Monday, 25 January 2021

Is Timotesubani with its frescoes really worth visiting?

Sunning myself on the balcony which overlooks a green pasture and the mountain village of Bakuriani beyond, I had first learnt of a 13th-century cathedral in the area. Somehow the joy of breathing the freshest air and the sound of clanking cowbells close by, faded into a distance as I read: "The interior was extensively frescoed in no later than 1220. The Timotesubani murals are noted for their vivacity and complexity..." That was enough info for me. Invitation accepted!

This Georgian Orthodox monastic complex sits tucked away in the Borjomi Gorge. The easiest and quickest way to reach it from Bakuriani would be by taxi. But that's not my idea of fun. I like to travel slowly and stay long. It's all about experiencing, discovering and soaking up the atmosphere.  

So we decided it was the perfect opportunity to take the Kukushka, a small, narrow-gauge train that runs between Bakuriani up in the mountain and Borjomi, down in the valley. We would only go as far as Tsagveri and then hike the rest of the way to the monastery. 

The railway line was constructed in 1902 and the Kukushka, which is Russian for "little cuckoo", was originally powered by a steam engine.  

At Bakuriani train station a very short little train awaited us. The odd-looking electrical Skoda engine from Czechoslovakia, which had replaced the steam engine, had only two small coaches to pull. It was 09:30 on a Saturday morning, but the ticket office was closed. Eventually, someone indicated that we should board the train. It turned out he was the conductor and we later purchased our tickets from him on the train. The price was 2.50 lari each, which is under 1 USD, no matter where we chose to get off. 

Travelling on this little train, turned out to be a mesmerising experience. Going at a top speed of 15km an hour, it snakes its way through the forests which cling to the mountainsides. If it hadn't been for the few stops at small stations like Libani ...

... and Tsemi to break the rhythm, an hour and a half of watching trees float by and gently being rocked from side to side in our pint-sized coach, could've had me sleeping like a baby.

We disembarked at Tsagveri station and soon found a very modest-looking shop where we bought delicious baked goods to feast on along the way. Then we followed the road into the beautiful gorge on foot for 4km, ...

... admiring amazing rock formations, meeting some of the friendly locals, finding lovely traditional timber houses and vintage trucks, exploring the ruins of the 11th and 12th century Uznariani Fortress and sharing our pastries with a friendly dog that accompanied us, as is the custom of Georgian dogs. 

Before long, we reached the monastery.

The fascinating Gothic entrance to the complex is of great architectural importance and has long been admired for its complex design. The door itself did not appear to be particularly old, although it certainly was decorated with beautifully carved details.

As we arrived, a tourist bus pulled up and everybody in it eager to get into the cathedral. So, we decided to hang back until they had left. This gave us a chance to first explore the grounds, admire all the medieval architectural features and moss-covered tombstones. 

There was plenty of patina and other details to discover...

We made our way up the slope behind the cathedral and found a wooden bench and table, the perfect spot to have our picnic while gazing out over the old graves, the cathedral and the valley beyond.

Soon, the bus was filling up again which meant it was finally time to visit the cathedral. 

And, of course, it was all it had promised to be.

Timotesubani was constructed during the Golden Age of medieval Georgia under Queen Tamar, who ruled from 1184 to 1213.

The frescoes were painted around 800 years ago. They were cleaned and studied in the 1970's and about 20 years ago, they underwent emergency treatment and restoration.

The magnificence of these historical works of art which had survived all the turmoil that Georgia has had to endure throughout the centuries left me speechless. The frescoes and patina all around me were truly splendid and right then I was the happiest person in all of Georgia.

So, is Timotesubani worth visiting? Most definitely, yes! Whether you prefer to hike or take a tourist bus, whether you like to do it on your own (Georgia is one of the safest places for even a woman to travel alone) or do it in a group, a visit to this architectural jewel from the Golden Age of medieval Georgia, is not to be missed. 

I have a feeling this day will remain a precious memory forever. 

My search for wonderful examples of authentic patina continues in the country of Georgia and next time I'll share what I found in Batumi. Until then ...

... Happy Painting!

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