Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti is divided into three geographical and historical regions. The first is Racha, which is in the southern, central, and eastern portion of this region. Racha is most similar to the Swiss and Italian Alps--it is full of high Alpine meadows, densely forested hillsides, and steep snow capped mountaintops. Lechkhumi is the second main sub-region and it is in western Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti. Like Racha, Lechkhumi is composed of densely forested hillsides and alpine meadows, however, the mountains aren’t as steep and are more similar to the Carpathian mountains. Kvemo Svaneti is the lower portion of the same valley that Ushguli and Mestia are located in. As such, it is geographically similar to Zemo Svaneti. Due to its geography, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti is Georgia’s most isolated region, with only two roads entering the region from Imereti.
Photo by Shermazana Photography.
People have been inhabiting this region of Georgia since the Bronze Age, with the settlement of Oni thought to have been established in the 2nd Century B.C.E. during the era of the Kolkheti Kingdom. Numerous artifacts from the Bronze Age have been found in Racha and are now on display in the Georgian National Museum. The three primary settlements of Racha were Ghebi, Ch’iora, and Glola. Racha and Lechkhumi together created the historical region of Tak’veri, which was the region’s name during the feudal era.
In the 10th Century, the House of Kakhaberidze had controlled most of Tak’veri. Members of this family frequently served in the royal court, however, in the 1380s, King David Narin abolished the Kakhaberidze’s aristocracy, which ultimately led to the family’s end. After the collapse of the Georgian Kingdom in the 15th Century, Tak’veri was incorporated into Imereti’s governance, while Tak’veri itself was divided into various principalities, where it remained through the Russian Empire.
Today, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti remains an isolated region of Georgia, and, like Svaneti, is mostly seen by Georgians as a vacation spot. To help integrate the region with the rest of Georgia, a small airport was opened in 2016 in the region’s largest city and administrative capital, Ambrolauri.
Ambrolauri was first mentioned in the 17th Century, when it was one of the residencies of the Imereti King. In 1930, Ambrolauri became a municipality within Racha, and it was made a city in 1966.
The city sits in a long, broad mountain valley on the banks of the Rioni River. The city is known for its amazing views and Alpine scenery.
Photo by the Ambrolauri Municipallity.
Oni is located in eastern Racha in a mountain valley along the Rioni River. The city is one of the oldest cities in Racha and was once the primary city in the region. Oni was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Georgia, only smaller than those in Tbilisi and Kutaisi. The main synagogue in Oni was built in the 1880s and is known for its architectural beauty and uniqueness in Georgia. Ambrolauri was first mentioned in the 17th Century, when it was one of the residencies of the Imereti King. In 1930, Ambrolauri became a municipality within Racha, and it was made a city in 1966.The city sits in a long, broad mountain valley on the banks of the Rioni River. The city is known for its amazing views and Alpine scenery.
The church was constructed between 1010-1014 C.E. during the reign of King Bagrat III. The church was consecrated under the name of St. Nicolas. In the 16th Century the church became a monastery. In 1534 the cathedral was renovated and established as a cathedral, seating the Nik’orts’minda Eparchy. In the second half of the 19th century, a bell tower was constructed.
Despite Nik’orts’minda having a relatively benign history and historical significance in Georgian history, its architecture has given it notoriety. Unlike the overwhelming majority of most Georgian churches, the central dome of Nik’orts’minda is held up by six columns and arches, as opposed to the traditional four. What’s even more impressive is the quality of the iconography in Nik’orts’minda, particularly in the dome itself.
Photo by Shermazana Photography.
This fort was the primary residency of the House of Kakhaberidze and therefore the seat of the Tak’veri aristocracy. After the fall of the House of Kakhaberidze, the fortress fell into disuse. The fortress is located on a hill at the confluence of the Rioni and Lukhunists’q’ali Rivers between the villages of Mukhli and Ts’esi.
To get to Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, it is possible to take a marshrutka from Tbilisi with a final destination of either Oni and Ambrolauri. Likewise, there are marshrutkas from Kutaisi that go to Ambrolauri, Khvanchkara, and Oni. In 2017, Ambrolauri welcomed its first airport which has flights to Natakhtari Airport (near Mtskheta, just north of Tbilisi).
Adding to the difficulty of reaching this region, there are not train routes into Racha.
Road access is somewhat limited. From Imereti, there is the Kutaisi-Tsqaltubo-Tsageri-Lentekhi-Lasdili Road, which enters Racha from the southwest, as well as the Kutaisi-Tkibuli-Ambrolauri Road which branches off of the E-60 just outside of Zestaponi and enters the region from the south through Nakerala Pass.
1: Nikortsminda Cathedral
3: Minda Fortress