Late in the 6th century Saint Zenon, one of the "Syrian Fathers" founded the Ikalto Monastery 7-8 km west of the town Telavi. The Monastery was famous as one of the most significant cultural-scholastic centres of Kakheti as well as of the whole of Georgia. A high school, the academy, was founded there; an outstanding Georgian philosopher Arsen Iqaltoeli used to live and work in it. Archaeological excavations revealed numerous workshops, wine-cellars, a smithy, store-rooms and other household rooms grouped around the Academy building.
The academy of Ikalto trained its students in theology, rhetoric, astronomy, philosophy, geography, geometry chanting, etc. Besides the theoretical courses, the students were skilled in pottery making, metal work, viticulture and wine making, pharmacology, etc. There are three churches on the premises - Gvtaeba, Kvelatsminda and Sameba. The main church, Cvtaeba, was built on the site of an old church (in which the founder of the Monastery, St. Zenon had been buried) and had the form of the Greek Cross in plan. These churches were restored so many times that their original appearance has changed drastically. The Academy of Ikalto had functioned for a long time playing an important role in the history of Georgian Enlightenment. In 1616 the Iranian invaders led by Shah Abbas II set it on fire and the Academy ceased to exist. Now, inside its walls one of the country's first "people's Universities" is functioning.