Founded in 1106 in the west of Georgia, the Monastery of Gelati is a masterpiece of the Golden Age of medieval Georgia, a period of political strength and economic growth between the 11th and 13th centuries. It is characterized by the facades of smoothly hewn large blocks, balanced proportions and blind arches for exterior decoration. The Gelati monastery, one of the largest medieval Orthodox monasteries, was also a centre of science and education and the Academy it housed was one of the most important centres of culture in ancient Georgia.
Historical Monuments of Mtskheta
The historic churches of Mtskheta, former capital of Georgia, are outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus. They show the high artistic and cultural level attained by this ancient kingdom.
Preserved by its long isolation, the Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval-type villages and tower-houses. The village of Chazhashi still has more than 200 of these very unusual houses, which were used both as dwellings and as defence posts against the invaders who plagued the region.
Starting from 2011, 37 items were inscribed on the registry of Georgia’s Intangible Cultural Heritage as of August 2017. Three of them have been placed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists:
Ancient Georgian traditional Qvevri wine-making method
Inscribed in 2013 (8.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Qvevri wine-making is practiced throughout Georgia, particularly in the village communities, where unique varieties of grapes are grown. The Qvevri is an egg-shaped earthenware vessel used for making, ageing and storing the wine. Knowledge and experience of Qvevri manufacture and wine-making are passed down by families, neighbours, friends and relatives, all of whom join in communal harvesting and wine-making activities. Children learn how to tend the vines, press grapes, ferment wine, collect clay and make and fire Qvevris through observing their elders. The wine-making process involves pressing the grapes and then pouring the juice, grape skins, stalks and pips into the Qvevri, which is sealed and buried in the ground so that the wine can ferment for five to six months before being drunk. Most farmers and city dwellers use this method of making wine. Wine plays a vital role in everyday life and in the celebration of secular and religious events and rituals. Wine cellars are still considered the holiest place in the family home. The tradition of Qvevri wine-making defines the lifestyle of local communities and forms an inseparable part of their cultural identity and inheritance, with wine and vines frequently evoked in Georgian oral traditions and songs.
Living culture of three writing systems of the Georgian alphabet
Inscribed in 2016 (11.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of HumanityThe evolution of Georgia’s written language has produced three alphabets – Mrgvlovani, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli – which all remain in use today. Mrgvlovani was the first alphabet from which Nuskhuri was derived and then Mkhedruli. The alphabets coexist thanks to their different cultural and social functions, reflecting an aspect of Georgia’s diversity and identity. Their ongoing use in a cultural sense, also gives communities a feeling of continuity. The alphabets Mrgvlovani and Nuskhuri are practised and taught informally predominately by the community of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church. For example, the alphabets feature in texts used by church worshippers such as the psalms and hymns and on inscriptions of display items used in the church, like the icons. Traditional craftspeople (goldsmiths, embroiderers, icon-painters and sculptors) who create pieces for the church can also be considered as practitioners and transmitters of the alphabets, as well as some theological schools, tertiary institutions, linguists, scholars and historians. Georgia’s educational system, however, is based on the Mkhedruli alphabet. Taught in primary and high school, the Mkhedruli alphabet is also transmitted informally in the home from older to younger generations. The Mrgvlovani and Nuskhuri alphabets are taught in schools in Georgia but at a basic level.
Georgian polyphonic singing
eorgian folk music is predominantly vocal and is widely known for its rich traditions of vocal polyphony. It is widely accepted in contemporary musicology that polyphony in Georgian music predates the introduction of Christianity in Georgia (beginning of the 4th century AD). All regional styles of Georgian music have traditions of vocal a cappella polyphony, although in the most southern regions (Meskheti and Lazeti) only historical sources provide the information about the presence of vocal polyphony before the 20th century.
Vocal polyphony based on ostinato formulas and rhythmic drone are widely distributed in all Georgian regional styles. Apart from these common techniques, there are also other, more complex forms of polyphony: pedal drone polyphony in Eastern Georgia, particularly in Kartli and Kakheti table songs (two highly embellished melodic lines develop rhythmically free on the background of pedal drone), and contrapuntal polyphony in Achara, Imereti, Samegrelo, and particularly in Guria (three and four part polyphony with highly individualized melodic lines in each part and the use of several polyphonic techniques). Western Georgian contrapuntal polyphony features the local variety of the yodel, known as krimanchuli.
Both east and west Georgian polyphony is based on wide use of sharp dissonant harmonies (seconds, fourths, sevenths, ninths). Because of the wide use of the specific chord consisting of the fourth and a second on top of the fourth (C-F-G), the founder of Georgian ethnomusicology, Dimitri Arakishvili called this chord the “Georgian Triad”. Georgian music is also known for colorful modulations and unusual key changes.
Georgian polyphonic singing was among the first on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001. Georgian polyphonic singing was relisted on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. It was inscribed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia registry in 2011.