In the south of Georgia you will find the provinces of Samtskhe – Javakheti a land of forested mountains and steep river valleys, gushing rivers and clear lakes. The region is dotted with castles and fortresses from different periods – a legacy of frequent invasions thanks to its geographic location – but the jewel in the crown of this fascinating region is surely the cave town of Vardzia.
Akhaltsikhe – Akhaltsikhe is one of the oldest towns of Georgia (old name – Lomsia). It is located in 230 km from Tbilisi, in the Akhaltsikhe plain, on both banks of river Potskhovi. In historical sources it is mentioned from XII century. In XIII-XIV centuries it is a political center of Samtskhe-Saatabago. In 1629-1828 it became part of the Ottoman empire as a capital of Akhaltsikhe vilayet and a seat of Pasha. It used to be the most important center of prisoner slave trade. Historical part of the town of Akhaltsikhe was built on the rocky mount on the left bank of river Potskhovistskali.
Abastumani On the Southern slopes of Meskheti range covered with coniferous forest is located a famous mountain climatic spa resort of Abastumani with the climate indispensable for prevention of pulmonary diseases. Spring season is especially wholesome when pine-trees start pollination. While breathing yellow dust gets into lungs and makes positive impact on them. Besides major treatment factor of the resort – climate, Abastumani is also famous for it hyperthermal, slightly mineralized springs (‘Goliath Spring’ – 48б5 degrees, ‘Snake Spring’ -42 degrees, ‘Suravandi Spring’ – 239 degrees), with total discharge of 1 million l/day. Mineral waters are used for treatment of numerous diseases. The first mountain observatory in the former Soviet Union, located high up amongst steep hills at 1650m. Here through the powerful telescope it is possible to see apparentlythe surface of the Moon and even of Saturn and Jupiter.
ABULI fortress – located on the south slope of lesser Abuli mountain, on latitude 2500 m above the sea level, is one of the most mysterious and not well studied megalithic structures from the Bronze Age. To this monument is linked the origins of the ancient noble name – Abuladze.The little Abuli mountain, which’s height reaches 2700 m above the sea level, is one of the volcanic mountains of Samsari range. At the top, one of the extinct craters, according to rumors, there is a lake. The very top of the mountain is covered with gray stones, of which the Abuli fortress was built.
Atskuri – Atskuri fortress belongs to the oldest period of Georgian history. On the South slope of the rock where the fortress was built are the remains of ancient dwellings. In historical sources the fortress is first mentioned in the XI century as one of the most important strategic buildings of historical Mesheti. The extant remains of the fortress belong to the middle Ages. Builders of fortress mastered the most difficult relief of the rocks and created a complex-structured facility. Entrance to the fortress passes through a narrow cut in a rock tunnel. The internal structure was so inaccessible that it was difficult for an invading enemy to conquer it even after passing the tunnel.
Borjomi – Renowned in the 19th century as the playground of the Russian nobility and several attractive buildings still remain from that era, notably the Summer Palace of Duke Mikhail Romanov, son of Tsar Nicholas I. Today Borjomi is a popular resort and the centre of a nature reserve of dense forests harbouring hundreds of varieties of plant and animal species. The town is also famous for its mineral water “Borjomi”.Borjomi’s Mineral Water Park is located through a narrow, wooded valley and is a lovely place to walk. This was where the original mineral spring was discovered, and named Yekaterinsky Spring after the governor’s daughter, who was cured here.
Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is located in central part of Georgia and creates eastern part of lesser Caucasus Mountains. The total area amounts to 85,083 ha, which is more than 1% of the territory of Georgia. The tourist route network of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park allows hiking for one or several days. Tourist route network is up to 400-2,642 meters. Paths are marked and well-arranged. Tourist shelters, picnic spots and camping sites are arranged along the routes. Sites for setting up a fire are also allocated. National park offers hiking, horse riding, biking, snow shoes, cultural and educational tours. The routes function throughout the year. The National Park visitors’ center will help you in organizing guide, horse or local transport.
