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The Ancient Capital

Not unlike a lot of other Georgian cities, Mtskheta has been inhabited continuously for a very long time, and has the marks to show for it.

Becoming a main trading hub and sizable city sometime in the 5th century BC, this city was right on the path of all the great trading avenues between east and west, as well as the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. This city stood as the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia, or east Georgia, until the 5th century AD when that title was moved to Tbilisi. Almost everything in the area is old. Castles, churches, walls, roads, even an old Roman bridge. Because the town is not as easily defended as Tbilisi, there is a ring of old stone forts that surround the place.

Entering the town, you wouldn't know you were coming into the site of ancient royalty and the epicenter of religious fervor. Today, the town is small, almost village-like. People still loading food and supplies on the top of old Russian-made Lada cars, while the family packs inside for the drive home. Small market shops and butcher stands dole out the usual fare, and the road outside the main cathedral, Svetitskhoveli, is lined with locals goading the tourists with the usual magnets, "traditional" rugs, "I Love Georgia" t-shirts, and of course gratuitous servings of homemade wine.

Walking the streets in the shadow of Jvari monastery, a 6th century AD orthodox church located on Jvari mountain to the east of the old capital, the feeling in the town is quaint. Despite the influx of tourist traps and up-spring of restaurants in the area all battling for the visitors dime, there is still this old village aura. Given that more rustic Georgians generally don't move around often, it stands to be argued that some of the families that call Mtskheta home, have done so for an incredibly long time. Because it was the seat of power during the move to Christendom in 337 AD, the town has a deep feeling of religious influence and not just due to the location of several medieval churches. According to one nun that shared her insight, St. Nino, the one responsible for the Christianization of the Caucuses, had actually set up shop here in Mtskheta, and the stone church she called home is still standing. Religious or not, one has to be a little moved by that.

Despite being what would probably classify as a village in Georgia, tiny Mtskheta has a ton packed into it. There's certainly a feeling of going back in time in some way when exploring some of the structures that remain standing almost untouched since antiquity. With the protection afforded by having almost the whole town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, It's comforting to know that even more people in the future will be able to experience this time capsule of Georgian history and heritage. I think there will most likely be a part 2 to this, as Mtskheta just has more than one day trip can allow for.

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