Shida Kartli

Geography

Shida Kartli is located in north central Georgia. The region is composed of two primary parts, if South Ossetia is included. The northern half of Shida Kartli (in the territory of South Ossetia) is mountainous, similar to Mtskheta-Mtianeti. Central Shida Kartli is home to the Kartli Plain--one of three large valleys which form the primary Georgian homeland. The Kartli Plain is bisected by the Mtkvari River. It is along the Mtkvari River where Shida Kartli’s largest towns are located, such as Khashuri, Kareli, Gori, and K’asp’i are located. The southern edge of Shida Kartli is located on the northern slopes of the Trialeti Range. 

History

The history of Shida Kartli first began with Uplistsikhe, which was the primary settlement in Shida Kartli. During the 8th Century CE., Gori began to grow as a city due to its strategic importance on the Silk Road which, through Georgia, followed the Mtkvari River. From Gori, traders would either follow the Mtkvari River to Akhaltsikhe and then through to Turkey, or head to Kutaisi and then to Europe via the Black Sea. 

During the 16th Century, Shida Kartli fell under the rule of the Persian Shah Tamaz I. In the latter half of the 16th Century, the Shida Kartli fell under Ottoman Rule, but was freed by King Simon I who took Gori Fortress and destroyed the Ottoman garrison which was stationed in the city. During Shida Kartli’s time under Persian rule, which restarted in 1735, the region experienced economic and cultural growth. 

Shida Kartli, and, in particular the city of Gori, was devastated by the 2008 War between Georgia and Russia, which lasted for five days during early August (08.08.08 was the first day of the war) and, as such, has had a lasting impression on the city. Most of the fighting was in and around Tskhinvali, which is only around 30 kilomters/18.6 miles to the north. Many buildings in the city center, including the city’s administrative building, still have bullet holes left by the war. In all, about 1/4th of the city was destroyed along with 53 surrounding villages. A total of 228 civilians died in as a result. 

Following the 2008 War, the Georgian Army’s primary base was built along the main motorway that runs through Georgia (E60/ს-1). Additionally, the city has decided to follow Kakheti and Mtskheta-Mtianeti’s development plan and invest heavily in tourism and agriculture. 

Gori

Gori Fortress

Gori Fortress sits on a large hill in the middle of the city center. The fortress was built during the 16th Century by the Ottomans during their rule over Gori. Due to the fortress’ location at the confluence of two rivers and it being located in the heart of the Kartli Plain, it was of strategic importance to the Ottomans. Numerous times, various Georgian nobles and kings attempted to siege the fortress, but had no such luck. This ended in 1599 when Simon I freed Gori from the Ottomans and destroyed much of their garrison in the fortress. After the Ottomans recaptured Gori in the 17th Century, they rebuild much of the fortress. 

According to the travel notes of the Italian missionary Christopher de Castelli, who lived in Georgia for 22 years during this time, much of the modern-day fortress is remnants of this time period. Additionally, according to the travel notes of the French noblemen and traveler Jean Chardin, around 100 soldiers were garrisoned at the fortress during this time. Gori Fortress lost its strategic importance since much of it was destroyed when Gori was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the 19th Century. Furthermore, much of the fortress was destroyed during an earthquake in 1920. 

The fortress takes the shape of an ovular citadel. It is approximately 180 meters by 40 meters (190 feet by 130 feet) with the exterior rock walls around 10 meters/33 feet in height. The interior buildings of the fortress and much of the outer walls have been destroyed. 

Stalin Museum

Gori’s most famous citizen--and possibly Georgia’s--is Isoeb Bessarionis dze Jughashvili, also known as Joseph Stalin. Stalin was born in Gori on 21 December, 1878, in the Gori Governorate of the Russian Empire. Stalin’s father was a shoemaker and abusive alcoholic, leading to his mother fleeing. When Stalin was young, his  Stalin went to Seminary school in Tbilisi, where he radicalized himself with Marxist literature, which was popular in Europe at this time. Stalin was initially a relatively unknown individual within Soviet bureaucracy, but slowly managed to work his way to becoming the leader of the USSR. During his time as leader of the USSR, NAZI German suffered its first military defeat in Russia, ending with Soviet occupation of Berlin and NAZI surrender, the infamous Soviet Five Year Plans were introduced, and the USSR rose to become a superpower. The cost of this was mass deportations of millions of ethnic minorities, the genocide in Ukraine known as the Holodomor, and numerous ethnic conflicts that wage on today as a result of the USSR’s policies under Stalin. 

The museum is located in the heart of Gori and was founded in 1937. The museum holds numerous artifacts from Stalin’s life, such as poems and literature he wrote, his childhood home, which has a large mausoleum built around it, Stalin’s famous trench coat, and his official railcar. 

