Trans Eurasia travel

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Six km southwest of Sokhumi on the M27 is the village of Kelasuri. Make a left turn off the M27 onto an asphalted road that runs parallel to the Kelasuri River and continue for another six km. Here you will see the first fragments of The Great Wall of Abkhazia first mentioned in the writings of Procopius of Caesarea, a Byzantine historian of the sixth century. It was built to protect the region from incursions by the northern tribes, but it is not known who ordered the construction. The wall runs 160 km from the sea to the interior, largely along the bank of the Kelasuri, which was the ancient trade route linking Abkhazia and the Northern Caucasus. Fragments of varying lengths, widths, and heights can be seen all along the way, with as many pieces incorporated into the homes of the peasants of the neighbourhood as are still standing.

Nineteen km from Sokhumi along the M27 on the bank of the Kodori River is Dranda. The cathedral of this village, one km on the road from the central square, is an important example of ninth-century western Georgian architecture. Long believed to be a central-domed structure of the Jvari type, its ground plan is significantly different from its illustrious predecessor. The absence of the four deep conches surrounding the central cupola room, the presence of a western narthex and three apses in the east, and its brick and stone construction with no bas-relief decoration on the facade all work to render Dranda more a creative fusion of Byzantine and central Georgian models than a pure Jvari type. The church was restored by monks from Akhali Atoni in 1871 but was badly damaged by the Turks in 1877 and 1878. Restored again in 1886, it was consecrated the Uspensko-Dransky Monastery.

The drive from Dranda to Mokvi on the M27 is through an impressive array of tea plantations. Tea grows in Georgia in Abkhazia, Samegrelo, Guria, Imereti, and Ajara. It is harvested from April to November. The large sacks tied to workers' waists or lying in the field hold 20 kilos. Each worker can harvest between 40 and 70 kilos a day. Don't be bashful about pulling over lo the side of the road and walking into the plantation to watch how the tea is harvested. You'll be welcome.

Forty km from Sokhumi and 13 km before Ochamchire is the village of Arady. Turn left off the M27 before crossing the Mokva River and immediately left again when the new road branches. Follow this road for eight km to the village of Mokvi. Turn right alter the transformer station, continue 500 meters across the bridge over the Dvab River, and continue another 500 meters to Mokvi Cathedral. Set at the confluence of the Mokva and Dvab rivers in a beautiful compound planted with magnolia, cypress, pine, and cedar, Mokvi Cathedral was founded by the west Georgian King Leon III (957-967) in the middle of his reign as the seat of the archbishop.

The construction of the cathedral and the establishment of the Mokvi diocese of western Georgia was King Leon's response to certain political, as well as religious, needs. It signalled his break with Byzantium, the consolidation of his state, and the first steps toward a rapprochement with eastern Georgia that culminated in the submission of the Abkhazian Catholicos to the authority of the Catholicos in Mtskheta. This unification of the western and eastern Georgian churches did not diminish the importance of Mokvi, which remained a religious and cultural center throughout the feudal period.

Mokvi Cathedral is a five-aisled, central-domed structure whose exterior simplicity and interior harmony distill a quiet shimmering solemnity throughout the space. The cupola is supported by four freestanding piers. Three ambulatories with galleries above run along the north, west, and south sides. Three apses are in the east, the middle one having been decorated with mosaics in conformity with the Byzantine tradition. The interior is particularly well illuminated by numerous windows in the chapels and galleries as well as 12 in the cupola drum. During the reign of David the Builder (1089-1125), the interior walls were decorated with frescoes which remained intact until the end of the 18th century. In the first half of the 19th century, however, the cathedral fell into disrepair. It was not until Prince Mikhail Shervashidze, who was born in Mokvi, began restoration in the 1840s that it functioned once again as a church. The Prince was buried here in 1865.

A belltower standing in the complex finishes the ensemble. Mokvi Cathedral is a stunning architectural and historical monument situated in an isolated and beautiful spot.