REGION OF SAMTSKHE-JAVAKHETI TODAY IS PART OF OLD MESKHETI AND INCLUDES THREE HISTORICAL PROVINCES – SAMTSKHE, JAVAKHETI AND TORI. THE TOTAL AREA OF THE REGION IS 6 421 SQ.KM.
COMPRISES 6 ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS – MUNICIPALITIES OF BORJOMI, ADIGENI, ASPINDZA, AKHALKALAKI, AKHALTSIKHE AND NINOTSMINDA.
REGION HAS FAVORABLE GEOPOLITICAL LOCATION ENABLING IT TO DEVELOP COMMERCIAL, ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH NEIGHBOR COUNTRIES.
BAKU-TBILISI-CEYHAN OIL PIPELINE, TRANSCAUCASIA GAS PIPELINE AS WELL AS MARABDA-KARTSAKHIKARS RAILWAY RUN ACROSS THE REGION.
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT AND CULTURALLY FURTHERED PROVINCE OF GEORGIA IN THE PAST IS RICH WITH MONUMENTS OF CULTURAL HERITAGE – STARTING FROM SETTLEMENT BELONGING TO EARLY ANTIQUE AGE AND BURIAL MOUNDS AND ENDING WITH FORTRESS SETTLEMENTS CONSTRUCTED DRILY, WITHOUT MORTAR, FROM CYCLOPEAN, HUGE BOULDERS; WALLS, TOWERS AND BURIALS.
FROM THE NATURAL FEATURES OF THE REGION, PETRIFIED FLORA ON THE EASTERN SLOPE OF GODERDZI PASS ALSO CALLED ‘GODERDZI PETRIFIED FOREST’ DATING FROM TERTIARY PERIOD, AND JAVAKHETI NATIONAL PARK, ONE OF THE MAIN ROUTES OF BIRD MIGRATION, ARE WORTH MENTIONING.
SAMTSKHE-JAVAKHETI IS CONSIDERED BY THE SCHOLARS AS THE CRADLE OF GEORGIAN GRAIN AND GEORGIAN GRAPES.
DURING EXCAVATIONS WINE KVEVRI (CLAY VAT) AND WINE CELLARS WERE UNCOVERED EVEN IN SUCH PLACES WHERE GRAPES DOES NOT GROW FOR CENTURIES. RESORTS OF BORJOMI GROUP ARE ONE OF THE MAJOR AND MOST IMPORTANT RECREATIONAL RESOURCES OF SAMTSKHE-JAVAKHETI.
Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park by its status is the first protected area in the Caucasus. It was set up in the end of XX century and by occupied area (more than 600 sq. km) is one of the largest protected territories in Europe. It is located in the central part of Georgia, to the west from Tbilisi within the distance of 140 km.
National park is situated on the brink of several physical geographic and historical geographic provinces that determine not only its natural but also ethnographic importance. Within its confines and in nearest vicinity are represented oak groves of Kolkheti forest of middle-range mountain, oak-hornbeam groves, beech groves, hornbeam-beech groves, beech-dark coniferous and upland forest landscapes. Thanks to this it is the most important geo-ecological knot in the Caucasus and a substantial link in shaping up of a network of preserved territories in the region.
On the territory of the Borjomi-Kharagauli national park distribution of vegetation is based on the extension of warm and moist climate. In the northern and western parts of it volume of precipitation is 1000 mm, and in the eastern and southern – twice as less. Such share of precipitation is the cause of contrasting natural conditions and ultimately swift change of diverse sceneries.
Change of landscapes along with distribution of precipitation is noteworthy also with change of height and exposition. Relative height of the territory of national park attains 1500 meters. Here leafy forests are morphed into mixed, then beech and later high-mountain forests. Sub-Alpine and Alpine vegetation is widely spread here and it is possible to see it by moving to a small distance.
On the territory of the national park we come across such species of vegetation as follows: chestnut, Kolkheti oak, yew, pine and fir. From wildlife species are important Caucasian noble red deer (Cervus elaphus), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), mountain eagle (Aquila chrysaetus fulva), eagle (Gyps fulvus fulvus), griffon-vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Caucasian black cock.
National park is well arranged for various types of tourism. There are Borjomi mineral water springs, mountain skiing resort of Bakuriani, Bronze and Antique era monuments, IX-X century several famous churches and fortifications near it.
Mineral water “Borjomi” is unique volcanic water that is called the ‘Gift of the Nature.’ “Borjomi” is extracted from the depth of 1500 meters, but is formed at a much deeper depth. Just when rising from the depth the water is saturated with unique minerals. Due to the volcanic minerals “Borjomi” cleans the body best of all, and removes the unpleasant sensation of heaviness. Thanks to its unique natural properties “Borjomi” not only quenches thirst, but also enhances immunity and improves the body’s overall tone.
Javakheti is a part of Georgian high-mountain area of volcanic origin between Armenia and Turkey. Its ecosystem with its mountain steppes, sub-Alpine bush forests and Alpine meadows, relict sub-Alpine forest copses, wetland vegetation and tens of endemic species is one of the unique areas in the eco-region of the Caucasus.
Special international importance of Javakheti is related to the existence of deeply moist territories on the highland mountains above the sea level, which are a migration hub for birds of Europe, Asia and Africa. According to the International environment protection legislation, Javakheti’s highly damp territories belong to the site of Ramsar Convention.
Protected territories of Javakheti are the result of a first trans-border ecological cooperation in the Caucasus. Its formation in Georgia was fulfilled for the first time on the basis of European experience and methodology of landscape planning. Based on the conclusions on landscape planning it is possible to create one national park, 5 sanctuaries, one protected landscape and natural memorial.
On the uplands of Javakheti highly moist territories are represented as lakes of volcanic origin and marshes which evolved resulting eutrophication of lake water in geological eras. From lakes should be mentioned Kartsakhi (on the border with Turkey), Khanchali, Madatapa, Bugdasheni, Sagamo, Paravani and Tabatskuri.
In the area of protected territories 275 species of birds are accounted for that is ¾ of the bird populations of Georgia. Bird populations of the mountain area of Javakheti are represented with at least 225 permanent species and roughly 50 species are rare or periodic inhabitants of the given territory.
The region is very rich with natural and historical memorials. Many national parks and sanctuaries, world-important Vardzia monastery complex and Khertvisi fortress are located not far from Javakhety protected territories.
Javakheti volcanic plateau is located in Southern Georgia. It was created by lava slides which flew from slopes of meridian-direction Samsari plateau. There are many volcanic cones on this slope, among them distinguished by scale and beauty are Didi Abuli, Samsari and Tavkvetila.
Didi Abuli is located on 3305 meters above the sea level, in the Southern part of Samsari slope. It was frozen in Quoternary period that is proved by moraines, cirques and small lakes. There is a different opinion on the volcanic action of Didi Abuli. Some scientists think that it should have a status of active volcano. Such position relates to its name and popular sayings. Allegedly, smoke was puffing from the mountain and that is why local population mentioned it as ‘smoked’ mountain. In spite of this, until now Didi Abuli is deemed a dormant volcano since it is presumed that its last eruption happened only 10-12 thousand years ago.
Samsari Volcanic Cone is located in the central part of the slope, 3285 meters above the sea level. Diameter of its crater attains 3 km on the bottom of which there are several small lakes.
Tavkvetili is located on 2583 meters above the sea level, in the Northern part of Samsari slope. Its name descends from its shape, as volcanic cone is well portrayed. To the west from it is lake Tabatskuri of volcanic origin distinguished in Georgia for its volume of water.
Мтквари (Кура) главная водная артерия столицы Грузии, хотя по своими показателями (длиной, половодьем, энергетическим потенциалом) усту¬пает дру¬гим грузин¬ским рекам. Кура протекает по территориям нескольких историко-географических провинций и крупных город¬ских поселений. Поэтому на протяжении многих веков река выполняла функции важного водного пути.
Кура одна из самых больших рек Южной Грузии, её общая длина 1200 км, а площадь водосборного бассейна достигает 200 тысяч км2. В Куру впадают реки: Паравани (у Хертвиси), Лиахви (у Гори), Арагви (у Мцхета), Храми, Иори и Алазани (у грузино-азер¬бай-джанской границы), Аракс (на территории Азер¬байджана) и др.
Кура втекает на территорию Грузии близ Вар¬дзии, по отвесным склонам, каньонобразной доли¬не. Каньон образован между вулканическим Эрушетским нагорьем и Джавахетской вулканической возвы¬шенностью. Глубина каньона 500 метров. Отсюда открывается прекрасная панорама на крепость Тмогви.
Среди озёр Грузии самое большое по площади –озеро Паравани, по половодью – озеро Табацкури, по глубине – Рица, а озеро Палиастоми – отличается многообразием биовидов.
Озеро Паравани находится в Южной Грузии, на Джавахетской вулканической возвышенности, между Абул-Самсарским и Джавахетским хребтами, на вы¬соте 2073 метра над уровнем моря. Паравани – проточ¬ное озеро. Из него вытекает река Парвана, то есть Кура Джавахети. Озеро питается в основном подземными водами и талым снегом. Подземные воды определяют температурный режим воды: температура воды озера всегда на 1-20 вы¬ше температуры воздуха на прибрежных территориях.
Большой объём воды в озере Табац¬кури обусловлен площадью поверхности (14,2 км2) и глубиной (40 м.). Табацкури, как и Паравани, высокогорное озеро и находится на высоте 1991 метров над уровнем моря, в Южной Грузии, между Абул-Самсарским и Триалетским хребтами. Озеро в основном питается талым снегом, из-за чего амплитуда уровня воды достигает 2 метров. Тем¬пература воды в озере даже в летние месяцы не превышает +150. Холодная вода благоприятствует раз¬множению форели, которую здесь до¬бывают в большом количестве.
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. It is called Rabat that means a settlment of merchants and artisans in the medieval town. On the territory of Rabat is located the fortress of Sargis Jakeli, church of St. Marina, palace of Pashas of Akhaltsikhe, Ottoman mosque (1752), Karavan-sarai, baths. On the territory of Rabat in Akhaltsikhe today operates local history museum
Vani Caves monastery complex carved in the rock (VIII-XVI cc.) is located in Javakheti, 27 km from Aspindza, on the right bank of river Mtkvari. In the center of the monastery stands church of St. George which was carved from the stone along with the main part of caves and cells in IX-XI cc. In 1089 an earthquake seriously damaged Vani Caves. Its patron Ichkit Gurgenisdze started restoration of the monastery in 1186-1191, he restored church of St. George and family anteroom adjacent to it, and emphasized a donator inscription at both entrances. In 1204 Anton Mtsignobartukhutsesi-Chkondideli revived a limestone barrier to the monastery. In 1204-1283 the monastery was supervised by the sovereigns of Javakheti – the Tmogveli. They established Rules for the monastery ‘Vani Cave Providence’ (1204-1234), built anteroom, belfry of the church of St. George and a hall church (1265-1283). In 1283 earthquake again destroyed Vani Caves. In 1551 and in 1576 the monastery underwent assaults of the Persians and the Ottomans. After that the monastery ceased its operation.
Vani Caves include 200 caves carved in the rock (cells, anterooms, burial site, asylum, support stock rooms, communication caves and 6 churches) which are arranged in 16 floors. Water pool and remnants of 3 tracks of running water are extant. Archeological excavations have discovered 8 wine cellars, satsnakheli (grapes pressing tub) carved in the rock, ceramic shop. Scholars believe that construction and architectural experience of Vani Caves had prepared conditions for creation of Vardzia complex carved in the rock.
On the last floor of Vani Caves, on the walls of a built-in church there are extant fresco painting of XII-XIII centuries and inscriptions of historical content, including those performed by nuns (Gulkan, Ana Rcheulishvili, Tumian Gojishvili…) using Mkhedruli script (XV c.). In inscriptions they make complaints of their misfortune. Nuns scribed on the wall also 2 lines from Vepkhistkaosani (Knight in the Tiger’s Skin): a part of a letter written by Nestan-Darejan to Tariel (1300; 1301) as well as pleasant lyrical poems.
Monastery complex carved in the rock (1156-1203) stands in Javakheti, 30 km from Aspindza, on the left bank of river Mtkvari. Ioane Shavteli worked in Vardzia, extant are his ‚Littanies of Vardzia the Virgin Mary‘. Preacher of the Vardzia monastery was simultaneously a high profile servant at the Royal Court – Satsolis Mtsignobari and was in charge of operation of monasteries.
In 1551 during invasion of the Shah of Iran, Tahmasp I, the Icon of the Virgin Mary, gold and metal gates and much jewelry were stolen from Vardzia. After invasion of the Ottomans, from 1578 Vardzia became deserted. In 1938 Vardzia received a status of a sanctuary museum. In the beginning of XXI century monastery activity was restored at Vardzia.
Vardzia monastery has the width of 0,5 km and is arranged on 13 floors. It consists of 2 parts: rock village of Ananauri (X-XI cc.), monastery itself built in 5 stages: on the first stage, during the reign of Giorgi III (1156-1184), first cells and a church were carved. On the second stage, during the reign of Queen Tamar (1184-1185), in the center of the monastery was carved a hall church of Assumption of Virgin Mary with stoa. At the expense of Kartli sovereign, Rati Surameli, the church was painted by an artist Giorgi. On the third stage (1185-1203), construction of stockrooms and cells, fortification and irrigation facilities was over. Earthquake in 1283 was followed by IV stage of the construction of monastery carried out by the head of Samtskhe, Beka Jakeli (1285-1306). He masterminded construction of a two-story ornamented bell tower. On the V stage (middle of XIV century), under Ivane Atabaghi’s auspices, was carved a big refectory.Overall, Vardzia consists of 420 utility rooms. Among them are 25 wine cellars with 185 barrels. There are 2, 3, 4-room living cells consisting of a gate, a room and a stockroom. There are wide cavities carved in the walls of rooms – just to lie, and small niches – for utencils, books and earthen saucer. Totally there are 12 chapels in the monastery.
The best preserved at the monastery is eastern part – 242 carved rooms (including a hall of 8 m x 5,6 m, assembly hall, Tamar’s room, feast room). In the western part of the monastery is a refectory, in central part – asylum rooms. Tunnels were supplied from natural spring existing in the depth behind the main church (with the help of 3,5 km running water system).
Vardzia is rich with fresco paintings. In the XII century church of Assumption of Virgin Mary there are images of donators: Giorgi III, Queen Tamar, Rati Surameli. There are also scenes from the New Testament. Painting of Ananauri church belongs to XVI century.
Fortress of Khertvisi and Tsunda
Khertvisi is a medieval fortress on the border of Samtskhe and Javakheti, it stands on the strategically important venue, at the confluence of rivers Paravani and Mtkvari, on the high rocky mountain. Its name is related to the geographic location of the fortress. Khertvisi fortress comes across in historical sources from XI century. In 1578-1829 Khertvisi fortress was the seat of Ottoman garrison and administrative center. There are traces of a lot of renovations (Georgian, Russian, Ottoman) conducted at the fortress. Khertvisi fortress is noted with big space and a number of utility rooms. It has an unaccessible citadel, court church. The fortress was supplied with water through a tunnel constructed from south-west.
Tsunda was the old political and religious center of Javakheti. Nowadays this place is called the village of Nakalakevi (old city). It is located on the right bank of river Mtkvari. As the historical sources report, the city was founded by Etnarkh Javakhos. The founder of the Kingdom of Kartli, king Parnavaz (IV-III cc. BC) turned Tsunda into a center of the Principality. It was placed on the important trade and military routes. Church of Tsunda was erected on the small rock and it is a hall church constructed in XII-XIII centuries with quadrangular stone. The church is richly ornamented. On the western gate there is an inscription in Asomtavruli. An anteroom with ornamented columns is attached to the south. The architectural idea of the church was implemented originally. One can enter the internal courtyard encircled by the fence only through the church.
On the southern wall of the church of St. Saba are depicted donators of the monastery – family portraits of Jakeli: Sargis I (1266-1285) who was ordained as a priest under the name of Saba, his son Beka I – with a model of a church, Beka’s children Sargis II (1309-1334) and Kvarkvare (1334-1360). To the west of the cathedral, at the top of an anteroom window, there is an inscription of its builder Parezasdze. Cathedral both in the interior and from outside is adorned with various decor and ornaments. Bell tower located to the west of the main cathedral is the family cemetery of the Msakhurtukhutsesi (Chief minister) of the Jakeli family, Lasurisdze. There are ruins of the old fortress overlooking the monastery from western side. During domination of the Ottomans, in XVI century, monks left the monastery. The monastery life was renewed in Sapara in XIX century.
The current complex of Zarzma was built in the beginning of XIV century by the sovereign of Samtskhe, Beka Jakeli (1285-1309). The oldest historical remains of the monastery are a built-in inscription of X century on the entrance arch (tells about march of king David III Kurapalat to Barda Skliaros) which was removed from the previous construction.
Belfry of Zarzma is one of the biggest belfries in Georgia. On the I floor of the belfry some Khurtsidze opened a church of John the Baptist in XVI century. At the beginning of the XX century Georgian Exarchate of the Russian church made a restoration work of Zarzma. The painted part and iconostasis were changed during the works.
Dashbash Canyon Natural Monument is a canyon carved by Ktsia (Khrami) River in the stream bed cut through the volcanogenic rocks of Dashbash volcanic plateau, distinguished by its rarity and biodiversity. It is located at 1,110-1,448 m above sea level. The vegetation cover of the surrounding ecosystem is rather sparse, whereas the plants on the steep slopes of the canyon and astounding waterfalls create absolutely different micro-landscape, with characteristic micro-climate, specific fauna etc