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Geography of Georgia

Georgia is an extremely geographically diverse country. There are numerous mountain ranges that divide the country into different geographic zones. Additionally, Georgia’s proximity to the Black Sea helps create different ecosystems thanks to the sea being a large source of precipitation for the country. As a general rule, the level of precipitation decreases as you travel east. Altitudinal changes add an additional level of complexity to the country’s climate and ecosystem. This means that it is possible to see not only glaciers in the mountains, but palm trees and citrus plantations in the lowlands.

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The Greater Caucasus Mountains run along Georgia’s entire northern border with Russia. The western portion of the mountains (Zemo and Kvemo Svaneti as well as Racha-Lechkhumi) tend to be lush and full of alpine meadows since they are exposed to the moisture that comes from the Black Sea. The eastern portion of the mountains (Stepantsminda, Tusheti, and Lagodekhi) tend to be more desolate and void of forests because of dryness due to the rain shadow effect from the western section of the range.

The Lesser Caucasus Mountains have their northern boundary framed by the Trialeti Range, which runs from Tbilisi to Guria/Adjara. This range has a mixture of coniferous and deciduous forests covering its steep slopes and narrow valleys. The Likhi Range connects the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains and divides the Black Sea watershed from the Caspian Sea watershed. This range acts as a natural division between Shida Kartli and Imereti.

Greater Caucasus Mountains

Greater Caucasus Mountains

The Kolkheti Dabloba (Colchian Lowlands) near Kutaisi, Imereti, Georgia.

Kolkheti Dabloba (Colchian Lowlands) in Imereti

The Kolkheti Dabloba (Colchian Lowland) is a large alluvial plain in the western third of Georgia, bounded by the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains to the north and south, respectively, and the Likhi Range to the east. The Kolkheti Dabloba’s climate is influenced by the Black Sea since the western border of the lowland is along the Black Sea’s coastline. This area has rich agricultural land and tends to have hot humid summers and cold winters. The lowlands are named after the Colchis Kingdom (Kolkhetis Samepo in Georgian), which ruled the area during the Iron Age. Many of this region’s cities, notably Batumi and Poti, were founded as Greek colonies for trading further inland. Today, the region is home to Georgia’s second and third largest cities--Batumi and Kutaisi--which also have two of the country’s international airports. As such, the Kolkheti Dabloba still retains its crucial role of connecting Georgia to Europe.

The Kartli Plain is located in the region of Shida Kartli. This plain roughly runs from Mtskheta (just north of Tbilisi) to Khashuri (on the eastern side of the Likhi Range) and is sandwiched between the Trialeti Range to the south and the Greater Caucasus Mountains to the north. The Kartli Plain has the Mtkvari River running through it with most of the region’s largest cities, such as Gori, Kaspi, and Khashuri all located close to or on its banks. Like Tbilisi, this region has a very mild and stable climate, with warm dry summers (around 30 °C/85 °F) and cold, wet winters (around 7 °C/40 °F).

The Armenian Highlands, also known as the Armenian Plateau, lie in Georgia’s southern regions of Samtskhe-Javakheti and the western portion of Kvemo Kartli. This region is sparsely forested and tends to be cooler than the Kolkheti Dabloba due to the regions higher elevation. The Armenian Highland is dominated by conical mountains and broad valleys as opposed to the steeper mountains and valleys of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, the Likhi Range, and the Trialeti Range

The Armenian Highlands in the region Samtskhe-Javakheti.

The eastern third of Georgia lies in the region of Kakheti. Kakheti contains the Alazani Valley, which runs from the town of Akhmeta into Azerbaijan. This region is Georgia’s most well-known wine growing region. As a whole, Kakheti tends to be drier than the rest of Georgia, and as a result, Kakheti’s extreme south and eastern edges are savannah-like and semi-arid.

Armenian Highlands in Samtskhe-Javakheti

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Similar to Georgia’s topography, Georgia’s hydrography is complex. The country lies in both the Black Sea and Caspian Sea watersheds, divided by the Likhi Range. The Black Sea watershed within Georgia is dominated by the Rioni River, which begins deep in the Greater Caucasus Mountains in the historical region of Racha (Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti). On its route to the Black Sea, the Rioni passes through the town of Ambrolauri and enters the Kolkheti Dabloba in the city of Kutaisi, just below Bagrati Cathedral. During the spring when the water is at its highest, the river roars in its channel as it runs through Kutaisi. From Kutaisi, it passes by Samtredia before it enters the Black Sea in Poti. The Rioni River’s primary tributary is the Qvirila River, which begins in the Likhi range and passes through the town of Zestaponi. The confluence of the Rioni and Qvirila Rivers is just south of Kutaisi.

The Mtkvari River (Kura River) in central Tbilisi.

Mtkvari River (Kura River) in central Tbilisi

In Georgia, the Caspian Sea watershed is dominated by the Mtkvari River. “Mtkvari” is the Georgian name for the river, while its English, Russian, and Turkish names are all “Kura.” The river begins in northern Turkey, just south of the Georgian city of Akhaltsikhe. As it enters Georgia, it runs past Vardzia through a large canyon, splitting the Armenian Highland open until it reaches Akhaltsikhe, where it makes a northerly turn and runs through the Trialeti Range, passing through the valley town of Borjomi. The Mtkvari River enters the Kartli Plain near the city of Khashuri and runs westward through Gori and Uplistsikhe until it reaches Mtskheta, where it makes a sharp southerly turn toward Tbilisi. Through most of Tbilisi, the Mtkvari River is channelized with major highways running on either side of its banks. After it passes Tbilisi, it runs through Rustavi and then enters Azerbaijan.

In Georgia, the Mtkvari River was the backbone of much of its ancient civilizations, with the cities of Vardzia, Uplistsikhe, and Mtskheta--some of the oldest settlements in the country--all located on the Mtkvari River. After Tbilisi’s founding in 479 C.E., Tbilisi flourished as a trading city on the Silk Road due to its location on the Mtkvari River because Tbilisi was considered to be the farthest westward city to which river navigation from the Caspian Sea was possible.

The Aragvi River is a major tributary of the Mtkvari River and runs entirely in the region of

Mtskheta-Mtianeti. The Aragvi River begins its course near the ski resort town of Gudauri. The

river travels south through the villages of Pasanauri and Ananuri. In the village of Zhinvali is the

Zhinvali Dam, which is one of the largest dams in Georgia and provides much of central Georgia

with electricity. Additionally, the reservoir created by this dam provides Tbilisi with its drinking

water. From Zhinvali, the Aragvi River continues is southward course until it reaches its

confluence with the Mtkvari River in Mtskheta.

The Alazani River is the primary river for the region of Kakheti. Its source lies in the historical region of Tusheti in the Greater Caucasus Mountains. It travels south through the Pankisi Gorge--a sometimes troublesome area of Georgia, home to a small population of Chechens--and through the town of Akhmeta. The Alazani River bisects the Alazani Valley almost perfectly until

it reaches the village of Tsitelgori, where it forms the Georgia-Azerbaijan border. The river continues, acting  as a natural border until it reaches the Mingecevir Reservoir in Azerbaijan. It is in this reservoir that it joins the Mtkvari River.

The Aragvi River, located north of Mtskheta.

Aragvi River, north of Mtskheta

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