Visiting Georgia

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Unless otherwise noted below the photograph, all photographs have been taken by us. Any graphics were created by us or have been significantly altered from their original form. 

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Geography

Kakheti is the largest of Georgia’s regions, comprising of the entire country east of Tbilisi. The region’s entire northern section borders Russia and lies in the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The Gombori Ridge runs parallel to the Greater Caucasus Mountains through the middle of Kakheti, forming the Alazani Valley to the ridge’s north.The western and southern portion of Kakheti is covered by semi-arid grasslands

The Alazani Valley is known as Georgia’s primary wine-growing region. The Alazani Valley holds most of Kakheti’s population, with the largest towns of Telavi and Gurjaani being located here. Additionally, the valley has served as the historical core of Kakheti’s various kingdoms.

Tusheti is perhaps Georgia’s most rugged and untouched area. Tusheti is located in the northwestern corner of Kakheti and is known for its extremely difficult terrain, isolated mountain villages, and overall sense of being untouched by the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Lagodekhi is located in Kakheti’s northeastern corner at the tripartite border between Georgia, Russia, and Azerbaijan. Lagodekhi is similar to Tusheti in its geographic composition and infrastructural development, however, it is a smaller region than Tusheti, making it a little more accessible.

The Alazani River has its headwaters in the Tusheti region of Kakheti’s Greater Caucasus Mountains and then flows into the Alazani Valley. Here, it flows until it forms Georgia’s border with Azerbaijan. The Iori River flows from the village of Sioni in Mtskheta-Mtianeti through southwestern Kakheti until it crosses into Azerbaijan. 

History

Kakheti’s first formal political experience began in the 4th Century B.C.E. when it was a part of the Kingdom of Iberia, which ran concurrently with the Colchis Kingdom in Georgia’s west. Following the Arab conquest of the Kingdom of Iberia in the 8th Century C.E., Kakheti stayed under Arab rule until 1014 C.E.when the First Kingdom of Kakheti was created. This kingdom ruled over all of Georgia east of Tbilisi and Kazbegi and parts of western Azerbaijan. This kingdom lasted until 1104 C.E. when it was annexed by Kind Davit Aghmashenebeli and became a part of the Kingdom of Georgia. During this time and through the reign of Tamar Mepe, Georgia reached its zenith. 

 

In 1465 C.E. the Second Kingdom of Kakheti was established by Giorgi VIII, an usurper of the Kingdom of Georgia. Giorgi VIII managed to create an independent kingdom in Kakheti, which lasted until 1762 C.E., however, during most of this time the kingdom was a tributary state of Persia. 

 

The Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti lasted between 1762-1801 and encompassed the Georgian regions of Shida and Kvemo Kartli, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Tbilisi, and Kakheti, along with parts of North Ossetia and Chechnya in Russia, extreme northern Armenia, and parts of Western Azerbaijan. In 1783, King Heraclius II signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire, which stated that the kingdom would be a protectorate of Russia. In 1801, the kingdom was annexed into the Russian Empire. 

 

Kakheti’s history from 1801 to the present day is aligned with the rest of Georgia. Today, the region is seeing a bit of a resurgence thanks to efforts to revitalize Georgia’s wine industry. Kakheti still remains Georgia’s primary wine-making region, and is now beginning to dabble in Georgia’s burgeoning tourism industry.

Telavi

Telavi is located in the region’s center and is Kakheti’s largest city along with the administrative capital of Kakheti. Telavi served as the administrative center of the First Kingdom of Kakheti. During the reign of King Erekle II (1762-1798 C.E.) Telavi gained historical importance, primary due to Erekle II’s establishment of a seminary there and his residency being located in central Telavi. 

Telavi is perhaps one of Georgia’s most underrated towns--the town sits where the Gombori Ridge meets the Alazani Valley, with the city center being located on a small promontory on the ridge, giving way to excellent views of the Alazani Valley below and the Greater Caucasus Mountains forming the backdrop. Telavi’s town center.

The most well-known location in Delavi is the Palace of King Erekle II (also called Batonistsikhe), located in the town center. The palace now consists only of its exterior fortifications, a small church, and the main hall in the inner court. The structure dates back to the 17th Century, however, much of it has been destroyed following various invasions. Nonetheless, the palace is one of the largest and most well-preserved of Georgia’s royal palaces/fortifications. Additionally, much of Telavi’s town center has been renovated, particularly Erekle II Street which is the town’s main central road.

Sighnaghi

Sighnaghi is located on the Gombori Ridge and overlooks the Alazani Valley. There is evidence that people have been inhabiting this location since the times of Ancient Greece. During the proto-Kakhetian kingdom of Kiziqi, Sighnaghi held the role of being the region’s primary city. During the time of Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, Sighnaghi gained prominence as a main trade center. It wasn’t until the reign of King Erekle II that Sighnaghi’s importance grew as an important city in Kakheti. 

