It’s a familiar scene in Georgia, a Caucasus country where haunting three-voice chants reverberate through incense-heavy air in ancient churches packed with the faithful. Nationalist pride and the increasing strength of the Georgian Orthodox Church are intertwined with a revival of its ancient polyphonic sacred music, repressed during the Soviet regime.
It must be a rare visitor to Georgia who isn’t captivated by the stunning scenery, food and music. The small country — ecologically diverse and bordering Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and the Black Sea — is rich in relics of defenders and conquerors. Farmers scythe hay in the shadow of crumbling 10th-century fortresses and ghostly factories. Churches and monasteries dot the landscape in impossibly beautiful settings, like the medieval Gergeti Trinity Church, an architectural gem nestled in fields of wildflowers.
“Other countries have allies to protect them,” said Luarsab Togonidze, a historian who has sung with the Ensemble Basiani, but “Georgians are orphans.” He added, “This land is a crossroads and dangerous. Why did Georgians never leave this land and move somewhere safer? There is something magic here.”