ATESHGA OF TBILISI – ANCIENT SITE OF WORLD ZOROASTRIANISM
26 June, 2014
ATESHGA OF TBILISI – ANCIENT SITE OF WORLD ZOROASTRIANISM
In Sololaki, the old district of Tbilisi, not a single man out of ten can tell you where Ateshga is; even more, this name may embarrass them. In case you mention the fire-worshipers’ temple, they will shrug their shoulders even more. Some of them may attempt to make excuses, saying that the times of fire-worshiping are f
ar gone and forgotten.


At a stone’s throw from the Zemo Betlemi church there is an ancient religious monument, Ateshga, the place for kindling a fire. This is the name of the Zoroastrian temple built of brick in the Kldisubani district. According to historic sources, Ateshga is an IV-V century monument. It is therefore one of the oldest, still existing fire-worshipping altars in the world. The temple has been “besieged” by residential buildings for a long time. The only possible way to get near it is via the Anton Dgebuadze’s yard.
They call him uncle Chito. For years he’s been functioning as an out-of-staff guard of the temple without any payment. He was promised a salary ten years ago but…
“In case the state cared about the history of the country, full scale excavation works should be done here. A lot is hidden under the earth. Under the floor there are arched vaults built of the same mortar as the temple itself. Analyses are to be made in order to establish the age but it’s not possible here in Georgia. And it’s expensive abroad. A lot of tourists come; mostly Iranians. Turks said they would restore it as a cultural center, then as a mosque. That was a No-No. Nobody will bear a mullah here. Only Georgians and Christians live in this district.
John Taft, the former US Ambassador, and his wife used to come here often. He took photos. He was appalled by the number of current-supply wires, saying that this marred the beauty. Mr. Taft was an interesting man. Unfortunately, in Georgia, (as I reckon, in most countries too) people in power are only fond of money and they don’t care about such things unless foreigners point them out. They only think to wrap things up as quick as possible and pocket the money. Our ancestors took care of every stone. When laying a brick, they checked it from every angle in order to retain beauty and symmetry.”
Despite the fact that nobody officially pays uncle Chito, he is so fond of the ancient cultural monument that he never shuns from repairing it. He cares about tourists, too. Right now tourists have neither guides nor information booklets mentioning this place. Uncle Chito wanted to get some booklets printed but it proved too expensive. Expensive for ordinary, unemployed people like him, but it should not be difficult for the state.
Anton Dgebuadze’s family settled down there in 1974. Before him Armenians lived in the temple yard and they had a hen house in the old sanctuary. There were even trees in the temple interior…
The name “Ateshga” originates from the Persian “Ateshgah” which means the place for fire. The supreme deity of Zoroastrianism (fire-worshiping) is Ahura Mazda - the omniscient uncreated spirit. This is the same Ahura Mazda the follower of which was Zaratustra – Nietzsche’s Ьbermensch.
The fire-worshipers’ altar has been here since ancient times. According to the chronicler, Zoroastrianism was very popular here during the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali (Founder of Tbilisi, second half of the fifth century) and he had to tolerate this foreign faith. Together with the Christian bishop at the King’s court there also was a High Magus, in the Georgian historical source called as “The Persian bishop”. The Persian Magi were officially empowered to propagate their faith in Kartli. Presumably, Ateshga was built during the Vakhtang Gorgasali’s times. After the mass persecution of Zoroastrianism by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius VI, it would be impossible to build it in the Christian country. According to the historical data, Ateshga was turned into a mosque by the Turks who reigned in Tbilisi from 1724. After the banishment of the Turks from Tbilisi, in 1735, Persian Shah Nadir demolished it.
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