The Betania Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a remarkable piece of architecture of the 'Golden Age' of the Kingdom of Georgia, at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, and is notable for its wall paintings which include a group portrait of the contemporary Georgian monarchs.
The history of the monastery is poorly recorded in Georgian historical tradition. It was a familial abbey of the House of Orbeli. A series of conflicts and foreign invasions that fill the history of Georgia left the monastery depopulated and half-ruined. It was restored, in the latter half of the 19th century. Betania remained the only operating Georgian monastery, though unofficially, until 1963 when it also became defunct for the next 15 years. In 1978, the energetic Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II succeeded in obtaining permission from the Soviet authorities to reopen a monastery at Betania. In the 1990s, the cloister was refurnished and the local monastic community grew in size and influence.
The monastery’s territory seems to have been surrounded by a massive wall, but only dismembered stones scattered in the adjacent forest have survived of it. The extant edifices are a principal domed church of the Nativity of the Mother of God (constructed at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries), a smaller hall church of St. George (1196), and a ruined tower.
The church of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a cross-in-square design with a dome and built of stone, with some external carved decoration in the eastern façade where traditional niches have multifoil or scalloped tops connected to the frame of the middle window. Its high dome, slightly shifted to the east, rests upon the two westerly located freely standing pillars and ledges of the altar. The southern entrance portal is fronted by the gate roofed with a star-shaped vault. Modern scholars have surmised that the church is actually an expanded, domed and decorated version of an earlier basilica probably dating from the 10th century.
The interior is adorned with significantly damaged murals which mark one of the high points of medieval Georgian wall painting. The conch of the altar contains a scene of Supplication of which only the fragments of the figure of an enthroned Christ have survived. The walls of the apses behind the altar are decorated with the frescos of Prophets holding scrolls with Georgian inscriptions. The northern wall is occupied by a cycle of the Passion of the Christ while the southern wall contains the scenes from the Old Testament and the western – those of the Last Judgment.
The north transept of the monastery is notable for the depiction of the Georgian monarchs dating from c. 1207. These are the portraits of George III (r. 1156–1184), his daughter Queen Tamar (r. 1184–1213), and the son of the latter George IV (r. 1213–1223). The Russian prince Grigory Gagarin discovered and cleaned the image of Tamar in 1851, and published his drawings and reports the same year. George IV is shown as a beardless young man in Georgian court robes, but he wears a crown and sword. These attributes suggest that George is depicted as a young king after his co-coronation with his mother, which took place after the death of his father, David Soslan, in 1207. The painting, therefore, helps to determine the approximate date of the Betania church. An important irregularity observed by modern scholars is that none of the secular figures at Betania has a halo, an attribute that was normally used in Georgian imagery to distinguish a royal person from the rest of society.References:
The city walls of Avila were built in the 11th century to protect the citizens from the Moors. They have been well maintained throughout the centuries and are now a major tourist attraction as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can walk around about half of the length of the walls.
The layout of the city is an even quadrilateral with a perimeter of 2,516 m. Its walls, which consist in part of stones already used in earlier constructions, have an average thickness of 3 m. Access to the city is afforded by nine gates of different periods; twin 20 m high towers, linked by a semi-circular arch, flank the oldest ones, Puerta de San Vicente and Puerta del Alcázar.