Svaneti

Svaneti

Things to do - general

Svaneti, one of the most ancient and historical provinces of Georgia, is located on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountain range, on the territory running between the Enguri and Tskhenistskali Rivers. Surrounded by the gigantic, snow-capped peaks of the high Caucasus, Svaneti is one of the most remarkable and picturesque regions of Georgia, if not of the whole world. Aside from the stunning natural beauty, the region’s real treasure are people – the Svans. With their own language, related to but distinct from Georgian, their own ancient traditions and crafts, and their immense sense of honour, Svans have always been a proudly independent people. Reflecting their pride and independence, many Svans today still live in 25 metre high medieval stone towers, of which thousands survive. These towers, some with foundations dating back a millennium, were used to protect families in time of war, and it is said that some still house ancient treasures, brought up to Svaneti hundreds of years ago to protect them from invaders. Indeed, Svaneti’s museums boast world class collections of icons, religious manuscripts and gold and silver jewellery. Summer in Svaneti is short and mild and the winter is very strict and long.

Country Georgia
Region Svaneti
CityMestia
Population23000
Languages spokenGeorgian, Svan, Russian, English

Sights

Svaneti is divided into Upper (Zemo) and Lower (Kvemo) Svaneti. Upper Svaneti offers the best walking and climbing as well as the strongest traditions; it is very green, with subalpine forests of hornbeam, chestnut, spruce, pine and fir.

Mestia
Mestia

the main regional centre of Zemo Svaneti, is situated 456km from Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi and is 1,500 metres above sea level. Mestia is the starting point for most trips in Svaneti, with a range of hotels, guesthouses and local travel services. It is a convenient base for exploring the area. From the centre of the town it is possible to hike up to the glaciers at the foot of mount Ushba, or take horses up to the pristine alpine meadows. Plus, a new ski resort and a new ski lift (length: 1407m) makes it possible to ski or snowboard even in the height of summer. Tourists interested in religious history will find plenty of examples of wall paintings, frescoes and icons from the Middle Ages in the churches around Mestia. Within Mestia, Saint George Church has preserved crosses and icons from the 12th century. Also, Pusdi Church still contains fragments of 13th century wall paintings.

The Historical and Ethnographical Museum

Most of the treasures of Svaneti are found in the Historical and Ethnographical Museum of Mestia, which was founded in 1936 and houses collections of the Church of Saint George, in Seti. Exhibit highlights include icons from the middle Ages and ancestral artifacts from the noble family Dadeshkeliani dating back to the Middle Ages.

You can also view samples of metal chasing work from the 11th century, heirlooms from the Svaneti Dadeshkeliani royal family and an exhibition of Vittorio Sella’s prints, an Italian photographer who travelled in Svaneti in 1889, 1890, and 1896, taking photographs of Svaneti’s landscapes and settlements, and documenting the daily lives of the local inhabitants.

Mikheil Khergiani House Museum

The Memorial House of Mikheil Khergiani, a famous Georgian mountain climber, was founded in Mestia in 1983. Mikheil Khergiani became famous in Georgia and abroad by participating in many mountain expeditions and climbing competitions. Khergiani was known for his remarkable rock-climbing abilities for saving many people during mountain rescue missions. He died, tragically in Italy, in the Dolomites Mountains in 1969. The exhibition documents many exciting chapters from his life.

Ushguli

Ushguli’s Medieval constructions, just like the towers and churches of Svaneti, is under the protection of UNESCO. A historical settlement located in the very East of Svaneti, Ushguli is one of the highest settlements in Europe (2,000-2,200 metres above sea level). It was part of the so-called “Free Svaneti” as for centuries the people here defended the region against numerous attacks. The Church of Saint Mary is located on one of the highest points in Ushguli and it is also the home to the remnants of one of the most ancient fortresses of Svaneti with 37 towers, dating back to the reign of Queen Tamar. There is also superb area hiking and climbing, while horse riding and mountain biking are also available.

Villages in Svaneti
Latali

For centuries Latali was one of the strongest and richest communities of Zemo Svaneti. While the villages around Latali are known for their churches, the region itself has earned a reputation for its talented musicians and during festivities, visitors can enjoy the unique and amazing ancient polyphonic songs of the locals. One church worth visiting in Latali, particularly for the painting of the Coronation of King Demetre I, is the Matskhvarishi Church, which was constructed during the 11th and 12th centuries.

Becho

The path that connects Zemo Svaneti to North Caucasus is in Becho. A 13th century icon of the Archangel can be found in the nearby Church of the Messiah in Chokhuldi.

Kala

The most significant cultural sites in Kala are the Ipari churches of the Archangels and Saint Kvirike (in Lagurka), painted by Theodore, the artist of King David Aghmashenebeli. The Church of St. Quiricus is the biggest in Zemo Svaneti. On July 27th in Kala there is a celebration for Saint Kvirike, which is attended by most of the local community. In Svaneti, Kvirike is known as an agricultural divinity, which grants and protects the fertility of both people and animals.