Today, Sighnaghi is known as being one of the best examples of a traditional Georgian town. In 2007, nearly the entire town was restored to its original form. Of particular note is its fortifications, which remain remarkably intact. It’s possible to walk on large portions of the walls that surround the town. The views from the walls are perhaps better than the views from the town itself since it’s possible to see the town and the mountains simultaneously.

Alaverdi Monastery

Alaverdi St. George Monastery is located about 16 km/ 10 miles away from the town of Akhmeti in north-central Kakheti. The first church was completed in the 6th Century. The present church was completed in 1030 C.E. The cathedral was the highest structure in Georgia until the Soviet-era and remained the tallest religious structure in the country until the completion of Tbilisi Sameba Cathedral. Similar to Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta, Alaverdi is elaborately decorated on the exterior, with numerous stone reliefs on its facades. The central dome soars to a height of 51.5 meters/170 feet. The original fortifications that surround the cathedral are still standing. 

Ikalto Academy

Ikalto Academy is located in Telavi Municipality, about 7 km/ 4.3 miles from Telavi,  along the Gombori Ridge. The The main basilica and academy were established in the 6th Century as an ecclesiastical institution. At the academy are three churches and what’s left of the academic buildings. The monastery and academy reached its height between the 11th-12th Centuries. The academy specialized in teaching theology, rhetoric, astronomy, philosophy, geography, and geometry. 

Ujarma Fortress

The first known settlement at Ujarma dates back to the first quarter of the third century. The city was founded as a fortified settlement. Ujarma is located on a strategic location on a high ridge overlooking the main pass in Gombori Ridge connecting Georgia to Kakheti. Running through the bottom of the gorge that Ujarma overlooks is te Iori River. 

 

By the 4th Century, Ujarma became a major economic and political center in western Kakheti. During this time, St. Nino had considered Ujarma to be Kartli’s second center for the spread of Christianity after Mtskheta. 

Much of the present-day fortification was built by Vakhtang Gorgasali, who was the king of the Kartli Kingdom starting in the second half of the fourth century, including the establishment of an eparchy at Ujarma for the goal of spreading Christianity 

By the 4th Century, Ujarma became a major economic and political center in western Kakheti. During this time, St. Nino had considered Ujarma to be Kartli’s second center for the spread of Christianity after Mtskheta. 

During the fifth century, Ujarma became of military importance as the Sassanids began their invasion into Georgia. It was from Ujarma that Gorgasali based his campaign against the Persians. For this reason, the capital of the Kingdom of Kartli was moved from Mtskheta to Ujarma. Following the death of Vakhtang Gorgasali at Ujarma, his successor--Dachi--moved the capital of Georgia from Ujarma to Tbilisi. Shortly following then, Georgia was captured by the Persians.

Ujarma’s fall from prestige began in earnest from the 8th Century due to the culmination of a number of natural and political factors. There were numerous harsh winters that destroyed crop harvests, making sustaining the local population difficult. Additionally, various invasions in the area further depleted local resources. Ujarma was frequently the spot of battles since it lay on the main route between Tbilisi and Kakheti. What once led to Ujarma’s rise also led to its fall. Finally, as Ujarma was in decline, Telavi began to rise as Kakheti’s primary political and economic center. 

Ujarma is divided into two separate areas--the Lower Fortress and Upper Fortress.

The Lower Fortress is composed of the remnants of the fortified city of Ujarma, which mostly lies along the banks of the Iori River below the Upper Fortress. The Lower Fortress occupies and area that is 105 by 96 meters

 

The Upper Fortress is composed of the main fortress and palace area. The Upper Fortress is located on a long, narrow hilltop about 75 meters above the Iori River. Along the northeast portion of the inner fortress is a large angular tower which serves a different portion from the other towers. This tower, according to historical sources, served as the primary residence for Vakhtang Gorgasali. 

 

In the central portion of Ujarma, along the southern wall is a small church. According to historical sources, the first floor of the church dates back to the original fortress and was originally part of a tower, while the second level of the church was built during the fourth century. This church was built using typical four-sided basilica form, similar to that found in Bolnisi. It’s alleged that one of the three holy crosses made by St Nino was made in Ujarma.

Davit Gareji

Located on the border with Azerbaijan, Davit Gareji Monastery is the smallest and least accessible of Georgia’s three ‘cave cities.’ The monastery was first built in the 6th Century. In the 11th Century, the monastery was taken by the Seljuk Turks, but the monastery still continued its works. In fact, between the 11th-13th Centuries, the monastery expanded greatly. After the Mongol invasion in the 13th Century, much of the complex was destroyed. By the 19th Century, the monastery was mostly abandoned. Unlike Uplistsikhe and Vardzia, many of the frescoes and interior architecture are still intact, and much of the exterior fortifications and churches are still standing, making it the best-preserved of Georgia’s three ‘cave cities.’ The monastery is located near the village of Udabno. There is a road that leads directly to Davit Gareji Monastery that starts in Sagarejo. It is best to keep a valid passport with you since the complex is located on the border with Azerbaijan and accidental crossings are possible. Furthermore, it is advised to stay on the trails and not wander off of the roads and designated parts to avoid accidentally crossing the border.

