Discovery of the largest and oldest Basilica in Georgia
06 June, 2018
Discovery of the largest and oldest Basilica in Georgia
In Georgia, it was a sensation when an archeological expedition unearthed Doloshopi Basilica in Kakheti region, that is considered to be the oldest within the country.

Besides, it is the oldest and largest one that turns upside down a theory, according to which, in the beginning of the Christian era in Georgia only small churches were built and larger ones were the result of the evolution.

Located near Kvareli, Kakheti Region, the Basilica is surrounded with forest. Nowadays, tourists can
get there only by off-road vehicles, but it is planned to add the site to tourist destinations. As soon as this happens, it will be possible to get there by ordinary vehicles. Scientists and scholars from different countries, such as Poland and Israel visit the Basilica and are willing to take part in further archaeological excavations.
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Aerial view of the remnants of Dolochopi Basilica in Kakheti Region

Georgian Journal got interested in getting deeper glimpse into   this finding and contacted head of the archeological expedition Nodar Bakhtadze, Professor at Ilia State University.
“As a results of the excavations conducted between  2012-2017 in the easternmost area of the former city of Nekresi, on the right bank of the Duruji river, in forested territory known nowadays under the name of the former village of Dolochopi (now in the Kvareli countryside), we unearthed an even larger basilica” – Nodar says, “The length and width of its central, three-nave hall (36m X 18.5m) considerably exceeds all basilica-type churches known in Georgia until now. The hall of the basilica is divided into naves by means of 5 pairs of cross-planned columns. The columns were preserved up to 1.5-2 m high. They stood on a rectangularly-planned, approximately 2X2 m long and 20-25cm tall socle that has been well-preserved.”

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Interior and remnants of the Dolochopi Basilica

There are similarities between Dolochopi Basilica and other Byzantine churches. That is the reason why this finding is important – it shows close ties of two countries not only on a political, but also on cultural levels.

As Professor Bakhtadze admits, no other projecting bema of this type has been found among medieval Georgian basilicas, however similar ceremonial bemas are characteristic of especially important basilicas of the central provinces of the early Byzantine world.

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Theoretical reconstruction and inside view of The Basilica

External façade of the Basilica shares more similarities with old Roman style churches.
“Three-nave basilicas surrounded by a system of eukterions, stoas and narthexes, were as common in the 4 th-5 th centuries as five-nave basilicas throughout central provinces of the Roman Empire as well as in peripheries of it, practically across the whole early Christian world countries” – Nodar says.
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There was a special place for clergymen to sit during service

There are also other features  that makesDolochopi Basilica a unique cultural monument. According to Proffesor Bakhtadze, the exquisite spatial design, structural, architectural and artistic solutions of the church distinguish it among early Christian basilicas of the central provinces within the Roman and Byzantine world, and it undoubtedly falls into their circle.

During interview, professor Nodar admits that the finding discovered in 2016 was unexpected but very pleasant though.

“In 2016, the Dolochopi Basilica excavations led us to one more discovery: it was found out that this grandiose Vth century temple was built on the ruins of even earlier Christian basilica of up to 25 meters long and approximately 15 meters wide” ,  the professor told Georgian Journal.

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The picture shows location of the Basilica and Duruji river

“The remains of lime-plastered walls of this primary 2-4 stone masonry building were well preserved under the floor of the Basilica naos and the northern by-pass interior; as it seems, this church consisted of  central hall with rectangular sanctuary to the east and circular galleries (from the north, west and south). Due to fragmentariness of the construction remnants, we cannot say much about the planning peculiarities of the first chronological phase of the Dolochopi temple for the present, except from the fact that it was also based on a wooden structure, covered with roof tiles; the edges of the roof were decorated with clay antefixes in the style of the larger basilica. Therefore, in the previous layer of the Dolochopi Basilica, the remnants of the second in size basilica, revealed until nowadays among the IV century Georgian temples, were confirmed”.

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Students from different universities, as well as natives actively participated in the archeological excavation

“During the excavations of the floor of this initial temple, the tangible material, characteristic for the IV century was found; so, consequently, the building must have been constructed at the same period of time” –the professor concludes.

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Graves with untouched skeletons were found during the excavation

“On the basis of the stratigraphical picture revealed at the excavations site, the ancient basilica was destroyed in the last quarter of the IV century (possibly as a result of the earthquake).  Back then, the ruined church in one of the areas of Nekresi – a politically and economically strong city, must have been replaced with newer one not after a very long interval.  Perhaps, in the first half of the Vth century, the mentioned above grandiose basilica was built on the platform created as a result of levelling the ruins of the older one. Building of a larger basilica soon after the disaster is also evident from similarity in the church construction techniques and decoration design  of these two basilicas, while used building ceramic  (especially tile types and antefix), do not almost differ stylistically or in sizes from one another”.
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Aerial view of the beam of Dolochopi Basilica


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