Kvemo Kartli is located in southern Georgia, south of Tbilisi and Shida Kartli. Kvemo Kartli can be divided into three distinct geographic regions. The first is the grasslands in the region’s southeast. This area is relatively flat and arable. The region’s primary cities--Rustavi, Marneuli, Bolnisi, and Gardabani, are located here. The southwestern part of Kvemo Kartli is located in the Armenian Highlands and is geographically similar to Armenia. The central third of Kvemo Kartli and the northern edge of the region are a part of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, with the eastern terminus of the Trialeti Range located here.
The mountains of Kvemo Kartli are very different from their northern counterparts. As opposed to being proper mountains, such as the Alps, Greater Caucasus Mountains, or the Rocky Mountains, the mountains of Kvemo Kartli are actually ridges formed by erosion between the Armenian Highland and the lowlands below, meaning that these mountains are characterized by steep ravines and canyons.
The Mtkvari River flows through the middle of the eastern third of Kvemo Kartli. The river flows from its restricted path in Tbilisi into the wide grasslands of Kvemo Kartli and, as such, widens and becomes increasingly braided as it nears the border with Azerbaijan.
Kvemo Kartli’s history, like much of Georgia’s, dates back millenia. More specifically, about 2 million years ago. The Dmanisi archeological site shows that there has been permanent human settlements in Kvemo Kartli for almost 2 million years. Since then, this region has served as Georgia’s primary connection to Mesopotamia and the Levant until the Colchis Kingdom was established in western Georgia. The country’s first, and oldest church, is located in Bolnisi, and the archeological site in Samshvilde is one of the oldest walled cities in the country, dating back to the the 3rd Century B.C.E.
Throughout much of Georgia’s history, Kvemo Kartli served as the location for many major battles over Tbilisi, such as the Battle of Didgori, between the Kingdom of Georgia and the Seljuks, the Battle of Krtsanisi (from which the metro station “300 Aragveli” takes its name) between the Georgians and the Persians, and the Battle of Kojori, which was the final battle between the Georgians and the Bolshevik Army.
During the Soviet-era, Kvemo Kartli became one of Georgia’s primary manufacturing regions after the Rustavi Metallurgical Plant was opened. Following the dissolution of the USSR, Kvemo Kartli suffered the same fate as many other industrial Soviet cities. Today, the region is seeing a slight rejuvenation thanks in part to tourism, but also to government efforts to bring new manufacturers to Rustavi and increase the region’s agricultural output.
Rustavi is the largest city in Kvemo Kartli, is the region’s administrative center, and is Georgia’s fourth largest city. Despite the current city dating to the Soviet-era, Rustavi was settled during the Bronze Age. The area grew during the Iron Age thanks to its location on the Mtkvari River, iron deposits in the area, and an abundance of trees. The Rustavi Fortress, located in the Park of Culture and Rest, is the oldest extant building in Rustavi.
During much of Georgia’s Middle Ages, Rustavi served as an aristocratic center for the region, with the primary residence in Rustavi Fortress. The city grew around trading and mining. Rustavi was destroyed after Timur Lane’s invasion of Georgia and since retained only a small fraction of its regional power.
The Soviet-era brought a new life to the city. In 1948, “Old Rustavi” was built (the portion of Rustavi on the southern bank of the Mtkvari River). The buildings here are all of Stalinist form and are in a grid pattern, with parks between wide boulevards. “New Rustavi” is composed of the widespread Khrushovka apartments.
Liberty Square, located in the heart of Old Rustavi, is a large, open, and grand plaza with stately buildings on three sides and a park on the fourth side. Merab Kostava Avenue runs down the heart of Old Rustavi and is lined with renovated Stalinist apartments. The Park of Culture and Rest, which is situated between the Mtkvari River and Old Rustavi, has a large lake with boat piers for kayaks and canoes, paved pathways excellent for long bike rides, and Rustavi Fortress, which is located in the south end of the park. Both Old and New Rustavi have wide sidewalks that can accommodate bicycles and pedestrians simultaneously, making the entire city perfect for outdoor activities.
