The stone-carvings at Nikortsminda cathedral

The monastery church of Nikortsminda is one of the most unique churches in the Caucasus region.

  • For starters, it is built high in the Rachan highland region, making it difficult to access or find unless one ventures off the traditional tourist routes.
  • Second, the richness of its decor at such an early date (constructed from 1010 to 1014 AD) suggests its royal patronage - Bagrat III was then king of West Georgia.
  • Third, the plan of the church is very unique: from the outside it looks like a cruciform type cross-dome church plan, but on the inside it is revealed to built on a hexagonal design with six equal-spaces columns supporting a circular dome.
  • Fourth, the 17th century frescoes inside are exquisite, but it is the exterior stone carving that makes Nikortsminda famous: these are some of the most carefully designed and executed bas-relief sculptures of any in the whole Caucasus.

The carvings depict biblical scenes such as the Transfiguration, Judgement Day, the Raising of the Cross, as well as important saints and other figures.

 

Directions to Nikortsminda

To get to the Nikortminda monastery, take the road to Racha off of the main Tbilisi-Kutaisi highway towards the town of Terjola and Tqibuli. The turnoff is about 2.5 hours West of Tbilisi, and half hour to the East of Kutaisi.

Once on this road, one climbs up a series of switchbacks to a beautiful reservoir near the coal-mining town of Tqibuli before traversing another huge limestone ridge to arrive in the region of Racha. There, another reservoir and vast forests greet the eye.

Towards the region's administrative center, Ambrolauri, one comes across the fast-moving Rioni River, which plunges through a gouge in the limestone before rushing past Kutaisi into the flat floodplains of Samegrelo. Nikortsminda is situated just 15 minutes before reaching Ambrolauri, just off the road to the right (can't miss it). Give yourself 4 hours of driving time from the outskirts of Tbilisi, two hours from Kutaisi, driving fast.

 

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