Uplistsikhe

The market in Gori, on the way to Uplistsikhe.

The market in Gori, on the way to Uplistsikhe.

Last Wednesday was Mtskhetoba, a national holiday, so Khatuna had the day free and we decided to visit Uplistsikhe just outside Gori.  We took a public taxi with two other people and arrived at the bus station/bazaar in Gori around 12:30, where we did a bit of quick shopping for our planned mtsvadi dinner.  

In the butcher's corner in the market.  Here we got some veal for our mtsvadi dinner.

In the butcher's corner in the market. Here we got some veal for our mtsvadi dinner.

After walking around for a while we found some nice-looking veal for our mtsvadi, as well as a set of shampurebi (skewers) that we’d been looking for for a while.  This picture is from the butcher’s section of the market, where all sorts of livestock detritus is scattered on table-tops or dangling from meat-

The bazaar.

The bazaar.

hooks.  The smaller-scale butchery is all done in the market: tree-trunks serve as the platforms on which legs are hacked to size; ribs are chopped with large axes, and heads are meticulously stripped of any sellable flesh.  The people working there are friendly and helpful; the guy who sold us our veal happily cut our onions for us, while his partner laughed as his friend’s eyes watered and told me to take a picture of him weeping over our onions.  When I asked in hesitant Georgian at a nearby shop for a small portion of salt—perhaps half a cup—the young man poured the salt into a bag and with friendly but firm earnestness refused to accept any money.

Filming the new movie in Gori.

Filming the new movie in Gori.

Once we had all our stuff, we headed out to Uplistsikhe, a few kilometers from town.  As we were about to cross the bridge, flanked with tanks and military vehicles, we were waved to a stop and had to wait about ten minutes.  A guy standing next to me told me it was filming for the American film about the August war; I checked it out and found that it’s being directed by Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin and starring Andy Garcia as Saakashvili!  Should be interesting.  Here are some pictures.

The back entrance of the cave complex.

The back entrance of the cave complex.

We spent a couple hours wandering around the site and then left to prepare our dinner; here are some of the pictures.

Inside the stairway of the back door.

Inside the stairway of the back door.

Khatuna in front of the principal remaining edifices.

Khatuna in front of the principal remaining edifices.

From the Lonely Planet guide: “Uplistsikhe is one of the oldest places of settlement in the Caucasus.  It was founded in the late Bronze Age, around 1000 BC, but developed mainly from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD.  This was one of the principal political and religious centres of pre-Christian Kartli, with temples dedicated principally to the sun goddess.  Archeological findings from the 4th to 6th centuries AD speak of an ongoing struggle between Christians and adherents of the old religion.”(76)

Note the ruined settlements down below.

Note the ruined settlements down below.

Known as the Theater, this is probably a temple from the 1st or 2nd century CE, where religious mystery plays may have been performed.  Note the ceiling with octagonal designs similar to Caracalla's Baths in Rome.

"Known as the Theater, this is probably a temple from the 1st or 2nd century CE, where religious mystery plays may have been performed. Note the ceiling with octagonal designs similar to Caracalla's Baths in Rome." (LP)

The view from the Theater.

The view from the Theater.

At the end of his section on Uplistsikhe, Roger Rosen relieves himself of a somewhat bizarre poetic-moral reverie: “Uplistsikhe is one of those eerie places that confirm so eloquently the Old Testament injunction against vanity.  Looking over all the burrows in the soft stone and feeling the wind erode the structures even as you stand there, you can’t help but be spooked by all this troglodytic ambition and what remains of it.”(162)  I can’t help pursuing this tangent: Vanity?  Ambition?  The vanity of  troglodytic ambition?  There may well have been a degree of pride in the vast town carved out of the stone—and quite right, too—but I didn’t get any Ozymandian vibes while communing with the caves.  Especially considering the fate that overtook it (those damn Mongols again), some ingenuity in constructing one’s settlement in the very stone of the mountains seems less like vanity than a mixture of shrewd opportunism (the stone is quite soft) and a sort of wary, far-sighted prudence; and its destruction less an eloquent confirmation of Bronze Age sanctimoniousness than simply another instance of the depredations of the Mongols.  Perhaps the fact that Uplistsikhe was being built around the time the Jews were compiling their Book provided Rosen with an irresistible but facile temptation to moralize.  But really, in my opinion, Leviticus and Deuteronomy hardly provide an edifying contrast to whatever pagan excesses might have been perpetrated in Uplistsikhe, let alone in the greatly superior Hellenistic culture to whose decline it contributed.  If one must sacrifice creatures, it might as well be to the sun—the warm, life-giving sun!  the sun which, as it emerged wan and pale from the pitiless Polish winter, made Primo Levi understand how people could worship it—rather than, as Richard Dawkins polemically puts it, to “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak, a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”  So.  Back to the pictures.

The 10th century Uplistsulis Eklesia (Prince's Church), built over a pagan temple.

The 10th century Uplistsulis Eklesia (Prince's Church), built over a pagan temple.

Checking my Lonely Planet guide.

Checking my Lonely Planet guide.

The marani next to the pre-Christian Temple of Makvliani.

The marani next to Tamaris Darbazi..

"Tamaris Darbazi", the Hall of Queen Tamar.

"Tamaris Darbazi", the Hall of Queen Tamar.

Khatuna.

Khatuna.

The Uplistsulis Eklesia and pagan temple.

The Uplistsulis Eklesia and pagan temple underneath. Palimpsestic architecture. Like it.

More caves.

More caves.

A ceremonial chamber at the top of the complex.

A ceremonial chamber at the top of the complex.

The Mtkvari valley.

The Mtkvari valley.

The view from the top of the complex.

The view from the top of the complex.

Preparing our dinner a few minutes' walk from the entrance to Uplistsikhe.

Preparing our dinner a few minutes' walk from the entrance to Uplistsikhe.

I've become pretty expert at preparing fires for mtsvadi.

I've become pretty expert at preparing fires for mtsvadi.

The Mtkvari at twilight.

The Mtkvari at twilight.

A great day.

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One Response

  1. I happened upon your blog while researching the church at Uplistsikhe. I read your quote of Dawkins as part of your rebuke of Rosen’s comments. I can see why you were upset with Rosen’s troglodyte slur, but I don’t see why you sank to the same level by quoting Dawkins’ slur. Since you admire Uplistsikhe, look again at its evolution of religion –as evidenced by its pagan base and Christian church. It represents an evolution in awareness of the importance of the totality of reality (the Sacred/God) not merely in natural forces (paganism) but also and especially in the love and compassion for the neighbor (Christ and Communion with Christ.). You witnessed in stone and archaeology what transpired in centuries: the evolution of a social and spiritual paradigm.

    May I recommend the essay “The Sacred and the Profane” by Mircea Eliade? It is a secular essay on the historical phenomenon of psychological and spiritual evolution that is routinely described as religion.

    Afterwards, to get some grasp of the *experience* itself, may I recommend reading the text of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom? I would pay particular attention to the section of text entitled “The Anaphora.” Whether you believe in its words literally or not, it does adequately describe in words –like a poem, like an exaltation– the evolution of consciousness that is both possible and regularly reported through Orthodox Christianity.

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