Archeological excavations show that humans have been continuously living in Dmanisi for around 1.8 million years. There are numerous hominid skulls that have been excavated in Dmanisi, providing archeologists some of the world’s best continuous collection of skulls over a wide timeframe. Not only is it possible to view the active archeological site and accompanying museum, but it is also possible to see the ruins of Dmanisi Fortress. The fortress dates to the 6-8th Centuries, when the lower settlement was built. In 1123, Davit Aghmashenebeli freed the city from Seljuk rule. The town was able to grow from its strategic location on the routes between eastern and central Georgia and the Armenian Highlands. The town was the head of the eparchy of Dmanisi and Bolnisi. Archeological excavations began in 1936 and continue to this day.
Photo by the Dmanisi Archeological Site.
Bolnisi Sioni Cathedral
Bolnisi Sioni Cathedral was built in the 5th Century C.E. and is the first, and oldest, Christian structure in Georgia and one of the oldest Christian structures in the world. The cathedral is known for its inscription on the northern facade, which has the Bolnisi Cross, one of the symbols of Georgia. Also found carved in the church’s facade is the oldest known usage of the Georgian alphabet.The cathedral takes the form of a typical Roman/Byzantine-style basilica, in that it is composed of a single long hall with smaller ailes on either side, separated by columns. IN 1634 the church was damaged by the Persians, however, it was restored in the 17th Century under the order of Queen Mariam and King Rostom. The church was also restored again from 1936-1939 and 1970-1971.
Photo by the Tetritsqaro Municipal government.
Pitareti Monastery is located near the village of Tadznia. The monastery was built by King Lasha-Giorgi (1213-1222). The structure of the monastery complex includes the main church complex along with mostly intact outer walls.The church itself is in excellent condition, given its age and remote location. The church plan follows a typical orthodox plan--a square structure with a dome over the central crossing. Unlike most Georgian orthodox churches, which have a fairly plain exterior, Pitareti Monastery has extremely ornate stone carvings on its exterior walls, which are still in excellent condition. This includes a large carved stone cross above the main entrance to the cathedral, decorative carvings around all of the windows, and unique stone vaulting under the central dome in the interior of the cathedral. The monastery is the burial ground of the noble Baratishvili family.
Samshvilde is one of the oldest fortress-cities in Georgia. The area was first inhabited by by people of the Bronze Age Mtkvar-Araxis culture. By the 3rd Century B.C.E., Samshvilde was already a prominent aristocratic center for the area. The first church at Samshvilde was built during the time of King Vakhtang Gorgasali (5th Century C.E.). By the beginning of the 10th Century, Samshvilde was the capital of the Armenian kingdom of Tashir-Dzoraget, which spanned the current-day Georgia-Armenia border area. Samshvilde’s success came from being able to connect the mountainous areas of the Armenian Highlands to the lowland kingdoms in Kvemo Kartli and the rest of Georgia. In the 11th Century, the city was taken by the Turks, however, by 1110 it was taken back by Georgian King Davit Aghmashenebeli. In the 12th Century, Samshvilde was the center of the Orbeli feudality and the home of the Georgian army commander. The city reached its zenith in the 18th Century thanks to its cathedral and location between Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti. Samshvilde ruins are located immediately south of the village of Samshvilde, which is located about 4.6 km/ 2.9 miles south of Tetri Tskaro in central Kvemo Kartli.
This is a small hill located about 20 miles south of Tbilisi. The site is unassuming, however, its significance is profound. It is here that archeologists believe that ancient Stone Age farmers, some 8,000 years ago, created humanity’s first wine. Archeologists took pottery samples from Gadachrili Gora and sent them to the University of Pennsylvania, where tartaric acid--a major chemical marker of winemaking--was found in the samples. The radiocarbon dates from these samples places them at around 5,800-6,000 B.C.E., making them the world’s earliest known samples of winemaking and viticulture.