Stalin Park (Gori)

Located in the same block as the Stalin Museum, the park is full of lovely fountains, well-manicured gardens and flowerbeds, and is a short walk away from all of the sights in Gori, such as Gori Fortress, the administrative building, and the Mtkvari River.

Gorijvari and St. George's Church

Located on the side of the Trialeti Ridge near the bank of the Mtkvari River opposite of Gori, Gorijvari and St. George’s Church offer amazing views of Gori and the Kartli Plain. The church was built in the 4th Century. A second church was built in the 18th Century. During the earthquake of 1920, both structures were destroyed. During 1978-1988, under the supervision of the Cathalicos-Patriarch of Georgia, the two churches were reconstructed as there were in their original forms. The churches are located a short drive from Gori

Uplistsikhe

Uplistsikhe holds a special place in Georgian history. Much like ancient Kutaisi and Poti, Uplistsikhe was once the center of a vast trade network that reached as far as Iran and ancient Greece. 

Uplistsikhe is the second largest of Georgia’s rock-hewn cities. The site is located a short drive away from Gori and is situated on a bluff overlooking the Mtkvari River. During the Hellenistic Period, the city had the necessary elements of a large town, such as defensive walls and towers, an internal road network and external trade routes to a hinterland, a water supply system, and a social hierarchy system. The city thrived on trade along the Mtkvari River. The fertile area of the surrounding Kartli Plain gave the city the added advantage of food security. As such, the city was able to flourish.

The city was mostly created by levelling the rock and then either building stone, timber, and/or mud brick structures on the flattened area, or carving into the rock and then adding external structures. Due to the area’s geography, much of it is built on terraces, making city planning important to maintain the functioning of the city’s roads and water system.

Many of the city’s most notable structures date back to the Parthian and Roman era (1st and 2nd Centuries CE) since the city was located at the cultural peripheries of both empires. Elements such as the four-pillar hall, have been built with architectural innovations brought by the Parthians.

The city began to experience its decline as Gori was experiencing its initial rise, mostly due to a change in the nature of cities. The rock-hewn nature of Uplistsikhe was becoming unfeasible to the city’s growth and development, especially as nearby cities, such as Gori, Mtskheta, and Tbilisi were experiencing relatively high levels of growth. The final death knell for Uplistsikhe came with the invasion of Tamerlane and the subsequent Mongol invasions in the 14th and 15th Centuries.  

Kvatakhevi Monastery

Kvatakhevi Monestary is located in the Trialeti Mountains between Tbilisi and Gori. The monastery housed inhabitants from the neighboring villages in 1386 during Tamerlane's invasion of Georgia, offering them refuge. The monastery was reconstructed. The monastery was reconstructed during the reign of King Aleksandre the Great (1412-1442). The monastery was briefly closed between 1735-1740, however it was not fully functional again until 1809. The monastery is accessible from the village of Tsinarekhi.

Photo by the Kaspi Municipal Government.

Rkoni Monastery

Photo by the Shida Kartli regional government.

Like Kvatakhevi Monestary, Rkoni Monastery is located in the Trialeti Range between Tbilisi and Gori. The monastery has two main sights. The primary sight is monastery itself, which as three separate buildings--the inita church and bell tower were built in the 7th Century. The church and bell tower were reconstructed in the 13-14th Centuries, and living quarters were built at the turn of the 18th Century. Restoration works were conducted between 1939-1940. The second sight is Tamara Bridge, which is a ruin of what was once a stone arch bridge. The bridge was built between the 7th-8th Centuries to connect the lower and upper sections of the monastery complex. The monastery is located near the village of Rkoni, which is accessible by a small road which begins in the village of Ertatsminda, which is south of the village of Metekhi. 

Qintsvisi Monastery

Qintsvisi (also spelled Kintsvisi) Monastery is located in the southern portion of Kareli Municipality, in the mountains south of Kareli itself, near the village of Qintsvisi (Kintsvisi). The monastery was an important Georgian cultural and religious center during Georgia’s “Golden Age,” particularly during the era of Tamar Mepe (1184-1212 C.E.). There are numerous structures that are part of the monastical complex, such as the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which dates back to the 10th Century, St. Nikolozi Church, which is a large domed church dating from the 13th Century, and a belltower which was built at the entrance to the monastery during the 15th Century. 

