Georgia is full of monasteries and medieval churches but they were not all created equal. Most are in
fantastic locations, often on a mountain top looking out over the valley below, but they are mostly
pretty sparse inside. Gelati and Motsameta are different. What counts for these is on the inside and it
makes them the best half-day trip from Kutaisi.



Gelati was established in the 12 th Century by King David the Builder at a time when Kutaisi was still the capital of Georgia. It was one of the largest Orthodox monasteries and a place of science and education which was considered an important cultural hub. Although the building and its location are attractive the reason to make the journey to this UNESCO World Heritage site are the interior wall paintings.

As you enter the walls are covered in colorful frescoes from the 12th to 17th Centuries which are great examples from the ‘Golden Age’ of Georgian art and architecture. The mosaic of Virgin and Child surrounded by archangels, located in the apps of the main church, was created in 1130 and contains 2.5 million stones. This piece is considered one of Georgia’s greatest works of art but was irreparably damaged by earthquakes. As a result the bottom part has been
restored using paint but it is not known whether that was due to it being too difficult to restore with mosaics.

Dating from the 12th Century and by an artist called Tevdore the dome is covered by a depiction of Christ called Christ Pantacrator. The almighty is surrounded by four evangelists preaching the gospel and between each window stand 16 kings and prophets from the Old Testament. After King David’s death the Monastery continued as an important Georgian cultural hub until its gradual decline from the 14 th Century. During the following 400 years it was looted and burned twice
before being restored in 1988.


The location of Motsameta is the more spectacular but the interior is overshadowed by Gelati. The monastery is from the 11th Century and was built to honour two brothers who died during an attack by Arabs in the 8th Century.

At the time the two brothers, David and Konstantin, were the local lords. During the war with the Arabs they were captured and tortured after they refused to convert to Islam. They were both killed and their bodies thrown into the river. The blood spilled is what has given the river which runs in the gorge far below the monastery its name – the Red River.

According to the legend a lion brought the bodies up to the church where their bones are kept in the decorated gold coffin shown in the above photo. The story says that if you crawl three times through the narrow passageway below it your prayers will be answered.

The frescoes in Motsameta are much brighter than those found in Gelati since they are more recent. The originals were destroyed in a fire in 1923. Some say that this detracts from the atmosphere but we found that the ambience was just different. Motsameta feels more like a working monastery and is well worth the stop.

Motsameta inside

This guest blog post is written by Kristin Dahlstrom of Adventures with Ensuite which features Travel in Georgia and the Caucasus.