Gelati Monastery is of special importance for its architecture, its mosaics, its wall paintings, and its enamel and metal work. It was not simply a monastery: it was a centre of science and education, and the Academy established there was one of the most important centres of culture in ancient Georgia.
The monastery belongs to the 'golden age' of medieval Georgia, a period of political strength and economic growth between the reigns of King David IV 'the Builder' (1089-1125) and Queen Tamar (1184-1213). It was David who began building the monastery in 1106; it was completed in 1130 in the reign of his son and successor Demetré. Buildings were added to the monastery throughout the 13th and early 14th centuries, but there ensued a period of foreign invasion and internal feuds which resulted in much damage being incurred, culminating in the destruction by fire of the church in 1510 by Turkish invaders. Restoration work began in the early 16th century when it became the residence of the Katholikos of western Georgia, and continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Gelati Monastery escaped the Turkish invasion, but it lost its episcopal role in the early 19th century when Georgia was annexed by Russia.
Bagrati Cathedral is located on a hill on the left bank of the Rioni, and it is reached by a long, winding stairway. Although partly destroyed by the Turks in 1691, its ruins still lie in the centre of Kutaisi. Richly ornamented capitals and fragments of piers and vaulting are scattered throughout the interior. It is cruciform in plan; three of the cross-arms (east, south, and north) terminate in semicircular apses whereas the west arm is squared off.
Different approaches can be seen in the decorative treatment of the facades, the capitals, and the bases, resulting from the preferences of successive master-builders. Not long after the main building was completed a three-storey tower was constructed on its north-west corner. It is believed that this was the residence of the Bishop of Kutaisi.
The monastery precinct is enclosed by a stone wall, now entered from the east but originally through the south porch, which houses the tomb of its founder, David the Builder. The main church is in the centre of the enclosure, flanked by the Church of St George to the west and the two-storeyed Church of St Nicholas and the Academy building behind it. The exterior mass of the church is relieved by the decorative arcading on all its facades, which emphasize the upward thrust of its forms. The interior, surmounted by the large dome, combines space and solemnity, with light streaming in from many windows. The main entrance, of three doors, is from the west; the eye is immediately caught by the famous 12th-century mosaic in the conch of the apse, depicting the Virgin and Child with two archangels in colour against a gold background. The frescoes covering the walls are later: they depict biblical scenes and historical personages, including David IV.
The Church of St George is a tall, domed structure of the 13th century with three projecting apses. The dome is supported by two massive stone columns and the apse angles. It is well lit by many windows and there are fragments of the original wall paintings preserved in the west porch; those in the main church are from the 16th century. The late 13th-century Church of St Nicholas is an unusual structure: it is two-storeyed and the ground floor is open on all sides through arches. The small domed church proper is on the upper floor, approached by a stone stairway. It is polyhedral in form and surmounts the massive lower section. A stone vaulted canopy on four columns was built in the 12th century over the spring to the north of the main church. In the 13th century a room and open, arched bell tower were added to this structure. The Academy building dates from the reign of David the Builder. It is a large structure lit by wide arched windows. A richly decorated porch was added in the 14th century to the centre of the three original entrances. The walls were originally painted, and stone seats are arranged along the walls.