In this series of posts, I document an extraordinary trip to 10 churches in the Shida Kartli region. To see the full post on the Churches of Kartli, click here. In this specific post, I share photos and video of the incredible medieval stone bridge, a so-called "Tamar bridge", named for the famous 12th century monarch of Georgia under whose reign these bridges were presumably built.
This trip is accessible by jeep tour only. To book your tour, contact us directly!
After driving several hours over winding dirt tracks through the hills above Kaspi and Ertatsminda, we left the car at the small village of Rkoni. From here, passable roads stop. Visitors carry on by foot.
But in the distant past, the road continued. A series of extremely well built bridges were strategically constructed up the gorge in order to allow for horse and cart traffic to travel between the plains of the Mtkvari river valley and the highland plateaus and summer grazing lands to the south. These date from the late 12th century during the reign of Queen Tamar (1160-1213)!
My friend Fr. Zakari was kind enough to be my guide on this trip. He was born and raised in Kaspi, and spent his childhood summers in Rkoni village with his extended family. He and his brother, who also joined our excursion, spent their childhood years exploring the forests, monasteries, and fortresses all around this region. Fr. Zakari also asked permission of the bishop to get into the locked 7th century basilica of the Virgin at Rkoni Monastery.
If you don't have a guide like I did, here is how to find the bridge! First find the Rkoni Monastery. From there, walk upriver about 200-300 meters on the only trail that goes that direction.
Catching sight of the bridge is amazing. I invite you to watch this short video clip I shot while there.
Medieval Tamar bridge over the Tedzami River near the Rkoni Monastery
Arriving at this medieval "Tamar bridge", for me, produced an amazing feeling. It was a feeling of surprise, joy, amazement, wonder, awe, and intense engineering curiosity all mixed together at once!
The location is so rural, so out of the way, the technology so simple yet graceful. One can't help but marvel at the ingenuity of the construction, and at the same time the improbability of its survival for the last 900 years.
The high arching stone with no supports... it is as graceful as the European flying buttresses on Gothic cathedrals. But while those are in cities, on major buildings, here we are in the most backwoods rural forest one can find in Georgia, in what is today the virtual wilderness of the Trialeti Mountain range, looking at an architectural gem of a bridge.
The bridge is constructed from local stone, embedded in a very thick and strong whitish mortar that must be some medieval cement combination that included lime and possibly egg (eggs were definitely used in mortars and plasters used for church construction.
The bridge is most impressive when viewed from below. The best view point is across the river from the Rkoni Monastery, a few steps upriver. From there, this is the view:
After playing around at the bridge, maybe having a picnic in the broad meadow on the other side, I recommend the 15 minute scramble up the hill to the tower church of St. Simeon Stylite!
Aerial footage of Tamar bridge at Rkoni and surrounding sites
Enjoy this professional produced video, featuring aerial views of the Tedzami river, Rkoni monastery, and local Drisi castle. The soundtrack is not bad either!
For those interested in hiking possibilities, there are now marked trails through the Trialeti Mountain range. Two of these trails converge at the Rkoni village. Do internet searches for trails on the Rkoni-Kldekari track that goes into the Algeti National Forest. Access from the south is from Rkoni. Access from the north is from Manglisi.