Kvetera Monastery

Kvetera Monastery is a part of a larger complex of ruins which dates back to the medieval centers of kakheti. The settlement was first mentioned by Vakhushti Batonishvili who stated that the settlement was there as far back as the 8th Century. It is known that Kvetera was an important center during the 9th and 10th Centuries, but following the end of the Kakheti-Hereti Kingdom, the city declined and was subsequently abandoned. 

 

The complex is made of two main parts. The first is a large lower yare which is encircled by a large wall. The central portion, or inner fortress, is also surrounded by a wall and has a beautiful domed church. Unlike other Georgian Orthodox churches, which typically take on a traditional cross-form, the church of Kvetera is in the form of an addition sign ( + ) and is symmetrical the main church itself is under the dome, with four smaller circular side apses radiating from the center to form the equal-sided cross. 

Photo by paata.ge 

Elia Monastery

Elia Monastery is located in Dedoplistsqaro Municipality, on a two-peaked mountain top just south of Dedoplistsqaro. The monastery was built to commemorate St Ilia during the 6th Century. The main monastery complex clings to the mountainside and is built into the mountain itself. Elia Monastery is known for its commanding views over Dedopolistsqaro and the surrounding Iori Plateau, along with Kochebi Lake. On 02 August it is common for pilgrims to venture to Elia Monastery to commemorate the feast of St. Ilia. 

Gremi Fortress and Nakresi Monastery

The monastery is on a small foothill of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. During the reign of the first king of Kakheti, Giorgi (1466-1476), Gremi served as the capital of the newly established kingdom. Over the next two centuries, Gremi would come to be a major cultural, political, and economical center for Kakheti. Once the capital was established in Telavi, the monastery and castle complex of Nekresi and Gremi declined. Gremi Fortress is located in the village of Eniseli, and Nekresi Monastery is located in between Eniseli and Kvareli.

Khornabuji Fortress

Khornabuji Fortress is located just north of Dedoplistsqaro in the Gombori Ridge overlooking the Alazani Valley. The name of the fortress comes from the Persian word “khuran/khoran” meaning “sun” and “burji” meaning “bastion/pier.”

 

This fortress was a location in which Vakhetan Gorgasali established an eparchy after he had ordered the construction of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. The fortress and surrounding city complex had accrued importance in southern Kakheti due to its strategic location between the Iori and Alazani Rivers, therefore giving it the ability to control access to those two rivers. However, during the first half of the sixth century, the fortress was the residence of the Persian officials who ruled over the area. 

 

During the reign of Tamar Mepe, the fortress was ordered to be rebuilt. 

 

The fortress complex was of importance during the First Kingdom of Kakheti. A spring was discovered on the site of the fortress in the 11th Century. During the reign of King Kvirive III (1010-1037 C.E.) there were seven main aristocratic centers (feudal divisions) of Kakheti, with Kvetera being one of them. The complex is composed of an inner and outer court, with complete fortress walls. There is also a small church in the inner court of the complex. The main building of the castle complex along with the towers of the inner wall are now ruins. Kvetera Fortress is located in Akhmeta Municipality between the towns of Akhmeta and Tianeti in the village of Naduknari.

Transportation

There are numerous marshrutkas from Tbilisi that go to Tsnori, Dedoplistsqaro, Lagodekhi, Telavi, and Akhmeta. Dedoplistsqaro is also accessible by marshrutkas from Telavi.

 

Unfortunately, there are no train routes into eastern Georgia.

Access to Kakheti is achieved primarily by road. The ს-5, locally known as the “Kakheti Highway,” runs from Tbilisi (it begins between the 300 Aragveli and Isani Metro stations) and into the southern half of Kakheti, passing through the towns of Sagarejo, Tsnori, and Lagodekhi before it goes to Azerbaijan. The შ-38 runs from the ს-5 to the city of Telavi. The შ-42 follows the Alazani valley, starting in the town of Akhmeta, running through Telavi until it ends in Gurjaani.

Legend

1: Ujarma

2: Ikalto Academy

3: Telavi

4: Gremi Fortress

5: Kvetera Monastery

6: Tusheti

7: Lagodekhi

8: Sighnaghi

9: Khornabuji Fortress

10: Elia Monastery

11: Davit Gareji Monastery

12: Alaverdi Monastery