The Gelati Monastery, a wonderful monumental specimen of Georgian architecture is situated eleven kilometers to the east of Kutaisi in a picturesque ravine of the Tskaltsitela River. Entering the yard of Gelati Monastery you will see the architectural ensemble in the green glade: the main church with its three apses facing the visitors, the St. George's domed church – comparatively less in dimensions and St. Nicolas' Church – a two-storey building with an arched passage on the ground floor, on the west of the main church. A little further there is a bell-tower rising near a spring from which drinking water is running through clay pipes to the ground floor. To the west of the Main and St. Nicolas' churches rise the walls of the Gelati Academy founded by the King David the Builder in the 12th century.
Dwelling-places and other secular buildings were situated along the walls of the monastery which had given place to the constructions of later period. There is a two-storey construction of former gates in the southern part of the wall where King David the Builder is buried.
The Gelati Monastery was founded at the beginning of the 12th century, during the period of most significant historical events in Georgia.
King David, who had assigned to the Gelati Monastery the role of custodian of the burial vaults of his ancestors (the kings of Georgia), allotted the monastery's vast arable lands, which he obtained as a result of his successful struggle against the big feudal lords, and presented it with countless treasures – the war trophies of his victorious campaigns against foreign enemies.
On the same luxurious scale, work was carried out on erecting the majestic cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin as well as on collecting various holy relics, and producing the church-plate and icons. It took many a year to raise the Cathedral. King David, who died in 1125 and did not live to see it completed, bade his heir Demetre I to finish the work., In 1130, during the latter's reign the cathedral was consecrated.
New churches and other structures were built around the main Cathedral. The Mongol invasion of Georgia in the 13th-14th centuries greatly impeded the country's development, but was unable to completely suppress the creative activity of the nation. And still the constructions at the Gelati Monastery continued, though on a considerably reduced scale.
The Gelati Monastery belongs to those few architectural ensembles in Georgia which have preserved their principle structures along with rich information on their foundation and building.
Factors of strategic, climatic and aesthetic importance were all taken into account from the very start of the monastery's construction.
Gelati is situated not far from Kutaisi, the capital city of Georgia in olden times. It rests on a mountain slope, occupying an artificially leveled site. From the south-east the complex is bordered by a wide scenic ravine providing a beautiful vista that recedes into the distance right up to the highest snow-capped peaks of the Caucasian mountain ridge.
The structures that have survived up to the present day are: the main Cathedral, the spring, sheltered by the Bell Tower, and the remains of the Academy, and south-west – the gate within whose passageway is preserved the slab over the grave of David the Builder. Another gate is on the east side of the monastery.
Some smaller structures were built during the 12th century and the 13th, as well as early in the 14th: the domed Church of St. George, the Church of St. Nicholas, and a bell tower over the spring. The cathedral blended naturally with the surrounding landscape. The interior of the Cathedral, crowned with a wide cupola, is spacious and dignified. It is well illuminated by the light flooding in through the many large windows.
The Gelati Monastery has preserved a great number of murals dating back to the 12th-18th centuries. They adorn both the main Cathedral consecrated to the Nativity of the Virgin and the Church of St. George.
The murals in the main structure combine two kinds of monumental medium – mosaic and fresco.
The conch in the Cathedral's chancel is adorned with a mosaic portraying the Virgin and the Christ child with the Archangels Michael and Gabriel before them.
All the lower part of the mosaic disintegrated and was later filled in with fresco painting.
The author of the Gelati mosaic had a perfect command of the laws of the decorative system worked out in Byzantine art.
There you could also see many paintings and portrays of Kings. Many icons and monuments previously preserved in the Gelati sacristy are on display at the Georgia State Museum of Art or in the Kutaisi State Historical and Ethnographic Museum.
The Gelati Monastery as a whole represents a genuine treasure house of medieval art.