Khertvisi Fortress – The fortress was first build in the 2nd century BC, the church – in 985 while the present walls – in 1354. As the legend says, Khertvisi was destroyed by Alexander the Great. In the 10th-11th centuries it was the center of Meskheti region. During the 12th century it became a town. In the 13th Mongols destroyed it and until the 15th century it lost its power. In the 15th century Khertvisi was owned by Meskheti landlords from Jakeli family. In the 16th century the southern region of Georgia was invaded by Turks.
Paravani – Extended between the beautiful alpine meadows, Paravani volcanic lake is the largest one in Georgia. Lake gets its water from snow, rain, and underground springs. Gentle breeze brings the scent of wild flowers and smell of grass that fills the air with an extraordinary freshness. Paravani Lake is popular destination for fishing.
Rabati – Developed under the influence of different cultures, Rabati Castle reflects eclectic architectural style. The complex has newly been renovated and now is one of the major tourist attractions of the region. Here you can visit the Museum of History and Art that houses the significant part of the region’s cultural heritage. Alongside with the church, in this interesting complex you can find a Mosque, a Minaret and a Synagogue revealing its multi-cultural and multi-religious character.
Sapara – Sapara Monastery lives up to its name. Until you reach the very gates you barely notice this 13th century complex, nestled as it is high above a gorge in forested mountains. The oldest construction of the complex – church of Assumption dates from X century, and the main part were constructed on the edge of XIII-XIV cc., during the rule of the sovereign of Samtskhe, Beka Jakeli (1285-1309).The interior of the church is decorated with the frescoes of outstanding quality. A visit to the monastery will also reward you with nice views of the surroundings.
The megalithic fortresses of Saro, could be connected either with the Hellenic or an earlier era. The road map, made by Castor, the Roman geographer of the second half of the 4th century, must also confirm it. On the map the road from Artasaan to Sebastopol (from Armenia to present Sukhumi) who crosses Javakheti, these megalithic fortresses also mentioned,
Tmogvi – Located few kilometers from Vardzia, was one of the most important fortress cities of the region. Built on 9-10th century, on top of a mountain high above the Mtkvari river, fortress controlled the caravan road leading from Asia Minor to Georgia. It expands over 3 hills, joined and encircled by a wall, which supplements the natural defense offered by the cliffs. Several construction layers are distinguished on the fortress territory. The older one dates by IX-X century. A secret tunnel connects the castle with the river to provide access to water even during a siege. Although the fortress is ruined today, it is very difficult to access it.
Information on Vanis kvabebi is extremely small. A few sources give little information about what he was founded in the VIII century, and in 1204, in Vanis-kvabebi was built a protective wall whose remains you can see there now. Huge boulders in the human growth defended the modest life of the monks from the incursions of the Turks. In the IX-XI centuries, in the middle of the desert was hewn the Church of St. George and a new group of cave cells. A strong earthquake destroyed part of the cave with its church. By 1191 it was the court monastery and Vanis Kvabebi reconstruction began in the reign of Queen Tamar.
Vardzia – Vardzia is a huge cave complex that once consisted of some 3000 caves and could house around 50,000 people. It was built during the reign of Queen Tamar, a great ruler of 12th century Georgia. Vardzia is a place of wonders – artfully carved caves connected by long tunnels, all hewn by hand over 800 years ago, a natural cold-water spring trickling from the rock-face, beautiful frescoes still as bright as the day they were first painted… The cave town survived earthquakes and invasions and once again houses a working monastery.
Zarzma – The first church on this site, Zarzma , was built in the 6th-7th centuries by the monk Serapion Zarzmeli, although the present complex dates back to the early 14th century. The main church is renowned for its superb frescoes, while the inscriptions of the monastery provide invaluable information on the history of Georgia.