Ateni and Uplistsikhe

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 The church of Sioni Ateni and Uplis-tsikhe, the "Castle (tsikhe) of God" are only a few kilometers from Gori, the birth-place of Stalin. Ateni with its 12th-century frescoes is one of the architectural treasures of Georgia, and Uplistsikhe a unique cave city that has only been abandoned in the 18th century. Gori is an ugly town entirely geared to the personality cult of Georgia's most infamous son, Stalin whose modest birthplace is enshrined in a pompous architectural structure of Stalin's times.

Merab took me to these places three times. The first time with his students on another illicit outing in 1977. The second time with Barbara, Cornelius and Sophiko in 1980. On a third visit in 1984 with his dubious Mingrelian friend Akobia he tried to persuade me to visit Stalin's house in Gori and the attached museum. Despite my realization that this was a serious break of political etiquette in front of Akobia - who had just bought my lunch - I strenuously objected to pay homage to the man who destroyed and robbed me of the homeland of my ancestors. We had a big row, but what could they do. Merab drove instead to Ateni, where the scaffold of a team of restorers allowed me to get closer to the beloved frescoes and photograph them close up without lights, flash, or tripod. I nearly broke my leg climbing down, but I was happy again.


Sioni Ateni

On the road through the vineyards to Ateni (1980)



Houses near the church.





The valley south of Ateni (1980)



The view from the wall surrounding the church. While Merab had gone to find the caretaker with the key to the church, we had lunch here: bread, fruit, and a pound of vicious pickled garlic from the market in Gori. (1980)



The Church. Like Djavari Mtskheta a cruciform building



Ateni Sioni from the retaining wall, Sophiko and Merab in the distance (1980).



Ateni's most famous fresco showing Joseph's dream.





Mary and Elizabeth



Saints and Church Fathers below and a uniquely Georgian assembly of men above.


Mary of the Annunciation



The Angel of the Annunciation



A closer view of the angel (1989)



A non-Georgian plaque set into the outer wall of the church. David in the lion pit and an angel encouraging David with the sling shot(?). The writing is in Armenian(?) or Urartian letters.




The collapsed cave church at Uplistsikhe and a later church above ground. Blond Sophiko is seen on the right and Merab in the distance (1980).



View from Uplistsikhe on a village that had been destroyed by an earthquake a few years earlier. Its inhabitants had been moved to prefabricated Soviet style apartment buildings in a new village near by. The river is the Kura upstream of Tbilisi. (1977)



Local farmers at a typically Georgian family picnic below the cave city (1977).



The Kura and the hills near Gori in the evening light (November 1980)