 

St Nikolozi Church is unlike many other traditional Georgian orhtodox churches in that it was constructed with bricks instead of stone. This means that the exterior of the church lacks the usual ornamentation and stone masonry carvings that are typically found on Georgian Orthodox churches. The frescoes on the interior of the church show various Georgian and Biblical figures

Amilakhvari Fortress

The fortress is a complex of various castle towers and halls which date to the 17-18th Centuries. The fortress was the residential house of the Amilakhvari family--the local lords who served over the village. The fortress was the site of an uprising in 1742 against Persian rule in the area, lead by the Amilakhvari family. The uprising resulted in the expulsion of the Persians from the area. During the 1840s, the Kakhetian King Teimuraz II fought against the Amilakhvari family for control of the area. The fortress was expanded again, this time to include a bathhouse, church, and more living quarters. The fortress is located in the village of Kvemo Chala, between the E60/ს-1 and South Ossetia. To access it, exit the E60/ს-1 at Igoeti and take the Samtavisi-Lower Chala Road north. Along the way is Samtavisi Cathedral, which has been recently renovated. The fortress is located on the left side of the road in the village of Kvemo Chala.

Photo by the Kaspi municipal government.

Surami Fortress

Surami Fortress is located in the town of Surami, which is on the E60/ს-1 west of Gori on the border with Imereti. A fortress was first built on this location in the 7th Century, however, the present building was built in the 17th Century. The location is strategically important since it is at the entrance to the main route between western Georgia (Imereti, Guria, Adjara, Samegrelo, Racha, and Svaneti) and the rest of the country. In 1692, the fort fell into Turkish hands and between 1742-1745 the fortress was the sight of a battle between the Amilakhvari family and Persian rulers. The fortress was also the sight of the family’s battle against Kings Teimuraz II and Erekle II.  The fortress lost its importance in the 19th Century after the area’s integration into the Russian Empire. The fortress is located in Surami’s center, close to the E60/ს-1.

Skhvilo Fortress

Skhvilo Fortress is located in Kaspi Municipality near the village of Pantaani. The first mention of Skhvilo Fortress dates back to the 10th Century. The fortress is connected to the Zevgdinidze-Amilakhvari family, which ruled the area during the 14th Century. King Simon II of Kartli, who was the Persian-appointed ruler of Kartli, had inhabited Skhvilo Fortress during the middle 17th Century. 

After King Simon II was deposed by Zurab, Duke of Aragvi, Skhivlo Fortress was heavily damaged by the battles that ensued here over who would be the next ruler of Kartli. These battles lasted between 1632-1636. The fortress was also the site of numerous battles between the local Amilakhvari family and various Persian and Ottoman invaders to the area. 

The fortress is composed of multiple buildings. The exterior walls are fairly high, rising 10-14 meters above the ground. There are seven towers built along the main defensive walls. The main tower is situated on the northern end of the fortress and has five floors. 

Samtsevrisi Fortress

Samtavrisi Fortress sits atop a small hill next to the Mtkvari River in the middle of the central Kartli Plain, completely surrounded by mountains, giving it the feel as if it came from J.R.R. Tolkein’s imagination. Most of the exterior fortress walls are in-tact, with numerous towers complete. The fortress was built in the 7th Century and was recently renovated in 2014. The fortress is located in the village of Samtsevrisi, about 5.3 km/3.3 miles west of Kareli. 

Ateni Gorge

Located almost immediately southeast of Gori, Ateni Gorge is a little-known geographic wonder of Shida Kartli. The area is a long gorge in the Trialeti Range that runs from the Mtkvari River to the region’s border with Samtskhe-Javakheti. There is one main road through here with numerous small villages. The most notable site is Ateni Sioni Cathedral, located on a small rock crop on a bend in the stream that runs through the valley. The church has excellent views of the gorge and surrounding villages. Deeper in the gorge is the village of Biisi, which is known for its waterfall at a height of 20 meters/66 feet, which is a popular spot for climbing when it freezes in the winter.

Photo by the Shida Kartli regional government.

Transportation

There are numerous marshrutkas that leave Tbilisi and Kutaisi that go to Gori, Kareli, Kaspi, and Khashuri/Surami. Likewise, the latter two towns can be reached by marshrutkas with a final destination in Western Georgia (such as Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Poti, or Batumi) and Khashuri can also be reached by a marshrutka with a final destination of Akhaltsikhe.

Georgian Railways serves Surami/Khashuri, Kareli, Gori, and Kaspi multiple times a day along various routes (there are no final stops in any of these cities).

Shida Kartli is bisected by the ს-1/E-60, which goes from Tbilisi to Poti and passes just north of Gori. Uplistsikhe can be reached by a short taxi ride from Gori, or by taking the Zahesi-Mtskheta-Kavtiskhevi-Gori Road to the Uplistsikhe Complex Road.

Legend

1: Surami Fortress

2: Samtsevrisi Fortress

3: Qintsvisi Monastery

4: Uplistsikhe

5: Rkoni Monastery

6: Skhvilo Fortress

7: Amilakhvari Fortress

8: Kvatakhevi Monastery

9: Gori

10: Ateni Gorge

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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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