This weekend I was able to check off one of my last major points of interest in Georgia. The town of Sighnaghi, “City of Love” is in the Kakheti region in eastern Georgia. It is hailed as one of the prettiest towns in Georgia. It was one of the few towns targeted for tourism through a thorough upgrade of all its buildings by government subsidies.
We stayed at the cutest guesthouse. It still had the ‘old’ feel to it, but it, too, was obviously renovated.
Sighnaghi is in the heart of wine country, but since we missed the harvest, we didn’t get to enjoy the wine tasting. We thought we planned the visit to coincide with a festival, but that proved to be false. So with those options off the table, there were only a few other things I wanted to see in the town.
1. St Nino, the apostle who is noted for bringing Christianity to Georgia is buried within walking distance of the town. The church and monastery complex with her namesake was included in the massive upgrade and overhaul. The new and improved version left a sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t want to linger and look around as everything seemed sanitized and commercialized.
Walking to St. Nino’s facilities, we came upon an old lady who was also walking to the Church complex. She seemed nice enough, but then she started showing signs of crazy. Most Georgians, when they realize we don’t speak Georgian (or Russian) well, they will either stop talking as much, start talking louder for a while… then stop talking as much, or start using a lot of mime motions… then stop talking as much. Well this lady was either crazy or oblivious to the fact that we didn’t understand 90 percent of what she was saying. She kept talking without missing a beat… in Russian…for the next 2 km. We sort of realized in the end that she was concerned with getting us to the right area in the complex which she thought was the Holy Spring. Once we got to the complex, she seemed to be ‘in the know’ or at least the crazy lady everyone recognizes. She pointed down a steep stairway, and deemed her mission complete, then left us.
After hearing about St. Nino all this time, I really wanted to see her gravesite. The maps were no help as they all had 3 “you are here” markers. I saw a mini gravestone in front of one of the churches on the site and figured that was St. Nino. As I was going to take a picture of the little sad thing, I figured I would go into the church for a look first. As soon as you go into the church and look left, there is a frenzied line trying to get into a little alcove on the side. Hmm… THAT must be it! So I waited in line with my friend, who was able to get into the church without a headscarf. We both thought she was going to be ejected at any moment although there were others doing the same thing. But still…she was a foreigner. As we got closer, it was obvious that this was indeed St. Nino. We all could see what people were doing once they were in the alcove. Most were praying and kneeling and doing a lot of kissing (of the tomb). All those actions made me nervous once it was our turn to go in. I asked my friend what she was going to do, and she said she didn’t know. When we got to the door and the previous viewers left the room, my friend looked and then turned and left. I went into the alcove, stood and looked around. I bent to see the actual tomb. It was tiny. It had a painting of her on the tomb with a medallion. The alcove was filled with painted murals above. All this happened within 6 seconds, and I was out of there. I turned to see a sea of Georgian faces staring back at me.
2. Sighnaghi is one of the few Georgian towns with an intact Fortress wall. Guidebooks say its because the town was pretty insignificant to start with and not worth the trouble for invading armies to climb the mountain to attack it.
We were able to walk the wall and look off into the beautiful valley vista. Walking the walls and climbing the turrets reminded me of The Lord of the Rings, when they were fighting at Helm’s Deep.