My type of tourism

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

No t-shirts. No souvenirs. No ice cream, taffy, or fudge. No restaurants, cafes, or hotels. No walkways with handrails. No tourist information centers. No guides. We got out of the taxi that took us to David Gareja monastery complex and we walked around and figured out where to go and what to see.

We saw rolling hills of short dry grasses under a blue almost cloudless sky. We heard 10-year-olds yelling with glee as they raced up and down the hills followed by their panting mothers. We saw cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hollowed out of the rock face. Some caves are still inhabited; some just have graffiti, and in still other caves we saw a few, faded, damaged fresco paintings. It was sad to see the condition of the paintings because at one time the highly artistic David Gareja frescoes were an indispensable part of world treasure.

Here’s a quick history lesson. St. David Garejeli founded the complex in the 6thcentury. Then for several centuries royal and noble families patronized the complex, making it an important center of religious and cultural activity. The monastery reached its peak from the late 11th to the early 13th century. Then came a period of decline. The Mongol army devastated the monastery

in 1265. The Persians massacred the monks and destroyed the monastery’s manuscripts and important art works in 1615. The Bolsheviks closed the monastery in 1921. Then the Soviet military used the area as a training ground. When Georgia gained its independence in 1991, one would assume that the destruction would cease, but one would be wrong. Although Georgians had earlier complained about the Soviet military operations, the Georgian defense ministry conducted its own military exercises in the area in 1996. Finally, after hundreds of Georgian NGO activists set up their tents in the middle of the army’s firing range and blocked the military maneuvers, the exercises were banned.

Now the area is very peaceful, as it always should have been.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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