Caucasus. Climbing to release the wise Titan
Today my destination is perhaps the most iconic image from Georgia: Tsminda Sameba Monastery, aka Gergeti Holy Trinity Church, built on a hill with the fantastic landscape of the Greater Caucasus snow-capped peaks. It’s impressive to see the church from a distance, a dark mysterious silhouette on a white or green background, according to the season: no wonder Telegraph has listed Gergeti Trinity Church among the 23 world’s most beautiful churches, as n. 6.
According to the legend, Prometheus, the Titan punished by Zeus for having taught mankind to make fire, had been chained to Caucasus’ Kazbegi mountain, and imprisoned in a cave 4.000 meters high. The cave, named “Betlemi”, has been used as shelter by orthodox monks and is said to have kept sacred relics like the Christ’s manger or Abraham’s tent.
My “base camp” for exploration is Stepantsminda, a nice small village in the middle of the Kazbegi region. We are now in the North-Eastern part of Goergia, very close to the border with the separatist South Ossetia, that declared itself independent State but is still missing international recognition. You can only enter from Russia, with a separate visa.
The Great Georgian Military Road
Tbilisi is connected to Kazbegi by the historical Great Georgian Military Road, built in 19th Century to allow Russian troops a rapid access to the Southern territories in the Greater Caucasus; the route, actually, was known also in very ancient times, as it had been mentioned by Strabo and Pliny the Elder.
This time I decide not to travel by marshrutka: there are different interesting spots during the way to Stepantsminda, so I run to Didube station early in the morning, and together with three Polish brothers (2 are twins!) we hire a “collective” driver just for us. Our first stop is the Ananuri fortress: a fortified castle on the Aagvi River, it was the seat for a feudal dynasty and site of many battles; now it’s a nice photo spot with a small market for tourists, where I discover the bautifu patterns of Georgian fabrics.
Therefore, after crossing the Gudauri ski resort, the Monument of friendship between Russia and Georgia: built in 1983 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Georgievsk and the ongoing friendship between Soviet Georgia and Soviet Russia, it is a large and colorful round stone showing scenes of Georgian and Russian history. A weird and quite “out-of-place” element just above the sublime snowy Devil’s Valley.
At Jvari Pass, 2.400 meters high, the landscape is breathtaking: the snow – that few days ago had forced to close the pass, as the Spanish girls told me near Khatski! – is dazzling white, surrounds us on all sides and crowns the peaks of Major Caucasus and Mount Kazbek. The driver’s way of driving becomes more and more sporty – we get to overtake a tanker on a hairpin bend! – until the landscape gets sweeter and we descend into the gorge where Stepantsminda is located.
Where is Roza?
With my backpacks I head to Roza Guest-house, where I don’t find any Roza but an elderly blue-dressed and flat-capped Georgian who doesn’t speak any Russian or English, but asks me to wait with a reassuring “momento amore”. He comes back with the key, and after a quarter of an hour spent trying to figure out the (badly) functioning of the door, with probable unintelligible blasphemies from both sides, I am ready for my pilgrimage to Gergeti Holy Trinity Church.
Gergeti Trinity Church
I reach Tsminda Sameba after an hour and a half of walk, under a grey sky that was initially threatening rain, but in the end gets sunny and enlightens the peaks.
Because of the recent snowfall that has blocked several valleys, I do not trust the path and decide to follow the paved road, where I see a lot of taxis and buses full of tourists. The sight of the monastery after the last bend leaves you speechless: the tiny dark silhouettes of Gergeti church and the bell tower, against an enormity of snowy rock that looms towards a sky of the same colour.
I bask in the sun, admiring the view, light a candle to the icon of the Virgin with the child, and begin my descent.
Sufi in the middle of Caucasus
Just in the village, I exchange a few words with the legendary Cameron, a New Zealander who has crossed half a globe to travel and volunteer in Georgia, before drinking a hot coffee, staring at the sunset, at “Café 5049 m“: it’s only me who could find by chance in the middle of the Caucasus a place run by an Indian with a sufi turban and psychedelic background music…