I spent the entire day today travelling around Tbilisi. I guess getting the tourist thing out of the way first is a good thing. But even while doing the tourist things there are signs of the recent conflict. We passed a communications antenna damaged by Russian bombing (no good photos), and a few places where refugees from Ossetia (will be returning to some of those later) are temporarily residing. One school down the road is housing refugees, with the inevitable images of clothes drying on the school railings.
As for sightseeing, it was wide ranging. I can’t even recall the names of some places, but we spent a good deal of time driving around the outskirts of the city, including to that big lake to the east. There are a lot of churches, as the city is reputed for, and they are built in the Byzantine/Orthodox style as you would expect.
This one is within some fortifications on a hill. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photos inside. The interiors are stunning, with every inch of the walls and ceiling painted in colourful intricate detail. (For all photos click on the photo and when in Flickr.com click on “All sizes” on top of the image to see them in closer detail)
Just across the city is Tbilisi’s newest and Georgia’s biggest church. My guide, Khveecha, told me that it has taken 10 years to get this far. The picture does not really do the scale justice, as well as the fact that beneath the church is another underground area for worship, mostly in marble.
Since it was a Sunday, many couples were getting married, and unlike in western Christian traditions, these ceremonies are carried out with several couples at a time. Here I caught a picture of the orthodox priest blessing one groom, as another looks on.
Orthodox Christians worship in an entirely different way. All praying is done standing up, and images and candles play a critical role. Most physically kiss the images, as well as buying candles to light in front of specific images of certain saints. Here a woman kisses the image of the virgin Mary. Like in Ireland decades ago, it is traditional for women to cover their heads when in a church.
Amazingly, because the church is new (10 years in the making), the interior has yet to be decorated. The ceilings and walls are entirely blank. In the future this picture will be filled with colourful religious imagery, but for now it is a blank canvas:
This might give a better idea of scale:
Tomorrow it is on to more sightseeing, and later in the week a trip into the Caucus mountains. Later again will be a trip westward.
Incidentally we also passed the Russian and American embassies. The Russian embassy had rubbish deliberately strewn around its entrance, with anti-Russian slogans painted on a wall opposite the building. We drove by the US embassy, and it is enormous. It really did look vast. I grabbed this quick picture:
Some more photos in the Flickr set.