Mtskheta (Georgian: მცხეთა), one of the oldest cities of the country of Georgia (in Kartli province of Eastern Georgia), is located approximately 20 kilometers north of Tbilisi at the confluence of the Aragvi and Kura rivers. The city (population 19,423 as of January 1, 2008) is now the administrative centre of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region. Due to its historical significance and numerous ancient monuments, the "Historical Monuments of Mtskheta" became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Remains of towns at this location have been dated to earlier than the year 1000 BC, and Mtskheta was capital of the early Georgian Kingdom of Iberia during the 3rd century BC – 5th century AD. It was the site of early Christian activity, and the location where Christianity was proclaimed the state religion of Georgia in 337. Mtskheta still remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church.
King Dachi I Ujarmeli (beginning of the 6th century AD), who was the successor of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to the more easily defensible Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. However, Mtskheta continued to serve as the coronation and burial place for most kings of Georgia until the end of the kingdom in the 19th century.
The old city lies at the confluence of the rivers Mtkvari and Aragvi. The rare blend of cultural values had ruled in this part of the world since the Bronze Age until prosperous Christian era over the unique eclectic lifestyle creating the mood of the town which is as old as the history of Georgia. Mtskheta is the most religious city of Georgia as it has been the shrine of pagan idols since times immemorial and it is where Christianity in Georgia takes its origin.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century, see photo) and Jvari Monastery (6th century) in Mtskheta are amongst the most significant monuments of Georgian Christian architecture, and are historically significant in the development of medieval architecture throughout the Caucasus. Of special significance are early inscriptions, which form a valuable reference in the study of the origins of the early Georgian alphabet.
In the outskirts of Mtskheta are the ruins of Armaztsikhe fortress (3rd century BC), the Armaztsikhe acropolis (dating to the late 1st millennium BC), remains of a "Pompey's bridge" (according to legends built by Roman legionnaires of Pompey the Great in 1st century BC), the fragmentary remains of a royal palace (1st–3rd century AD), a nearby tomb of the 1st century AD, a small church of the 4th century, the Samtavro Monastery (11th century), and the fortress of Bebris Tsikhe (14th century). The Institute of Archaeology, and the garden of Mikheil Mamulashvili are also worthy of note.
The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta were recently placed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger, citing "serious deterioration of the stonework and frescoes" as the main threat to the site's long-term preservation.