Returning to Bolnisi and the A304, continue southwest for another 21 km until you come to a T-junction. Take the road to the right, which heads to the modern village of Dmanisi. Bear left toward Kumajri for another five km to Patara Dmanisi. Turn right at the sign indicating the fortress city of Dmanisi.
Similar to Gremi insofar as it is a fortress town on an elevated site, Dmanisi is both older and much larger than its Kakhetian counterpart. Towns in Georgia developed with the rise of feudalism, and Dmanisi dales to the ninth century. The site encompasses 13 hectares enclosed by fortress walls. An entire city of residential buildings, baths, artisans' workshops, caravanserais, and public buildings once flourished here, of which only a small portion was excavated by archaeologists in 1936, again in 1960, and in the years following.
Located above the Mashavera and Pinosauri rivers, the city was also on the main transit route between Georgia and Armenia. The Armenian border is only 20 km away. Fuelled by trade, crafts-especially metalwork-and tariffs, the city thrived in the 13th century. Tamerlane's invasions of the 14th century ended its glory days, and by the 17th century there was no longer anyone living in Dmanisi.
Of greatest interest are the three-church basilica dating to the sixth century and the remains of the royal palace at the southwest summit of the site.
The Sioni Basilica follows the classic three-church basilica plan, with the exception of the narthex, which was added to the west by Giorgi Lasha, son of Queen Tamara, between 1213 and 1222. The sculptural ornamentation and reliefs are beautifully executed. The stone of the facade is a mixture of rose and green tuff and basalt. The church was reconsecrated in 1988, and the bishop of the Dmanisi region conducts services every Saturday and Sunday. The belltower and smaller church on the site date to the 13th century.
Ascending to the ruins on the summit, be sure to visit the baths, one of which is named after Queen Tamara. These stone cupolas, of a design akin to the ones still functioning in Tbilisi, date from the 13th to 14th centuries. The view from the summit of the Mashavera River and the Javakheti Range of the Little Caucasus is magnificent.
In the region of Tetri-Tskaro are two architectural monuments that are well worth seeing. It would be pushing it to try to see them on the same day that you go to Bolnisi and Dmanisi, but it is possible. Whether you go from Tbilisi or on your way back from Bolnisi, you want to make your way to the village of Tetri-Tskaro. (From Tbilisi take the turnoff at Koda. From Bolnisi, turn at Marneuli.)
Dmanisi's archaeological site
Dmanisi is the name of a very old archaeological site located in the Caucausus of the Republic of Georgia, about 85 kilometers southwest of the modern town of Tbilisi, beneath a medieval castle near the junction of the Masavera and Pinezaouri rivers. Four hominid fossils, thousands of extinct animal bones and bone fragments, and over 1000 stone tools were found buried in 2-4.5 meters of alluvium. The stratigraphy of the site indicates that the hominid and vertebrate remains, and the stone tools, were laid into the cave by geological, rather than cultural causes.
The pleistocene layers have been securely dated between 1.0-1.8 million years ago; the types of animals discovered within the cave support the early part of that range. Two nearly complete hominid skulls were found, and they most likely represent early Homo ergaster/Homo erectus. They appear to be most like African H. erectus, as in Koobi Fora or West Turkana, although some debate exists. In 2008, the lowest levels were redated to 1.8 mya, and upper levels to 1.07 mya. The stone artifacts are suggestive of Oldowan chopping tool tradition, similar to tools from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania; and similar to Ubeidiya, Israel. Dmanisi has implications for the original peopling of Europe and Asia by H. erectus, in that the path from Africa to the rest of the world may be postulated via a "Levantine corridor".