Ateni Sioni replicates Mtskheta Holy Cross Monastery architecture. It dates back to the first half of VII century and is located 12 km from Gori, in Ateni village, a place of outstanding natural beauty on a rock above the Tana River in a narrow valley. The name Sioni derives from Mount Zion at Jerusalem. The church has cruciform interior and its facades are faced with carved rectangular greenish-gray stones.
The walls of the church contain Georgian, Greek, Armenian and Syrian inscriptions. Here can be found all types of inscriptions in Asomtavruli, Mkhedruli and Nuskhuri. Some Inscriptions are covered with frescos. Some inscriptions were dated. Sioni interior wall contains the inscription of Secular poetry, which is unique and is nowhere except here.
On the south façade of the church an Armenian inscription can be seen. The inscription says: “I am Tadosak, the builder of the church”. According to the inscriptions, it meant that the church of Ateni Sioni was built by Armenian architect Todosak in the X century and the church was a blind imitation of Mskheta Holy Cross Monastery. Later Armenian specialists announced Mskheta Holy Cross Monastery to be built by Todosak, who later repeated his work in Ateni. It was believed until 1960 before Georgian scientists-Amiranashvili and Javakhishvili started detailed studying of inscriptions and proved that the church can’t be built in X century, but it dated to the first half of VII century and Todosak might be one of the renovators who worked on the restoration of the church.
Another provement is the inscription on the south apse of the church which keeps the names of masters who appear to work on restoring the church: Aharon and Georg. The inscription of Georg belongs to the II half of X century, so it means that the church was repaired when Bagrat was the king.
Interior of Ateni Sioni is the most impressive because of the perfect frescoes performed in XI c. The most famous frescos of the church is a fresco with Giorgi Chkondideli, David the Builder, Bagrat IV, Giorgi II and Queen Izdukht. Also a fresco of Gabriel Archangel and Dream of Josep. They are one of the best samples of Georgian medieval monumental painting.
Although the structure of wall painting follows traditional path of Georgian iconography, in this particular case it has been guided and at least to some extent determined by the dedication of this church to one of the greatest orthodox holidays – Dormition of the Virgin St. Mary is the central figure here and the great number of frescos narrate the history of her early life. In conclusion, numerous inscriptions – both stone curved epigraphs and performed in paint should be mentioned. On the pylons under the dome there are two blossom crosses (680).
The Church is a burial place of Sumbat, a son of Ashot, Nerse, Stepanoz Mampal and Guaramvri, a wife of Konstantine Kakhi, with their birth and death dates.
Today frescoes conservation works are in progress.The church was closed during Soviet Period and was just a museum. Since 1989 Ateni Sioni is active again.
We met here Mr. Paata, the best guide ever and who works here for many years after his father and knows the history of each stone. Mr. Paata can give you detailed information about the church in Russian and Georgian. Unfortunately there is no English speaker guide there. But, if you want to learn not only about the church, but touch the history, try to find a translator and don’t miss the chance to speak to this person!
By Tika Bujiashvili