Bagrati Cathedral looms over the city of Kutaisi like a proud parent wondering how her child will turn out. It can be seen from any street in the city, and being on a hill, getting to it requires a climb. We cheated. We took the cablecar across the river up to the leisure park and walked from there.
Ignoring the many taxis vying for business, we decided to walk, to get a feel for the neighbourhood. And it was worth it. I mentioned before that the faded metalwork is gorgeous. And I’ve written before about my fascination with doors and how I staccatoed a lot of smooth walks by stopping to take pictures of doors in Morocco. This fascination was challenged by a new one in Kutaisi – gates. The colours are simply amazing. The newer ones, the ones that were bright and sparkly weren’t nearly as attractive. I was in my element.
A tad concerning were the gas pipes which run along the streets. On the one hand, leaks are easily discovered and fixed. On the other, you have to wonder at the damage a stray match might do. The meters look like they’ve seen a few winters. Some new houses have been built in what seems to be a very old neighbourhood and they, like the sparkly newly painted gates, instead of looking impressive, look like fakes. Gentrification can’t be too far away, but I hope that the ‘hood manages to hold on a while longer.
We eventually got to the cathedral. Built in the tenth century by Bagratt III, it was blown up by Ottoman invaders seven centuries later. Reconstruction took more than 50 years and finished in 2012. So it’s sort of new.
There was some sort of service going on with lots of people coming and going. There was a choir in the corner – half a dozen old dears singing their hearts out. Lots of young people, girls in particular, went through the rituals that are so alien to me.
No matter how long I stood and watched, I could see no pattern. There were repeated signs of the cross and a lot of kissing of various relics and pictures. And there was a lot of candle lighting. That part I was fine with. Some day, someone will have to explain it all to me. But despite the pomp and ceremony, the walking in and out, the brandishing of candelabra, there was a palpable sense of devotion.
The silent reverence that I’m used to felt a little shallow. In Bagrati, people seemed to live their faith, to treat their church as if it were their home. A graduation group posed for photographers in front of the altar, only scolded when they stood on a rug that wasn’t for standing on. And all this as the service continued. It was confusing. It was impressive. It was quite something else. The bells rang as we left and looking up at the bell tower, we saw the man in action. Special.
The view from above is quite breathtaking. The traffic of visitors in and out looked set to continue for a while yet. It’s open till at least 9pm and possibly longer, depending on who’s there. I could have stayed for hours, but there was still a city to see. Following Giorgio’s directions, we found our set of steep steps and accompanied by chickens, made our way back into town without falling foul of loose stones and shaky guard rails. All part of the experience and every step of it worthwhile. Some photos for you: