THE REGION OF SAMEGRELO-ZEMO SVANETI IS LOCATED IN THE CENTRAL AND NORTH-WESTERN PART OF GEORGIA. THE AREA COVERS 7.4 THOUSAND SQ.KM. THE REGION INCLUDES TWO HISTORICAL AND GEOGRAPHIC PROVINCES – SAMEGRELO AND PART OF SVANETI – ZEMO (UPPER) SVANETI. BORDERING EACH OTHER AND COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WITH RESPECT OF LANDSCAPE, DURING CENTURIES THESE TWO PROVINCES CONSTITUTED ONE KINGDOM THOUGH BOTH HAD COVERED DIVERSE PATHS OF HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT. SINCE 20-IES OF THE VIII C. BC IN THE WRITTEN ANNALS OF HISTORY, UNDER THE MONIKER OF COLCHIS, EGRISI, LASIKA AND ODISHI, SAMEGRELO HAS COME FORTH AS A RICH AND STRONG KINGDOM. LOOKING AT SVANETI, IT SHOULD BE POINTED OUT THAT EARLIER IT WAS DEEMED TO BE PART OF COLCHIS, LATER ON – PART OF EGRISI. IN XI-XV CC. IT WAS ONE OF THE SAERISTAVO (TERRITORIAL UNIT IN MEDIEVAL GEORGIA) OF THE FEUDAL STATE OF GEORGIA. THE REGION’S RESORT POTENTIAL IS REPRESENTED BY CLIMATIC RESORTS (MOUNTAINOUS, SEA CLIMATE), SEASIDE RESORTS (SEA WATER, SAND, DURATION OF SUN LIGHT) AND HYDRO-MINERAL RESOURCES RESORTS (THERMAL AND MINERAL SPRINGS). NATURAL CONDITIONS OF THE REGION – BLACK SEA COASTLINE, HILLOCKY AND MOUNTAINOUS LANDSCAPES, HIGH PEAKS AND GLACIERS EMBRACE MANY PLACES WHERE ALONG WITH ENJOYING FULL-SCALE HOLIDAY IT IS POSSIBLE TO VISIT LOTS OF SIGHTS CREATED BY NATURE OR
Kolkheti national park is located in Western Georgia, in the lowlands of Kolkheti, on the coastline of Black sea, in the environs of the town of Poti, 290 km from Tbilisi. It was founded with the aim of conservation of damp landscapes which have international importance and have preserved their pristine appearance that is also related to the preservation of the natural habitat of water and migrant birds. Conservation area is the first site of the Ramsar Convention in Georgia and the Caucasus. Nowadays the Park consists of several wetland (marshy) plots of land and water area of the Black sea. Its total area runs up to 44.3 sq.km with 1/3 of the territory being sea water.
Kolkhety moist territories are relicts of the tropical wetland landscape. These kinds of landscapes several million years ago were present in much vaster territories. From plants we see here species typical for moderate and subtropical zones of wetlands. From moderate belt there are sphagnum bog-mosses (Spagnum imbricatum, palustre, acutiflium), common sundew (Drosera rotundiflora), sedge (Carex lasiocarpa) as well as plants like Pontic rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum), typical for Alpine zones. On the territory of the park there are remnants of lots of relict and/or endemic species belonging to both wetland and grove forests and coastline dune belt and underwater flora habitats. Two species – yellow hornpoppy and sea daffodil – have been listed in the Red Book. From rare and nearly extinct species should be noted Kolkheti oak (Quercus hartwissiana), wingnuts (Pterocarya pterocarp), Kolkheti mistletoe (Buxus colchica), et al.
Within the territory of Kolkheti national park is also Paliastomi lake which has coast origin and several thousand years ago was a gulf of the Black sea. It is separated from the Black sea by several-meter height dune belt. The area of the lake exceeds 18 sq.km, and depth is 3 m. In spite of small sizes, Paliastomi lake is rich with various species of fish. Its diversity is linked to multifaceted changes in the environment. During certain dry years when the lake has drastic drop of water level, sea water trickles down into it.
The territory of the national park is a natural habitat of up to 200 bird species. Among them is Kolkheti pheasant, on the charming attractiveness of which several thousand years ago the civilized world learned from Argonauts.
Damp territories are traditional natural habitats of hundreds of bird species on the path of migration. Millions of birds ‚rest‘ here in fall and in spring, and in winter a lot of species of birds wait for spring.
In the waters of the Black sea three species of dolphins have their habitat: bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin and porpoise. Here are also Atlantic sturgeon and beluga, mackerel and pink, herring and pike, bullhead and riverside roach. Of 90 species of the fish represented here, at about a half inhabit in salt water and ¼ – in fresh water.
It is possible to visit several important archeological and historical monuments on the territory of Kolkheti national park and in its vicinity. Among them are ancient capital of Lazika – Archeopolis and Christian monuments of Kolkheti – Medieval Martvili Monastery Compound, Monastery of Khobi, Church of Tsaishi and others.
River Inguri flows in Western Georgia on the border of several historical and geographic provinces (Samegrelo, Abkhazia and Svaneti). It’s river source is on the watershed of main Kavkasioni mountain range, 2614 meters above the sea level. River flows into the Black sea near the hamlet of Anaklia. It is not distinguished with very big length (213 km), however its parameters of falls and water consumption are impressive and outstanding in Europe. Some segments of Inguri gorge have canyon-like and steep forms where the river reaches big acceleration. In some sectors (right inflow of river Tkheishi) the fall parameter attains 117 meters that makes great impression on a visitor. The catchment area of river Inguri is the third from the point of energy potential in Georgia.
In the middle body of river Inguri, on the margin of Abkhazia and Svaneti mountain ranges, a Jvari water pool was arranged, the dam of which is a unique construction from engineering point of view. Water pool has the biggest depth in the Caucasus and reaches 226 meters.
Ushguli is a marginal area of Upper Svaneti with several hamlets united. It is located on the southern knees of Kavkasioni watershed range of mountains, in the gorge of river Tsaneri (right inflow of river Inguri), 1600-2200 meters above the sea level. By this indicator it is one of the highest human settlements in Europe.
Ushguli is placed in cave-like and well-protected gorge. In the relief of its environs there are both riverside groves and terraces and slant and steep slopes. The average number of precipitations rises to 1200 mm which is very confortable in the existing geographic conditions. On the slopes of northern exposition fir-tree and leafy tree forests are dominant, and on the southern one – second-hand and sub-Alpine meadows.
There are several types of landscapes represented in the vicinity of Ushguli which correspond to well-expressed natural conditions in high belts. Especially effective are landscapes of mixed forests on the lower belt of which ever-green Colchis underbush forest is well represented. It is morphed into a high-mountain forest, then into a sub-Alpine and Alpine meadows, sub-nival and nival landscapes.
There are fragments of a XII century fortress, several churches, more than thirty ancient fortress abodes and cult construction in Ushguli. Some part of fortress abodes are oldest, IX-X century memorial buildings. Ushguli is under protection of UNESCO World Heritage list of memorial buildings.
Svaneti tower is a widespread defensive construction in Svaneti consisting of 4-6 levels topped with two-layer roof. Svaneti tower used to be built with cobblestone and boulders. The overall height of a tower is 20-25 meters. Generally the main entrance to the tower was on the second level. Levels are connected with each other by a moving wooden staircase available in the interior. On the last level of the tower is arranged a weapons platform with gun emplacements. Svaneti tower is a human abode (murkvami) or it is a stand-alone building.
Fortress abode of Svaneti in distinction of tower is lower and more solid and consists of 3 levels. 1 level was used as a living quarter and a barn for livestock. II level was used for economic activity. III level was a loft and was used for defense (for example, Chazhashi Tower).
There is so called Love Tower in Svaneti related to a legend: a daughter of a notable Svan noble had a groom who prepared himself for going to war. A bride vowed that she would not marry and would wait for him return safe and sound. A groom died on the battlefield. A bride did not believe the death of a groom and waited for him. To while away the time during waiting period, a father of the bride built a tower at the beginning of a road where a bride spent the whole life waiting for her beau.
Dadiani palace is in downtown Zugdidi. This historical palace and now museum was the residence of Dadiani family – potentates of Samegrelo. The residence of the sovereign was first built by the ruler of Odishi, Levan II Dadiani (1611-1657). Today the historical monument of Dadiani palace consists of palace units constructed under the auspices of the sovereign of Samegrelo, David Dadiani (1813-1853), his spouse, Ekaterine Chavchavadze-Dadiani (1816-1882), and their son Niko Dadiani, as well as court church and botanical garden.
In the 60-ies of the XIX century Ekaterine trusted reconstruction of Dadiani palace to a German architect, Reiss, who used Gothic style while renovating the palace. Two-level palace of Niko Dadiani was built in the 80-ies of the XIX century by a Russian architect, Vasiliev.
The museum of Dadiani palace is the oldest in Georgia. David Dadiani founded personal museum back in 1839 with archeological, numismatic, military and ethnographic rooms. There are more than 40 000 exhibits in the museum today. Among them especially should be mentioned the Shroud of the Virgin Mary, a mask of Napoleon Bonaparte, Shamil’s sword, collections of XVIII-XX century European and Georgian painting. In the Gold Fund of the museum there are exhibits of Antique and Middle Age goldsmith’s artefacts.
The Church of Martvili (Martyrs) is located in the town of Martvili. It was built in the first half of the VII century. In X century, after foundation of Chkondidi Episcopacy, Martvili became the Cathedral of Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Chkondidi Archbishop was assigned the position of Mtsignobartukhutsesi (Prime Minister) by David Agmashenebeli in 1104.
There was a scriptorium in the monastery. Collection of manuscripts created here is in safe keeping at the National Center of Manuscripts. Martvili church is a construction of earlier cross-dome types of buildings and looks very much like Jvari monastery in Mtskheta. Invasions of Turks and Arabs have damaged it considerably, and due to that, in the X century, the church was substantially overhauled by the king of the Abkhaz, Giorgi II (923-957). New support of the dome was made, outer walls were added, burial vault was leaned to. The painting of the monastery was performed in the XVI-XVII centuries by orders of Odishi rulers. To the north of the main cathedral, on the fence stands three-level minuscule cross-dome type church of Chikvani constructed of cut stones. According to Kartlis Tskhovreba (Georgian Chronicles), the Georgian king, Bagrat IV (1027-1072), was laid to rest in the Martvili monastery.
In ancient times Chkondidi was a hotbed of heathen religious and cult activities. There was a heathen altar on the high hillock – a huge oak (Chkondi) tree. It was a place named after Kapunia, the patron of fertility, reproduction and well-being of the family, who was worshipped by the local population and where local clerics – Chkoindari – sacrificed babies. The first church was arguably built here, on the place where oak tree stood, named after Andrew the First-called who preached Christianity in Samegrelo.
From 2007 the monastery life in Martvili was revived, and the monks’ monastery of St. Andrew the First-called and a Convent of St. Nino were founded.
Nokalakevi was a political center of Colchis (Egrisi) in Antique and early Christian times, the capital of the Kingdom of Lazika (IV-VIII cc.). It is located on the left bank of river Tekhuri, 17 km from the town of Senaki to the North-East (the river encircles the town from three sides). According to the history tradition, the fortress town was first built by Egrisi Eristavi (Duke) Kuji (IV-II cc. BC). The old name of the township – Tsikhegoji (Fortress of Kuji) – is related to him. The Greek sources of later times call this township Archeopolis (in Georgian – Nokalakevi or Old Town, or ‘remnants of town’). As some scholars prove, on the exact site of Nokalakevi was situated mythological town of Aya where Jason, Medea and Argonauts have stolen Golden Fleece.
Construction of a fortress town here was determined by military and strategic reasons and plenty of population. Archeopolis was an impregnable fortress in the period of a Great War of Egrisi between Iran and Byzantium (542-562). In 736 the town was seized and pillaged by Arab commander, Marwan ibn-Muhammad (Murvan the Deaf). After that importance of Tsikhegoji went down. In XVI-XIX centuries Nokalakevi was a residence of Odishi sovereigns.
Nokalakevi is surrounded by a fence having 3 km length. Its area is a territory of 19 ha and consists of 3 parts: Lower Town, middle fortress and citadel. The settlement was located on the riverside, garrison was encamped on the plateau, and fortress citadel on the mountain (4 ha). The palace of Egrisi kings (IV c.), three-nave Basilica (V c.), three-nave Basilica remade into a dome church (VI c.), three-level Palace (VI c.), gates with a tower and baths are located on the lower territory of the fortress. There is a Hall Church (VI-VII cc.) in the citadel.
Fortification system of the township is in line with geographic environment. From three sides township was defended by river and steep walls, and from the relatively nature fortified Eastern part 3 fences had been built. The northern part was controlled by a Jikha (fortress) tower.
Both local and imported ceramics, bronze items, necklace, copper and gold coins have been excavated on the territory of the fortress. In Nokalakevi vats and graves of heathen period have been digged where the deceased had coins – Colchis Tetri – stuck in their mouths. Also in Nokalakevi were discovered two baths. One was for the use of a king and nobility, and the other for citizens and garrison. It should be noted that baths were equipped with the system of central heating.