Gremi is a 16th-century architectural monument - the royal citadel and the Church of the Archangels - in Kakheti, Georgia. The complex is what has survived from the once flourishing town of Gremi and is located east of the present-day pleasant village (known for its brandy) of the same name in the Kvareli district, 175 kilometers east of Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.
This picturesque brick citadel (admission to museum & tower 2 GEL; 9am-8pm) stands on a small hill by the Telavi–Kvareli road 19 km from Telavi, just before the village of Eniseli. Both Eniseli and Gremi are famous for their brandy. Kvareli-bound marshrutkas from Telavi will stop here.
Gremi was the ancient capital of the Kakhetian Kingdom in the 16th century. Mentioned in ancient chronicles as a beautiful city of palaces, churches, baths, markets, gardens, and residential areas, the whole was destroyed by the invading Persian force of Shah Abbas in 1614. From 1466 to 1672 Gremi was the capital of Kakheti, but all that remains of the market, the baths, the caravanserai, the palace and the houses after the devastation wrought by Shah Abbas are some not-very-distinctive ruins.
The impressive citadel, however, still stands. High on a rocky ledge at the west end of the village (with good steps leading up from the main road), a few crumbling ruins remain of the fort, built in 1565, and the palace and three-storey dwelling-tower, built of red brick on stone blocks. Within it, the Church of the Archangels was built in 1565 by King Levan of Kakheti (who is buried inside) and contains frescoes painted in 1577. The dome church is in great condition; it was reconsecrated in 1989. The ground floor of the adjacent tower-palace, dating from the 15th century, houses a small museum of local archaeological and historical items, displaying ceramics, spear- and arrowheads and various implements.. From here you climb up inside the tower: a structure in one of the rooms was thought to be a bread oven, but on examination turned out to be a tunnel, not yet fully excavated but thought to emerge in the yard outside. Another tunnel, which you can enter, leads down from the yard to the foot of the walls where in past centuries the Intsoba River flowed, providing a possible escape route from the citadel in times of danger. Along with the tower at Ninotsminda, the citadel of Gremi is the best example of Georgian adaptation of Persian styles of architecture, such as patterned brickwork (ie: arches in relief).
The town appears to have occupied the area of approximately 40 hectares and to have been composed of three principal parts -- the Archangels' Church complex, the royal residence and the commercial neighborhood. Systematic archaeological studies of the area guided by A. Mamulashvili and P. Zak'araia were carried out in 1939-1949 and 1963-1967, respectively. Since 2007, the monuments of Gremi have been proposed for inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
THE CHURCH OF MTAVARANGELOZI (THE ARCHANGELS MICHAEL AND GABRIEL)
The Archangels' Church complex is located on a hill and composed of the Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel itself, a three-story castle, a bell tower and a wine cellar (marani). It is encircled by a wall secured by embrasures, turrets and towers. Remains of the secret tunnel leading to the Ints'obi River have also survived.
That this church was built on the site of an earlier church is attested to by an interior fresco inscription in Greek over the western entrance: "The Holy Temple of Great Michael and Gabriel was built and restored by the efforts and labor of King Leon (Levan) on August 29, 1565 (7085), in the period of Father Superior Saba." A wonderful portrait of King Levan decorates the southern portion of the west wall. He wears a crown and holds a model of the church in his hands. He is giving the church to the Virgin Mary, who holds the Christ child on her knees. The inscription in Georgian reads, "King Levan is the builder." Levan's tomb is in the southwest corner of the church and is marked by the rostrum.
The frescoes throughout the church are of outstanding quality and represent a very schematic program of decoration that was completed in 1577. Among the many subjects depicted are the Death of the Virgin (west portal), the Emperor Constantine (north wall), and, from right to left, St. George and St. Saba (south wall). Many surfaces are badly defaced by graffiti. It is interesting to note that the letters of names are in both Russian and Georgian. A newly built wooden iconostasis prevents access to the altar. The church was reconsecrated in September 1989.
Mtavarangelozi employs the traditional plan of a cross-cupola church with two detached pillars in the west. The emphasis of the design is on the vertical, which is achieved through the tall and narrow octagonal drum that rises above the truncated east-west axis of the central aisle.
The church, like the neighbouring dwelling tower, was made of brick, and the facade was decorated with relief decorations typical of the period. The belltower at Ninotsminda is also from this period, and the same decorative techniques were used.
The three-story dwelling tower is located southwest of the Church of the Archangels, so close to it that only a narrow passage separates the two. The first- floor chamber may, in fact, predate the church. The entrance is in the north, and a southern portal opens onto a small chamber in which a western door provides access to the stairs to the second and third floors. The tower served as King Levan's palace and the second and third floors were living quarters. The belfry at the north-east corner of the top floor is a later addition. You can ascend the tower and the view afforded of the Alazani Valley, the Greater Caucasus mountains, the remains of the town, and the close-set Church of the Archangels is well worth the climb.
The bell-tower also houses a museum where several archaeological artifacts and the 16th-century cannon are displayed. The walls are adorned with a series of portraits of the kings of Kakheti by the modern Georgian painter Levan Chogoshvili (1985).