This fortress is located in Bolnisi Municipality in Poladauri village, and as such is frequently called “Poladauri Gorge.” The fortress is built on a mountaintop overlooking the gorge below. The fortress is composed of a set of ramparts and two large four-sided towers and dates to the Middle Ages.
Kolagiri Fortress was built during the feudal era (17th Century). The fortress is located in central Kvemo Kartli on the left bank of the Algeti River. The fortress was built by Queen Darejan. The fortress is constructed of Kartli-Kakhetian brick in a large square formation with an area of around 2,000 square meters (21,500 square feet). The corners of the fortress have cylindrical towers, with the battery on the third level. Today, only the small church on the interior of the fortress remains. The fortress is in the village of Kolagiri/Tamarisi 7 km/ 4.3 miles west of Marneuli.
Gagi Fortress sits on a steep hill next to the Debeda/Debed River in the middle of large grasslands in central Kvemo Kartli, in the village of Kushchi, close to the border with Armenia. Gagi Fortress was constructed in the first half of the 11th Century, however, stone markings on the hillside that the fortress is on indicates that there has been a fortress on this spot prior to the current structure. It is possible to see large parts of the original walls and towers of the fortress’s outer walls along with parts of the fortress’s battery. The fortress is in the village of Kushchi about 25 km/ 15.5 miles south of Marneuli.
Photo by the Kvemo Kartli regional government.
Khuluta Fortress is located on the road to Pitareti Monastery (around 4 kilometers away) on a cliff overlooking the Khrami River. The castle was built during the 18th Century. The fortress was built by Qaplan Baratishvili-Orbeliani, son of Georgian nobleman Aleksandre Orbeliani. The castle has two primary buildings with five towers along the defensive walls. The primary purpose of the two main buildings are residential, as opposed to combat. The northern tower was the primary residence and rises seven stories, while the secondary tower rises six stories. Today only the exterior walls remain of the defensive walls and two residential towers remain.
Photo by the Tetritsqaro Municipal government.
Algeti National Park
Algeti National Park straddles the Trialeti Range between Kvemo Kartli and Shida Kartli. The national park is an excellent place to experience the mountainous portion of Kvemo Kartli. The visitor center is located in the town of Manglisi, in the Tetri Tskaro municipality. The park has one trail.
Although not an official national park, the canyon that begins in Tsalka and runs through the villages of Dashbashi and Khareba to the village of Trialeti has lush greenery in the summer and numerous waterfalls. There are some impromptu trails in this area along with hiking next to the stream that flows through the canyon. The canyon is accessible via a trail that starts in the village of Dashbashi, which is immediately south of Tsalka.
Photo by the Agency of Protected Areas
Rustavi, Marneuli, and Manglisi are accessible by marshrutkas from Tbilisi.
Gachiani, Rustavi, and Gardabani are all accessible by train via the once daily Tbilisi-Baku overnight train (none of these are final stops on any train routes). There is also a daily train to the Armenian border-town of Sadakhlo.
Travel to western Kvemo Kartli generally requires a taxi or private car. The ს-9/E-60/E-117/Tbilisi Bypass Road circumvents Tbilisi to the east and joins the ს-4 in Rustavi, which runs from Tbilisi to Azerbaijan, as well as the Rustavi-Gardabani-Vakhtangisi Road, via Rustavi. The ს-6/E-117 runs from Tbilisi to Armenia via Marneuli and Bolnisi (Dmanisi is accessed via this road). The ს-7 also runs from Marneuli to Armenia. The only other main road connection is the Tbilisi-Kojori-Tsalka-Ninotsminda Road from Samtskhe-Javakheti.
1: Pitareti Monastery
2: Khuluta Fortress
4: Bolnisi Sioni Cathedral
5: Berdiki Fortress
6: Kolagiri Fortress
7: Gagi Fortress
9: Algeti National Park
10: Dashbashi Canyon
12: Gadachrili Gora