This three-year project, funded by INTAS, to study the many monastic sites in
the Gareja Desert has substantially added to scholarly knowledge about
the establishment of monasteries and the nature of monastic life in this
region of Georgia. It has resulted in a number of new discoveries, and
a number of new publications, which are available at the Warburg Institute,
In the first year complete materials were collected for two monastic complexes
in the western area of the Gareja desert. This was a region that was previously
completely unstudied, and it is now possible to analyse and discuss aspects
of monastic life in this area of the desert. The project has revealed
information about the intensity of monastic life in the seventh to eighth
centuries (at Tetri Udabno) and in the ninth to tenth centuries (at Mravaltsqaro).
The work at Kolagiri and (Didi) Kvabebi has extended this study into the
north-eastern area of the Gareja desert. This is on the periphery of monastic
life in the desert (which centres on the first complex, the Lavra of St
Davit Garejeli). Kolagiri in particular, has revealed much about royal
and noble monastic foundations in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
– the time when the Georgian throne was at its most powerful. Work on
epigraphy has gained many new insights into the nature and scale of pilgrims
and other visitors to the different parts of the Gareja desert in different
periods. Through this work a picture is beginning to build up of the ways
in which the different areas of the desert flourished at different times
and the types of visitor they attracted. In the course of the restoration
work, a major early Christian apse painting has been saved from certain
destruction, and is now preserved in Tbilisi where it can now be restored
and, in the future, displayed. Other paintings have been restored in situ,
and at Kolagiri an important set of painted plaster fragments have been
uncovered during the cleaning of the church. These fragments, which are
of exceptionally high quality, are now being analysed.
An exhibition of materials recorded and discovered in Gareja was held in Tbilisi
in September 2000, at the same time as a major international conference:
Desert Monasticism: Gareja and the Christian East. The proceedings
of this conference will be published in 2001, and it is hoped to bring
the exhibition to western Europe.
The major work of the project is to publish a five volume series on the monasteries
of the Gareja desert, which will provide a record of all pilgrim and other
inscriptions found at each site, as well as all known archive materials.
The first volume, which covers the central monasteries of the Lavra and
Udabno is out. The text is in Georgian, but has an extensive English summary:
· Darejan Kldiashvili, Zaza Skhirtladze, Garejis sagandzuri [The Treasury of
Gareja] vol. II: Garejis epigrapiuli dzeglebi [The Inscriptions of Gareja]
vol. I part I: The Lavra of St. David and Udabno (Tbilisi, 1999).
In addition a number of monographs and articles on individual monasteries and
themes have also been published:
· Zaza Skhirtladze, Istoriul pirta portretebi garejis mravalmtas kolagiris
monastershi [Historical Figures
at Kolagiri Monastery in the Gareja Desert]
· Zaza Skhirtladze, ‘Early Paintings in the Gareja Desert’, in A. Eastmond (ed.),
Eastern Approaches to Byzantium, Society for the Promotion of Byzantine
Studies Publications: 9 (Aldershot, 2001), 147-167.
Many more are in preparation, and a number have already been published in Georgian.
Anyone interested in details of these publications should contact either
of the authors of this report, who can also provide more information about