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Bichvinta (Pitsunda) village is on a promontory of the Black Sea Coast, 14 km southeast of Gagra on the M27, and another 13 km southeast alter the turnoff at the village of Alakhadze. The road immediately into town is called the Monks' Avenue; the local monks planted the trees there as a penance.

Bichvinta means "pine grove" in Georgian. Pitsunda, as the town is known in Russian, comes from the Greek word for pine (pitus). In whatever language, the name refers to one of this resort's most distinctive features: the world's largest single grove of a unique species of indigenous pine (Pinues pithysa). The grove stretches along the shingle and sand beach for seven km and is a superb place to put down your towel, smell the pine needles, and get out of the sun. The beach season lasts from May until the end of October. The town itself has a harbor from which you can take boat trips to other spots along the coast. All in all, with its beach, large number of sunny days, flower and tree-lined paths, and tenth-century church, Bichvinta was one of the most sought-after resort towns on the coast.

Greeks from Miletus first established a settlement here in 300 ВС, calling it Pitiunt. Between 105 and 90 ВС the town was conquered by Mithradates VI, King of Pontus, who ruled it until he was ousted by the Romans in 65 ВС. The town was completely destroyed by Heniochi pirates before the Romans made it a garrison in the second century AD. In AD 55 St. Andrew and Simon the Canaanite came to Bichvinta, bringing Christianity to the coast. Their visit predates St. Nino's missionary work by some 272 years, but it was not until the sixth century that Justinian I finally converted the Abkhazian populace to Christianity. In 551 he ordered built in Bichvinta a three-aisled Byzantine-style cathedral dedicated to St. Sophia. (Foundation walls and floor mosaics of this church have been excavated to the southwest of the tenth-century Mother of God Church.) During Byzantine domination of the region, Bichvinta was made a diocese, thus establishing the city as one of the centers of Christianity in the Caucasus. At the beginning of the ninth century the Abkhazian church cut its ties with Byzantium and put itself under the jurisdiction of the Catholicos (Primate) in Mtskheta. This shift of allegiance is reflected in the architecture of the period, in which classic forms borrowed from Constantinople are integrated with or sometimes replaced by elements of the Georgian style. Bichvinta remained the seat of the Abkhazian patriarchs for almost 100 years. With subsequent Turkish dominance, Bichvinta lost its former importance. In 1882 Bichvinta came under the jurisdiction and authority of the Akhali Atoni (Novy Afon) Monastery.


Located in the center of town, within a walled close, this church, built in the late tenth century and restored in 1869, is the most important monument from the time of the Abkhazian Kingdom. It is a cruciform cupola structure with an elongated east-west axis. In the west are two pairs of detached columns. Two of these columns, along with pendentives in the east, support the cupola drum whose 12 narrow windows illuminate the interior. The interior is generous and well-proportioned, with excellent acoustics. In 1972 an East German firm built an organ with 4,000 pipes for the church. In the west is a narthex with a gallery above it. Fresco fragments remain in the narthex, but everything else was whitewashed in the 19th century. The eastern facade shows three semi-circular apses, the central one most defined by its great width. The masonry of the walls reveals the Byzantine method of alternate layers of stone and brick.