Tbilisi is a heart of Georgia, and it keeps an ancient history of many churches and monasteries. The majority of the churches that you will see in Tbilisi are Orthodox. However, in this article, I will tell you about the Ateshgah, one of the oldest Zoroastrian temples.
The Ateshgah means ‘A Fire Cathedral’, in which the fire was always inflamed. As you know, in Zoroastrianism, the fire was a holy element, in addition to air, water, and Earth. They used the fire for their rituals and tried to maintain it the whole time. In order to keep the fire, they were adding animal oil to it. One of those churches have still survived, and it is located in old Tbilisi, at the Gomi Street next to the Church of Bethlehem. We are almost sure that the Ateshgah exists from the 5th century. It was built with the quadratic bricks, that give a special look to its design. Such kinds of bricks are also found in the early layers of the Narikala Fortress. Scientists are still arguing about the date and reason for the existence of Ateshgah in Tbilisi. Some of them think that it is connected to the existence of a group of people who were Fire Worshippers. Others suppose that the construction of Ateshgah can be connected to the Iranians who were exiled to India. They were popular traders who were following the religion of Zoroastrianism. Tbilisi was famous for its Silk Road, so they were arriving here quite often.
One more theory about the Ateshgah is that it was built during the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. However, some of the archaeological excavations proved that Tbilisi existed even before Vakhtang Gorgasali. They explored a sulfur bath, that is dated back to the second century. In addition, some deep layers of Narikala Fortress are also dated well before King Vakhtang Gorgasali, as they supposedly existed in Tbilisi in the fifth century. That is why we can guess that this Zoroastrian Temple could be built even before the fifth century. From this time, when our king was Vakhtang Gorgasali, the development of the capital city had started. If you go deeper into our history, you will realize why the Ateshgah was not destroyed at this time. Tbilisi was known as the place of tolerance even from ancient times. That is why people of different religious beliefs could live here safely and harmoniously. The Ateshgah was partially destroyed by the Byzantines in 628 when they conquered Tbilisi. After that, they started the destruction of Zoroastrians. In addition, there are several records about the Ateshgah of Jean Chardin and Gagarin, from which we can conclude that the temple’s dome still existed in the 19th century.
Nowadays, the Ateshgah makes the historical part of Tbilisi even more attractive. It has many visitors, especially tourists. While being in Georgia, do not miss this place. It is one of the oldest Zoroastrian temples, and it is really worth visiting.
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