Written by Tika Bujiashvili
The south Georgian region of Kvemo Kartli is one of Georgia’s most overlooked treasures. Although much of the region is just a short drive from Tbilisi, and is full of natural beauty and ancient monuments, many travelers ignore it for more famous parts of Georgia. This is a mistake, as the area is a fascinating patchwork of nationalities, climates and topographies. The plains south of Tbilisi are rich agriculturally, and are home to many Azerbaijani communities.
The region is rich with Christian architectural monuments. One of them is Bolnisi Sioni which dates to the V century. The Bolnisi Sioni church is the only remaining three aisled basilicas in Georgia. It was constructed using carved stones, with its primary layer being different from the layer of bricks and river stones. The temple is decorated with clear green-turquoise stones. Decorations of the bases and heads of the pillars are of particular interest. One of them is known as the Bolnisi Cross. This is also the first known monument of Georgian architecture that utilizes relief sculptures related to the pre-Christian period, but adopted by the Christian era as well.
In 1936-39 wide-scale architectural and restoration works were conducted in Bolnisi. The monument was fully cleaned, fixed and fortified. During this period architects discovered a stone with scripts at one of the entrances. All three scripts of Bolnisi Sioni are ancient examples of Georgian writing and language. One of the scripts, belonging to the V century, is located on the eastern wall above the window of the altar. This is the earliest example of writing in Georgian ever found in Georgia. (Earlier inscriptions dating to the early fifth century have been found in the Georgian Monastery in Palestine.) The inscription at Bolnisi is a copy. The original is in the Janashia Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi. An inscription over the north portal gives us the exact period of building the church 478-493. The inscription, the Georgian form of writing known as Asomtavruli, which developed contemporaneously, reads, “With the help of the Holy Trinity, the building of this Church was begun in the 20th year of King Peroz and completed 15 years later. Whosoever bows down here, God will pardon, and whosoever prays here for David, Bishop of the Church, him also will God pardon. Amen.”
Another important page in the history of Bolnisi is 500 Bolneli torture in the XIV century during the invasions of Temur -Leng. John Bolneli, who was a writer and worked at Iveron Athos monastery, is buried in the yard of Sioni.
According to local legend, during the Soviet period, people were taken to the church and tested their belief of God: they had to shoot the icons as proof of their atheism. The icon of the Mother of God, which has been said to perform miracles, is located on the right side of the altar Currently Sioni is an active church.
The bell-tower was built in 1678-1688 by the Bishop of Bolnisi.
Bolnisi Episcopalian is separately allocated since 2004 according to the decision of the Holy Synod December 23, 2006.