Archaeological Site Dzalisa

Dzalisa: one of the most significant archaeological sites of the Classical period on the territory of the kingdom of Kartli (Iberia). Archaeological excavations were carried on here in 1971-1990 by the Nastakisi archaeological expedition (director Aleksi Bokhochadze) of the Georgian Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography named after Ivane Javakhishvili.

The former city site is situated in Mukhrani field, v. Dzalisa, 20 km north-west of Mtskheta, and is identified with the city of Zalissa mentioned along with other cities by the 2nd century AD Greek geographer Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus) in his "Geographical Handbook".

The excavations have shown Dzalisa to have been the best example of the upsurge and growth of urban life of the former city site of Iberia in the opening centuries AD. The ancient city held an area of ca 70 ha on the right bank of the river Narekvavi. The artificial mound of 6-7 ha area in the north-western part is believed to have been the citadel or inner fortress, surrounded with an adobe wall. Here various habitation layers have been revealed and remains of a monumental building of the Late Classical period, probably roofed with tile.

Inter-crossing streets and squares, paved with brick slabs, and planned according to the so-called regular principle have come to light on the site. Both public and dwelling, as well as cultic buildings, adorned with outstanding mosaics, baths, water supplying system and traces of sewage system are in evidence.

The earliest archaeological material found on the site is dated to the 2nd-1st centuries BC, while the principal structures are assigned to the 1st-4th centuries AD.

Among the structures special mention should be made of monumental palaces. One of them - an intricate architectural complex - occupies ca 2500 sq. m. The structure, where ruins were covered with a 1.5 m thick ground layer, was excavated in 1984-1985. It is the largest structure of palace type of the Classical period hitherto uncovered on Georgian territory. This grand structure was adorned with an inner court with a fountain of Roman planning - atrium (8.35 x 8.35 m). This is the second case of discovery of the ruins of a palace with an atrium. Remains of this type of structure, but of smaller size, were first excavated in 1974-1975. The palace comprises up to 30 rooms of various sizes, forms and purpose. Bedrooms, a council hall, a two-section toilet with its own sewage and water pipe have come to light. Cobblestone, tufa, dressed sandstone, bricks, ceramic slabs were used as building material.

A substantial part of the palace has survived - remains of central heating or hypocaust, pointing to high standards of construction, and generally of life. The hypocaust was situated in the central part of the palace, with a view to heating the whole building. It was square in plan (11.8 x 11.8 m), with an area of 139.2 sq. m. Specially made clay pipes, with slightly narrowing ends, with rectangular windows, were used as air heaters.

The palace had a swimming pool of 800 sq. m, which is unique for Georgia. The north ‘apse' of the pool has a staircase of 9 steps, and in the corners benches are arranged for sitting. The floor and the outer walls are treated with hydraulic solution. The swimming pool is linked to the bath with a double pipe. The swimming pool and the bath may have formed a single complex. From the south annexed to the swimming pool is one of the largest structures of Dzalisa city site - the so-called structure with absides; in comparison with the palace and pool, it is a later structure, probably dating from the 5th century AD.

The highly artistic floor mosaics discovered at the Dzalisa city site serve as graphic evidence of advanced urban life in the Iberian kingdom. Mosaics of this type in Georgia in the 2nd=-6th centuries AD have been found in the Bichvinta basilica (Abkhazia,  Western Georgia) and in the Roman bath in the village of Shukhuti (Guria, Western Georgia).

A mosaic floor at Dzalisa city site came to light in one of the Roman-type baths excavated in 1972. It has cold (frigidarium), warm (tepidarium) and hot (calidarium) sections. The floor of the warm and hot bath rested on air heaters, whose columns were built of round or flat bricks bound with lime mortar. From the eastern side the bath had a fire-channel - cut in the soil to the depth of 0.75 m, with a two-step stair. On top of the channel a boiler-room was arranged.

In the apotiderium a mosaic floor survives, with an ornament of ‘eight rhomb star', characteristic of the period.

The badly-damaged mosaic of the frigidarium must have featured Oceanus and Thetys, surrounded with fishing erotes mounted on dolphins. Representations of shell, dolphin and fishing net have survived. Analogues of this mosaic are found among the familiar specimens of Antioch, Cilicia and Garni, depicting like them, a sea-scape theme.

Fragments of a peacock and geometric ornament survive in the tepidarium. The differing manner of execution warrants to assume that it belonged to another master.

The feasting hall or the so-called triclinium of one of the palaces of Dzalisa had a monumental mosaic floor, surviving in a much-damaged state.