Kartli is the largest and most populated province of Eastern Georgia. It includes the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and two other major cities, Gori and Rustavi. In the 3rd century BC the ancient Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli, also known as Iberia, was established here. Its king declared Christianity as the official religion of Kartli in 337 AD. In the early Middle Ages, Kartli lost its political importance because of the struggle between the King and strong feudal rulers, as well as the aggression of the strong Persian Kingdom. Even so, in a way, it remained Georgia’s leader because of the independence of its Church and culture from Byzantine influence. The Shida Kartli Region is situated in the central part of Georgia.
Gori is a city in eastern Georgia, which serves as the regional capital of Shida Kartli and the centre of the homonymous administrative district. The name is from Georgian gora , that is, “heap”, or “hill”. The chronicles say that it has existed since the beginning of the 12th century, but archeological finds indicate that urban-type settlements appeared there as early as the 3rd century BC. Gori was an important military stronghold in the Middle Ages and maintains a strategic importance due to its location on the principal highway connecting eastern and western parts of Georgia. In the course of its history, Gori has been invaded by the armies of regional powers several times.
Gori Fortress – Stands in the center of the town on a high hill. It is a powerful multi-level fortification. In the mid-20th century, a stratum dating back to antiquity was uncovered at its foot. The fortress was obviously built at the site of fortifications dating back to the first century BC.
Stalin Museum – Joseph Stalin Museum still functions in Gori. The museum’s exhibits include the house where Stalin was born and spent the first years of his life. The museum has many of Stalin’s personal belongings, including some of the furniture from his work offices, and gifts. It also displays a large number of historical documents and photographs.
Ateni – is an early 7th century monument. It stands on the bank of the Ateni River, on the hilltop, like Jvari monastery. Its facade is furnished with carved quadrangle greenish-gray stones and is richly decorated with ornaments. The walls of the church contain inscriptions of the early Georgian alphabet dating back from IX-XI centuries.These inscriptions contain precious historic information.
Kintvisi – The cross-domed monastery of Kintsvisi is a XII century monument about 10 kilometers from the town of Kareli. It is dedicated to St. Nicholas.The monastery is famous for its frescoes. Particularly remarkable is the fresco of Archangel from the Resurrection composition.
Rkoni monastery is divided into several layers:The Church of the Virgin Mary- dating back to the VII century; the gate of the complex – dating back to the XIII-XIV centuries; and the chapel, the single nave church of John the Baptist a bell tower dating to the XVI-XVIII centuries and housing for the monks. Rkoni fortress is near the church. It was supposed to be a residence for Georgian feudal lords. The fortress is surrounded by a wall.There is a palace, a one nave church and ruins of buildings inside the wall. Near the Rkoni monastery there is a bridge over the riverTedzami. On the other side of the river, on the mountain slope, there is another small church and cave carved in the rocks that was once used by monks.
Surami fortress overlooks the town of Surami. The exact date of its construction is not known, though the town itself existed from the XII century. During his fight against Iran, Giorgi Saakadze fortified the stronghold. Later the castle was conquered by Osman conquerors and during the latter part of the XVIII c. Georgian and Russian soldiers held it. Besides the castle, there are nine Christian churches and one synagogue in Surami.
Uplistsikhe – Cave town 12 km from Gori that arose on the banks of the River Mtkvari at the end of the 2nd century BC. The town was entirely hewed into the volcanic cliff. It has streets, squares, palaces, churches, residential buildings, a theater, shops, an apothecary, wine cellar, prison, and a plumbing system. In its heyday, it included more than 700 cave structures. Around 150 of them, as well as part of the fortress walls, have been preserved. There is a secret underground passage to the Kura. Now the cave town is one of the properties on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Urbnisi – Village in the district of Kareli. Archeological studies have demonstrated that the place was inhabited in the 3rd millennium B.C and it was an important city in ancient and early medieval times. Later it grew larger.The town was surrounded by thick wall with 20 towers. The densely populated town was full of houses and buildings constructed with different building materials. In the V-VI centuries it was home to the largest three nave basilica construct¬ed in Urbnisi. It was restored first by the Bishop Theodore in IX-X centuries and later by Queen Mariam in the XVII century. One of the most significant events in the history of the Georgian church is connected to Urbnisi: Ruisi-Urbnisi ecclesiastic council was convened here by David the Builder to cope with the problems within the church hierarchy.
Bolnisis Sioni Church is one of the oldest in Georgia. It was built in the 5th century during the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. The church is an unusual building without traditional elements of Georgian architecture. Its outer appearance is simple and laconic. The walls are covered with smooth deep turquoise beveled sinter tiles. Bolnisi is interesting in its inscriptions, which are ancient samples of well-preserved Georgian writing. The church is adorned with uniquely shaped crosses that became called Bolnisi crosses.
Excavations of Dmanisi began in the mid-20th century. Town gates, cobbled streets, bathhouses, a tunnel to the river, residential houses, a pottery, dairy, trade stalls, barns, wine cellars, a mosque with minaret, and a madrasah were found there. A large variety of pottery of the 9th-13th centuries was discovered, as well as work tools, weapons, and a treasure trove of 25 gold and silver ornaments of the 12th-13th centuries. During excavations in 1991, the remains of the oldest species of man to become extinct in Europe—Homo georgicus—were found in Dmanisi. Georgicus was presumably the intermediate stage in evolution between Homo habilis and Homo erectus. He is 1,770,000 years old, which is confirmed by stratigraphic and paleomagnetic studies, as well as by studies of the surrounding fossil fauna. So Homo georgicus is the oldest species of man that lived in Europe.