Sunday, December 12, 2010

One museum, zero caves, two monasteries, and one amusement park make for one great day.

Marie, Lika, me, Oxana, Miranda outside
State Museum in Kutaisi

In the pre-dawn darkness, my alarm went off. It was Saturday, and I really wanted to sleep. But Tea had told me that we had to meet the bus for our field trip at 8:30, and knowing that 6th-9th graders are not quiet even in the morning (when I really need some quiet before starting my day), I got up at 7 so I could have an hour or so to wake up before meeting everyone. When I went into the lower house a couple of minutes later, I was surprised to see Leban (in 7th grade) up already and eating breakfast. I sat down to eat at 7:15 and asked Tea what time we needed to leave. She said, "At 8:30 - after 15 minutes." I looked at my phone as the realization of what she meant sunk in. I showed her my phone and said, "You mean in 15 minutes, at 7:30?" She laughed - "Yes! 7:30!" Okay - no quiet waking up this morning! Flexibility!! Thankfully I had gotten all of my things together the night before, so all I had to do after gulping down my coffee was put on my boots and grab my bag that was waiting by my bedroom door. Leban and I opened the gate, stepped out onto the road, and made our way in the dark to the group waiting for the coach.

For our field trip, we went to the city of Kutaisi. Kutaisi is the second-largest city in Georgia and was once the capital of the country; it spans the Rioni River with water that appears bright green in the white limestone river bed. The age of Kutaisi is staggering for my New-World brain. In the U.S., we have no sense of ancient things - "age" may span 200 years, if we're lucky. But the city of Kutaisi has documented history that dates back to the 7th century BC - that's almost 3,000 years - and it is believed that it was actually founded almost 4,000 years ago! Apollonius of Rhodes names the settlement in his poem about the Argonauts written in the 3rd century BC. Jason sailed to Colchis to capture the golden fleece, according to legend. "Kutaia" is mentioned in the poem as the capital of the region.

The city has seen plenty of war and destruction in its history. In the Byzantine - Persian war in the 6th century, Kutaisi was in the middle of the conflict. The Arabs destroyed it in the 730's. It was burned by the Ottomans in 1510 and by the Turks in 1666. But during the 1100's, when David the Builder was king, the city and its surrounding area gained its most beautiful attractions - one of them (a church and monastery) was one of our destinations for the day, along with another church, a museum, and one of Georgia's ancient cave settlements.

Outer walls of Nokalakevi
The cave settlement was our first stop for the day. After driving about an hour west of Zugdidi, we turned off the main road and up into a group of hills with a river running between them. As soon as we crossed the river, we saw huge walls that ran along the road and back into the hills - Nokalakevi. The bus parked across the street from the new museum situated alongside the imposing walls, and we all got off. After snapping a couple of photos of the outer walls, I walked over to the other teachers who were along to ask what we were waiting for. (Silly question, I know!) We were waiting for whoever runs the place to open it. Ten minutes later we were told that they weren't going to open the gates today. Okay. We all got back onto the bus - no one seemed to think this was out of the ordinary. Flexibility and spontaneity! Lika said that we could come back in the spring. Off we went again toward Kutaisi.

On the porch of the State Museum
We stopped on the main plaza of the city in front of the State Museum of Kutaisi. I would love to have had a couple of hours to look at everything in the museum more thoroughly, but we were rushed through by a tour guide who talked about only a few pieces in the exhibit. Since I didn't understand the guide, I just looked at everything myself (reading the tiny tags that had some English on them) and felt okay with hanging back from the group to look at what I wanted to see. There were artifacts that date back to the Stone Age that were found in some of the cave dwellings in the mountains and stone carvings of a minotaur and a beautiful fertility god from the 7th century BC. The exhibits of the pottery and jewelry were extensive, as were the ancient frescoes, stone and metal religious icons, and intricately worked metal Bible cases. There were also more modern pieces including the first telephone used in Kutaisi, photographs from the city during the late 1800's that looked much the same as today, and winemaking implements.

Inside the church at Gelati -
the center image of Mary, Christ,
and the angels is a mosaic of over
2.5 million stones
From the museum, we drove out of the city a few kilometers to the church and monastery that were built by King David the Builder in 1106-1125. The stone buildings are perched on a hillside - a common placement for churches and castles here in Georgia. The name of the monastery is Gelati (which instantly made me want some pistachio gelato in Rome). This church was my favorite part of our excursion. The interior of the church is covered with frescoes and a mosaic of Mary and the Christ-child. No other Orthodox church in Georgia has such extensive artwork on the walls and domes. To one side of the church stands an academy also built by King David. This academy was the first to built in Georgia, and was first reserved for the members of the royal court. Several of the kings and Georgia's only ruling queen are buried on the grounds of Gelati. 

Frescoes on the walls and dome of Gelati

Inside the academy building at Gelati

The church at Gelati

Side doors to the church at Motsameta
At our next destination, we stopped for a picnic of khatchapuri, mandarini, and fig torte - delicious! Strengthened by our lunch, we walked out along the top of a ravine to Motsameta - another church and monastery perched on the side of hill over a river. Motsameta is much smaller than Gelati, but just as beautiful. The monastery was built in the 8th century to commemorate the deaths of two brothers, David and Constantine Mkheidze. Because they would not convert to Islam, in 720 Arabs threw them off the cliffs into the gorge. A legend says that lions carried their bones back up the mountainside and the bones are now kept inside the church.


Our final stop was back in Kutaisi - Besiki Park. This amusement park sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. The kids had a great time running around and going on as many rides as possible - some of them to the point of sickness! I went on the ferris wheel to have a good look at the city, but my headache kept me off the other rides. When we teachers were sufficiently tired out, we dragged the kids off the rides, herded them back onto the bus, and headed home. They kept us entertained on the ride home by singing along with the Georgian MTV playing on the TVs mounted in the coach and dancing in the aisles. The driver put on a disc of traditional songs and the kids went nuts! The love their traditional music and they all know Georgian dance. The boys and girls paired up and everyone who could fit in the aisle danced as the bus carried us all home. Headache aside, watching the kids dance and sing was a nice way to ride back! 

No comments:

Post a Comment