Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

The Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition (Georgian: სიონის ღვთისმშობლის მიძინების ტაძარი) is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Following a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after particular places in the Holy Land, the Sioni Cathedral bears the name of Mount Zion at Jerusalem. It is commonly known as the "Tbilisi Sioni" to distinguish it from several other churches across Georgia bearing the name Sioni.

Cathedral of Saint Mary of Zion
სიონის ღვთისმშობლის მიძინების ტაძარი
Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral in Georgia, Spring 2011.jpg
Sioni Cathedral
AffiliationGeorgian Orthodox Church
LocationSionis Kucha, Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral is located in Georgia
Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral
Shown within Georgia
Geographic coordinates41°41′29″N 44°48′27″E / 41.6914°N 44.8075°E / 41.6914; 44.8075Coordinates: 41°41′29″N 44°48′27″E / 41.6914°N 44.8075°E / 41.6914; 44.8075
CompletedChurch: 6th–7th century,
renovated 13th century and
17th–18th century.
Belfry: 1812

The Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral is situated in historic Sionis Kucha (Sioni Street) in downtown Tbilisi, with its eastern façade fronting the right embankment of the Kura River. It was initially built in the 6th and 7th centuries. Since then, it has been destroyed by foreign invaders and reconstructed several times. The current church is based on a 13th-century version with some changes from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Sioni Cathedral was the main Georgian Orthodox Cathedral and the seat of Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia until the Holy Trinity Cathedral was consecrated in 2004.


Sioni Cathedral as seen from the right side of the Kura River, 1870s

According to medieval Georgian annals, the construction of the original church on this site was initiated by King Vakhtang Gorgasali in the 5th century. A hundred years later, Guaram, the prince of Iberia (Kartli), in c. 575 began building a new structure, which was completed by his successor Adarnase in circa 639. According to legend, both princes were buried in this church, but no trace of their graves has been found. This early church was completely destroyed by Arabs, and was subsequently built de novo.

The cathedral was completely rebuilt by King David the Builder in 1112. The basic elements of the existing structure date from this period. It was heavily damaged in 1226, when its dome was ruined on the order of Jalal ad Din Mingburnu. It was subsequently repaired, but damaged again by Timur in 1386 and repaired by King Alexander I. It was again damaged during the Persian invasions in 1522 and in the 17th century.

19th-century sectional drawing showing Grigory Gagarin's frescoes

In 1657, the Metropolitan of Tbilisi, Elise Saginashvili (died 1670), substantially restored the cupola, vaults, added the southern chapel, paintings and decorations, which is written on southern annex, but the structure was again devastated in 1668, this time by earthquake. The regent of Kartli, batonishvili (prince) Vakhtang, carried out restorations of the cupola and stone plates of the cathedral walls in 1710, as it is carved on the northern wall. Thus, the current tufa facing of the church comes from that period. However, the church was again damaged by the invasion of the Persians in 1795.

The cathedral's interior took on a different look between 1850 and 1860, when the Russian artist and general Knyaz Grigory Gagarin (1810–1893) composed an interesting series of the murals, though a number of medieval frescoes were lost[clarification needed] in the process. A portion of the murals on the western wall were executed by the Georgian artist Levan Tsutskiridze in the 1980s.

The stone iconostasis dates to the 1850s, and was also created according G. Gagarin's design. It replaced the wooden iconostasis burned during the Persian invasion in 1795. To the left of the altar is the venerated Grapevine cross which, according to tradition, was forged by Saint Nino, a Cappadocian woman who preached Christianity in the Caucasus in the early 4th century. King Vakhtang III gave the reliquary itself in the early 14th century.

The Sioni Cathedral was where the Russian Imperial manifesto on the annexation of Georgia was first published. On April 12, 1802 the Russian commander-in-chief in Georgia, General Karl von Knorring, assembled the Georgian nobles in the Cathedral, which was then surrounded by Russian troops. The nobles were forced to take an oath to the Russian Imperial crown; any who disagreed were taken into custody.[1][2][3]

Sioni Cathedral remained functional through Soviet times, and was partially renovated between 1980 and 1983.


Eastern facade of the church with three faceted apsids

The Sioni Cathedral is a typical example of medieval Georgian church architecture of an inscribed cross-in-square design with projecting polygonal apses in the east façade. Main entrance is in the west side. The dome with the tholobate is supported by the altar wall and two freely standing pillars (a more advanced design that appeared after the 11th century). Transition from the pillars to the tholobite is via pointed arches. In addition, the pillars are connected to the northern and southern walls by helm-shaped arches (probably 16th century). The yellow tuff from which the cathedral was built comes from Bolnisi, a town southwest of Tbilisi. The facades are simple, with few decorations, although there are bas-relief carvings of a cross and a chained lion on the western side and an angel and saints on the north. All sixteen windows have carved ornamental frames. Shallow carvings indicate late decoration.

Tholobate of the church with decorations. Southeastern view

North of the cathedral, within the courtyard, is a freestanding three-story bell tower dating from the 1425 reconstruction by King Alexander I. Largely destroyed by the Persian shah Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar in 1795, it was restored to its present condition in 1939.

Across the street stands another three-story bell tower; one of the earliest example of Russian Neoclassical architecture in the region. [4] Complete in 1812, the bell tower was commissioned under Pavel Tsitsianov using money awarded in recognition of his conquest of Ganja for the Russian Empire.[5]

View of the ceiling

The murals, painted by G. Gagarin, and iconostasis, also designed by him in 1950s-60s, differed from traditional Georgian tradition.


The Sioni Cathedral serves as a burial ground for several notable churchmen, including the 20th-century Catholicoi-Patriarchs of Georgia, and economic and political figure Giorgi Maisashvili:


  1. ^ Klaproth, J. (2005), Travels in the Caucasus and Georgia. Performed in the years 1807 and 1808, by command of the Russian government, Adamant Media Corporation, ISBN 1-4021-8908-7, p. 220 (Replica of 1814 edition by Henry Colburn, London)
  2. ^ Villari, L. (1906), Fire and Sword in the Caucasus, T. F. Unwin, London, p. 32 (Online version [1])
  3. ^ Lang, DM. (1957), The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy: 1658–1832, New York City: Columbia University Press, p. 247
  4. ^ Джанберидзе Н., Мачабели К. (1981) Тбилиси. Мцхета. Москва: Искусство, 255 c.
  5. ^ Утверждение Русскаго владычество на кавказе, Время Кнорринга, Цицианова и Гудовича. 1801–1809 гг, A. I Liberman: 1901. Volume 1
  • Rosen, Roger. Georgia: A Sovereign Country of the Caucasus. Odyssey Publications: Hong Kong, 1999. ISBN 962-217-748-4

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