Dzalisi (GEORGIA)

Text authors: Natalia Lockley, Piotr Jaworski

Dzalisi (ancient Zalissa) is one of the most important archaeological monuments in the historic kingdom of Iberia. Archaeological excavations were carried out in 1971-1990 by Nasataki Archaeological Expedition from the Archaeological Research Center at the Georgian Ivane Javakhishvili Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography. The ruins of an ancient city were found in the modern village of Dzalisi, in the Mukhrani Valley, 20 km southwest of Mtskheta (ancient Harmozica). The site has been identified as the City of Dzalisi mentioned in the “Geography” by the Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD. Archaeological finds indicate that Dzalisi is an example of the development of rural life in Iberia, around the 1st century AD. The ancient settlement was spread over 70 hectares; a 6-hectare artificial hill on the right bank of the river Narekvavi is considered to be a citadel. It should also be mentioned that on the other side of the river a mausoleum from ancient times was found, where the Persian royal bullae were found. The complex can be divided into several architectural phases. It is a rich suburban villa intended for the aristocracy of the Kingdom of Iberia. To this day, three baths from different periods have been preserved in the complex. The castle also had a unique, 800 square meter swimming pool. At the northern part of the pool, one could find a set of 9 steps with benches arranged in the corners. The floor and exterior walls were paved with a hydraulic solution. The swimming pool is connected to a bathroom by two double water pipes, indicating that the swimming pool and the bathroom could have been a shared complex. At the south end of the swimming pool, archaeologists discovered larger buildings of the Dzalisi complex, referred to as the arcaded building, dated to the 5th century AD. An artistic floor mosaic found in Dzalisi's Roman-type bathrooms, excavated in 1972, provides evidence of the development of provincial life in the ancient Iberian Kingdom. This type of mosaic can also be found in Bichvinta Basilica (region of Abkhazia, Western Georgia) and the village of Shukhuti (region of Guria, Western Georgia), which features Roman bathrooms in dating to 200-600 AD.

The most important mosaic from Dzalisi depicts a figural scene with Dionysus and Ariadna along with a banquet (muses, charities, pan, satire etc.). The mosaic also has a Greek inscription. The mosaic floor in the apodarium (changing room) is preserved. In the frigidarium, 8-pointed star ornaments are depicted, and archaeologists found remnants of an ocean scene, with Tethys (a water goddess) surrounded by fishermen riding dolphins. Only the images of shells, dolphins and a fishnet remains were preserved. Analogues of these mosaics can be found among the well-known samples at Antioch, a territory of Cilicia and Garni, all of which feature ocean scenes. Fragments of peacock and geometrical ornaments were found in the tepidarium (warm baths heated by the hypocaustum). It is thought to be the artwork of a different artist, as the style of the fragment has unique qualities not found in the first.

In the year 2016 a joint Polish-Georgian expedition of Institute of Archaeology of University of Warsaw and the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi began its operation with a research in Zalissa, one of the main centres of the ancient Kingdom of Iberia. The extensive residential complex which was discovered there a few decades before gained its fame due to several rich houses and baths, decorated with mosaics with mythological themes and Greek inscriptions. The goal of the re-examination, after a long-term break, was the full recognition of individual parts of the ancient urban system of Zalissa and its rural facilities. During the first season of field research, focused on identifying the position by using non-invasive methods, previous findings regarding its range were validated and topographic data from archival documentation were updated. As a result a multi-layered orthophotomap was created, which brought a number of new information that helped deciding on the directions of further research of the joint Expedition.