A cradle of Georgian culture, the region west, northwest and south of the capital is known as Kartli, after the mythical father of the Georgian people, Kartlos, whose progeny made their home at Mtskheta. Two towns in particular reflect contrasting sides of the Georgian story.
Nobody can understand Georgian spirituality without visiting the ancient royal and religious capital of Mtskheta, just outside Tbilisi. Here St Nino converted the Iverian kingdom to Christianity in the 4th century. In Gori, Joseph Stalin was born Iosif Jughashvili in 1878; his influence on the modern world has been variously calculated in terms of the tens of millions of deaths in his notorious Gulags, or as victory against Nazi Germany in WWII.
Mtskheta is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The city (population 20,000) is now the administrative centre of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region. Due to its historical significance and numerous ancient monuments, the "Historical Monuments of Mtskheta" became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Remains of towns at this location have been dated to earlier than the year 1000 BC, and Mtskheta was capital of the early Georgian Kingdom of Iberia during the 3rd century BC – 5th century AD. It was a site of early Christian activity, and the location where Christianity was proclaimed the state religion of Kartli in 337. Mtskheta still remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
King Dachi I Ujarmeli (beginning of the 6th century AD), who was the successor of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to the more easily defensible Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. However, Mtskheta continued to serve as the coronation and burial place for most kings of Georgia until the end of the kingdom in the 19th century.
The old city lies at the confluence of the rivers Mtkvari and Aragvi. The rare blend of cultural values had ruled in this part of the world since the Bronze Age until prosperous Christian era over the unique eclectic lifestyle creating the mood of the town which is as old as the history of Georgia. Mtskheta is the most religious city of Georgia as it has been the shrine of pagan idols since times immemorial and it is where Christianity in Georgia takes its origin.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century) and Jvari Monastery (6th century) in Mtskheta are amongst the most significant monuments of Georgian Christian architecture, and are historically significant in the development of medieval architecture throughout the Caucasus. Of special significance are early inscriptions, which form a valuable reference in the study of the origins of the early Georgian alphabet.
In the outskirts of Mtskheta are the ruins of Armaztsikhe fortress (3rd century BC), the Armaztsikhe acropolis (dating to the late 1st millennium BC), remains of a "Pompey's bridge" (according to legends built by Roman legionnaires of Pompey the Great in 1st century BC), the fragmentary remains of a royal palace (1st–3rd century AD), a nearby tomb of the 1st century AD, a small church of the 4th century, the Samtavro Monastery (11th century), and the fortress of Bebris Tsikhe (14th century). The Institute of Archaeology, and the garden of Mikheil Mamulashvili are also worthy of note.