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Mt Mtatsminda

Mtatsminda is the hill topped by the 210 m high TV mast looming over central Tbilisi from the west. The best method to reach Mount Mtatsminda is the funicular railway in Chonkadze Street, which allows you to get off at midpoint to visit St. David's Church and the Pantheon of Writers and Public Figures of Georgia. It's also an experience in itself. Completed in 1905, it's one of the longest and steepest funiculars in the world, with a length of 501 meters and a gradient angle of 55 degrees. Funicular was built in 1903-05 by Belgian engineers, an odd contribution from so flat a country; when in operation, it climbs at 55° for five minutes (with a path winding up and criss-crossing it) to reach its upper terminal, at an altitude of 727m on the edge of Mtatsminda, the Holy Mountain, so called because of St David's Cave.  There is nothing much to see up here apart from panoramic views of Tbilisi. Nevertheless there can be a view as far as Kazbeg, weather permitting, and it's a pleasant 20-minute walk through pine woods to reach the Kojori road.

Be sure to request the funicular to stop at St. David's Church. St. David was one of the 13 Syrian Fathers who returned to Georgia in the sixth century to spread Christianity. The present-day cupola church was built between 1855 and 1859 on the site of St. David's cell and chapel, which was destroyed in medieval times. His presence here explains the other name by which Mount Mtatsminda is known: Mamadavidis Mta (Father David's Mount).

The Pantheon of Writers and Public Figures of Georgia is nearby, on a two- tiered terrace a little below the church. On the upper level you'll find the graves of the poets Nikoloz Baratashvili (1817-1845) and Galaktion Tabidze (1892-1959), the educator Yakov Gogebashvili (1840-1912), and others. The grave of the writer and Georgian patriot, Ilya Chavchavadze (1837-1907), is in the central section. His grave can be recognized by the high-relief Grieving Motherland set against a red marble background. Chavchavadze was canonized a saint in the Georgian Orthodox Church in 1988. The Mtatsminda cemetery was officially given the status of Pantheon in 1929, the year that marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Alexander Griboyedov, a Russian writer and diplomat murdered in Tehran. His body was brought back to Tbilisi and buried on the mountain he himself called "Tbilisi's most poetic possession." His grave is in the lower section of the cemetery in a stone grotto created in 1832 by his 16-year-old widow, Nina, daughter of the Georgian author Alexander Chavchavadze.

The upper funicular station in the 115-hectare park (formerly named for Stalin) was built in the 1930s. The terrace offers a glorious view of Tbilisi. The terrace and the viewing platforms are especially spectacular at night when the lights of the city are spread out before you with all the city's magic and romance. A restaurant and cafe are located in the upper station. Take a moment to look at the large-scale fresco, The Initiation of Pirosmani, by Nikolai Ignatov, in the smaller dining room. Near the upper station is a prominent radio and television tower which soars to a height of 300 meters. This is a convenient marker as you tour the city; it can be seen from most everywhere and indicates which way is south.

Mount Mtatsminda rises from the right bank of the Mtkvari 400 meters above the river and more than 700 meters above sea level. Getting to the top is a must for everyone who enjoys mountain vistas. At the top of the hill, Mtatsminda Park spreads over more than 1 sq km, with wonderful views and a new amusement park that includes what Georgians consider Europe's highest roller coaster (60m high).