Life in Total Isolation
Imagine living in total isolation, on top of a mystical pillar, only reachable by a 40m long ladder, this has been reality for generations of devoted monk in Georgia for hundreds of years. The Katskhi Pillar, a short drive from Chiatura is without doubt a unique and bizarre sight. After a few hours of exploring and riding the rickety cable cars in Chiatura, the Katskhi pillar was conveniently located for a break en route to Kutaisi, where we would spend the following two nights.
A Small Chapel on Top of a Limestone Column
After about 15 to 20 minutes of driving we spotted the peculiar pillar, like a long finger sticking out of the forested landscape. Turning off the main road, we parked our car in a dip, below the column. Wandering up the steep slope that leads to the Katskhi Pillar and the monastery grounds, we were fascinated by the little chapel that sits on top of the monolith. What we could not see from this angle, next to the small chapel a cottage was built in 2005, providing the current monk Maxime, with a humble abode, where he sleeps, eats and reads.
Accessible Only by a 40 Metres Long Ladder
The sheer size of the pillar could only be determined once we actually stood underneath the limestone column. The 40 metres long metal ladder is the sole access to the little chapel that crowns the top and thankfully it is closed to the public, although brave people were able to climb to the summit until a few years ago. I breathed a sign of relieve, Jerome had been keen to attempt another adventure, even after our hairy rides on the rusty gondolas earlier on that day. It is hard to believe that someone might live a life in seclusion and devoted to god, with only very limited contact to other human beings, but this appears to be quite common practice in parts of Georgia, like in the caves at David Gareji and other cave towns.
The Hermit Monk Maxime
It is said that Maxime, after years in prison and a troubled past, wanted to change his life and became an Orthodox monk. At first he lived inside an old fridge on top of the pillar, before the local community with the help of government funds rebuilt the chapel and cottage. Remains of a chapel dating back to the 4th century were found at the summit but the monastery was left to crumble in recent centuries. The hermit descends twice a week to meet other monks that live in the buildings below and any troubled person that seek his guidance. His supplies are lifted up to him on a winch, donated by the locals in the area.
Colourful Ceiling Paintings
Beside the impressive rock formation, the monastery has built a chapel open for prayers and visitors. Colourful religious paintings cover the ceiling and walls, although they all look too new for my liking, I much preferred the blackened murals at Vardzia. A small shrine can be found, hidden below the pillar, where worshippers can light a candle, although it was too windy for us to keep the flame alight. A stall offers pious souvenirs and of course local honey!
Is the Katskhi Pillar a Must See Sight?
It is hard to say if the Katskhi Pillar is a must see sight for travellers in Georgia, it is certainly a fascinating monument that should not be missed if you are close by in Chiatura. Entry is free but a donation is surely appreciated by the monks.
Onwards to Kutaisi
Kutaisi, the second largest city in Gerogia, would be our base for the next two nights. I chose a short visit here to allow us time to explore the enchanting Marvili Canyon, swim underneath a refreshing waterfall and walk in the foot steps of dinosaurs. Kutaisi’s grand buildings’ reminded us of some Italian towns and the centre offers some sightseeing. However, due to our short stay our explorations were limited to a stroll around the centre, a relaxing dinner at the riverside cafe Kutaisi Gardenia. Grand Piano, our charming bed and breakfast, provided us with a central location and was excellent value.
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