By Tika Bujiashvili
Adjara is rich with sightseeing. When you are in Batumi, you mustn’t miss the chance to visit Gonio fortress. There is just 15 km from Batumi to Gonio. You can even take a mini-bus to get there.
The Gonio fortress or the Gonio-Apsaros fortress is the oldest fortress of Georgia. It is an impressive piece of Roman-Byzantine military architecture, which covers 47,000 sq. m. within a rectangle of high stone walls with 18 towers (though it was said there were 22). Built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, it was occupied by the Byzantines in the 6th century and by the Ottomans in the 16th century.
There is a legend that the name of Apsaros originates from the ancient Greek myth about Argonauts. According to the legend this was the place where Apsyrtus, King Ayet’s son, killed by Jason, was buried.
Many legends and myths are connected with the Gonio-Apsaros Fortress. The Fortress territory has a tomb which up to date is considered to be the Apostle Mathew’s tomb – one of twelfth Jesus Christ’s disciples whom Savior accepted to his circle instead of Judas Iscariot. According to one of the versions, Apostle Mathew after Christ’s death came to the Gonio Fortress and stayed there to preach. The Apostle Mathew’s tomb is found in the territory of the Roman Praetorium (from Latin “general’s tent”). Since the Gonio-Apsaros Fortress built in the beginning of our era as a base citadel of Roman troops, then a residence of a Roman general, a garrison commander was called as a Praetorium. The Praetorium only survived as huge stone pedestals in a form of crosses presumably standing over the Apostle Mathew’s tomb.
The Gonio fortress is a monument which layout and architecture have left almost unchanged over all centuries of its existence. In spite of the fact that a mosque was built opposite to the Saint Mathew’s tomb, and the existed Roman therms were rebuilt into the oriental bath-houses, the general architecture of the Fortress remained the same as it was two thousand years ago under the Romans.
The Gonio-Apsaros fortress had its importance. It was the territory where the eastern border of the Roman Empire ran, it made the Gonio Fortress not only a strategically important point but also an economic and cultural center of Eastern Rome, which fact was confirmed by the ruins of a hippodrome and Roman theatre found by archeologists, presumably operating in the I-III centuries AD. This territory is considered to be a place where the first Georgian associations were founded and during the Byzantine period the Fortress territory was a stronghold for Genoese merchants.
Today the archaeological excavations are still underway, and the scientists make a lot of new discoveries.
A Museum-Reserve was opened in 2008 within the grounds of the fortress, which covers the area of Gonio-Apsaros fortress and the adjacent territories.
Dear reader! Unfortunately because of 3GB limit I can’t upload more photos at the moment, but made a video instead. Soon I will upload photos at usual format.