mostly Georgian pilgrimage groups... in short, he knows the roads better than locals.

Tour Destinations:


+ Tao-Klarjeti is the mountainous region in contemporary North-Eastern Turkey that was once the birth of the medieval Georgian "Golden Era" that lasted from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. The high-plateau topography is criss-crossed with deep canyons, which offered both fertile farmland and easily defensible positions against Georgia's numerous enemies. Evidence of the cultural and political importance of the area is seen in the ruins of more than three-hundred cathedrals, chapels, bridges, fortifications. During the tenth century, ruler Davit Kuropalates assisted the Byzantine Emperor Basil II with auxiliary troops to defeat an uprising, an alliance which strengthened the position of Tao against a weak Persia. Read more on the history of the region here. The Orthodox Church flourished, and the monasteries of Tao-Klarjeti became famous for their illuminated manuscripts, unique chanting schools, and deep connections with monasteries in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Greece.

Kars - Ani

+ Kars is a city at the far Eastern edge of Turkey, and as such has lost some of its former luster and importance. But during the nineteenth century, Kars was a major hub of the Russian Tsarist Empire, at the center of a geograhical region which encompassed the high steppe country spanning what is today southern Georgia, western Armenia, and eastern Turkey. During this period, the building of the transcaucasus railroad from Erzurum to Tbilisi traversed this plateau at Kars, leading to a vibrant commercial center populated with an extremely diverse ethnic population of migrant workers and their families. In former centuries, Kars was an important Eastern stronghold of the Ottoman Empire, seeing its share of epic battles as the Turks gained and lost territory to Persians, Georgians, Armenians, and Mongols. The focus of our visit will be the medieval metropolis of Ani, just a few kilometers from Kars, which was once the capital of feudal Armenia. In the 11th-12th century, Ani was administered by the Georgian monarchy, but later fell into ruin under the Seljuk Turks. Now, only a field of ruins remain, yet these are not mere stone walls. Giant arches and cathedral domes protrude from the plain, speaking volumes of a city that once boasted spectacular opulence.

Mtkvari River Valley

+ The Mtkvari River originates in Klarjeti (now NE Turkey) and flows some 400 miles north and east before emptying into the Caspian Sea. The watershed of this river, together with the parallel Araxes River to the south, formed the locus of an advanced neolithic society in 3000 BC, attested to in numerous archeological sites where evidence of trade, urbanization, religion, and agriculture have been located. Currently, this area crosses from the Eastern Anatolian steppe into what is today Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. While in Georgia, we will visit the 12th century cave city of Vardzia on the Upper Mtkvari River, as well as the 9th century Sapara Monastery on one of its tributaries. Near where the Mtkvari River flows through Tbilisi, capital city of Georgia, we visit the 11th century Cathedral of the "Living Cross," and a Roman bridge built in 65 AD. It was in this town, Mtskheta, where St. Nino the Enlightener managed to convert the local monarchs to Christianity in 326 AD, working miracles that saved the life of Queen Nana.


+ Tbilisi, capital city of Georgia, founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali. A center of trade and conflict for centuries, Tbilisi has been sacked forty times by various invaders but survives today as the modern hub of the South Caucasus. Nevertheless, the downtown area is full of winding cobblestone streets, small shops and restaurants, as well as the churches, synagogues, and mosques that celebrate the diversity of this unique country. As we tour monasteries in the ancient capital region, a comfortable downtown Tbilisi hotel will serve as our home-base, affording a chance to sample the best of Tbilisi's dining and evening entertainment, and visit the wealth of museums, spas, and cultural delights in the "Old Town."

Path of St. Nino, Enlightener of Georgians

+ St. Nino, a woman from central Anatolia, traveled overland through the Tao-Klarjeti region, following the Mtkvari river. She lived with Jewish communities, being an Aramaic speaker. She stayed for a time at Lake Parvan before continuing over the highland steppe country near the town that is called today Ninotsminda (Saint Nino), arriving at the palace of King Mirian and Queen Nana in the year 320 AD. There she worked miracles and converted first the queen and then the king. On this tour, we follow this route from Tao-Klarjeti back to Tbilisi-Mtskheta.


+ For those joining the extension tour to Kazbegi, this region offers the only reliable gateway through the Great Caucasus Range.The wagon road built through the passes in the early 1800s was called the "Russian Military Highway" and was traveled by countless Russian soldiers fighting their war of conquest against the Caucasian tribesman, as well as the artists and writers who wrote about them: Lermontov, Pushkin, Tchaikovsky, and others. Home to the Mokhevians and Pshavian tribesmen, these peoples speak a dialect of the Georgian language, and were historically allied with the lowland kings of Kartli - East Georgia. The region features spectacular hiking among the peaks, historical churches especially the 13th century Trinity monastery on the ridge above the town of Stepantsminda, and a well-known ski resort.

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Tbilisi Old Town, Georgia
Tbilisi Old Town, Georgia
Parkheta Monastery
Parkheta Monastery
Tour leaders singing
Tour leaders singing
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Georgia
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Georgia
Otkhta Monastery
Otkhta Monastery
Ishkhani Cathedral
Ishkhani Cathedral
Bana Monastery
Bana Monastery
Vista from Ani city ruin
Vista from Ani city ruin
Oshki Cathedral
Oshki Cathedral