Ipari

The biggest and most decorated church in this community is the Nakipari Church, built in the 10th century. Theodore, King David the Builder’s painter, painted artwork in this church. The church also contains an 11th century icon of Saint George carved in gold and silver.

Adishi

The village of Adishi, is located several kilometres away from Ipari, under Mount Tetnuldi. The village has four churches: the Church of Christ, the Church of the Archangel, and two churches of Saint George. The Church of Christ held icons from the 11th-14th centuries (now stored at a museum), as well as a manuscript of Shatberdi dating back to 897, which includes detailed artwork known as the fourchapter book of Adishi.

Mulakhi

The most interesting sites in Mulakhi include tower-houses and the Church of Christ, with paintings dating from the 13th century. The site also includes an icon of Saint George from the 10th century and other various 16th-18th century icons.

Lentekhi

The small town of Lentekhi and its district belong to the historic Georgian province of Kvemo Svaneti. Cultural heritage of this area includes several notable monuments, in particular Saint George’s Church (10th century), the Archangel Church of Thargizel (9-10th century), Tekal Church (10-11th century), the Lentekhi Castle of the Dadiani family, and the famous Svanetian towers in the village of Leksuri.

Lado Museliani Lentekhi Local Museum

This museum houses archaeological materials from the Bronze Age (implements, weapons, samples of adornment and ceramics), an 11th century ceremonial cross and crozier, details from a church altar with an image of Christ, and a 17th century manuscript prayer-book. The Kvemo Svaneti collection is displayed in a machubi (a local type of traditional dwelling).

Activities

Adventure

Surrounded by mountains, Svaneti is a great place for visitors seeking an adventure. With many of its mountain peaks over 5,000 metres the region is one of the world’s best locations for mountaineering. Ushba, although not the highest mountain in the range at an impressive 4,700 metres, is the most dramatic mountain in the area and considered as one of the most difficult mountains to climb in Europe. Svaneti is also great for skiers and snow boarders. The newly opened Mestia ski resort has amazing slopes for all standards of skiers. Detailed maps of trekking trails, information about qualified mountain and trekking guides, horse rentals and jeep tours can be found in the regions tourist information centre. Ski slope type: red - 1900m; blue -2565m and “Mugviirshi” 300 m.

Walks around Mestia

Take local advice as you make your plans. Many routes are well signposted; others aren’t. Your accommodation or the Tourism Information Centre will help you find a guide if you want one. The walking season lasts from about early June to mid-October, though some routes can be waterlogged early or late in that period. Check www.svanetitrekking.ge for route information and maps.

A moderately demanding half-day walk is up to the cross that’s visible 900m above Mestia on the north side of the valley. The views get better as you go, and from the cross you can see the spectacular twin peaks of Mt Ushba (4700m), Georgia’s toughest and most dangerous mountaineering challenge. From Setis moedani, walk 450m east along the main street then take the lane up to the left (Khergiani, becoming Lanchvali). Take the uphill option at all junctions, passing under an arch after about 350m. After 150m more the street becomes a footpath: follow this up and after 800m it bends to the right across the hillside, eventually meeting a jeep track. You can follow this, shortcutting some bends, all the way to the cross. The return trip from Mestia takes about five hours. With good weather and enough daylight and energy, you can continue to the Koruldi Lakes, a group of pristine small lakes about two hours beyond the cross and some 300m higher.

The walk to the Chalaadi Glacier is another good route, of about six hours return trip, taking you out past Mestia’s airport and up the Mestiachala valley. Take your pass- port as Georgian border guards may want to check it. The last section is up through woods to the foot of the glacier. Watch out for rocks falling off the glacier in summer.

From about late July to late September you can spend a lovely two or three days walking to Ushguli if you start with a taxi as far as Ipari (Nakipari on some maps), about 20km southeast of Mestia. From Ipari the first stage takes you to Adishi, where there’s good homestay accommodation. The second stage is from Adishi to Iprari. From Iprari it’s three or four hours’ walk to Ushguli.

Winter Activities

Mestia is the staging post for most trips to Svaneti. It is a convenient base for exploring the area. It has always been a popular summertime destination for holidaymakers, but nowadays Mestia is inviting skiers onto the slopes of its mountains. The resort offers paths of various difficulties to skiers. Three ski routs have been built here complying with the highest international standards.

Besides winter pastime Mestia offers its visitors rich cultural heritage to explore. Its house-towers, most of them dating back to the 12/13th centuries, spring up from the ground like miniature castles. With strong architectural presence it is no surprise that Mestia Museum is treasure trove of exquisite icons and artifacts gathered from Svaneti’s many remote churches and villages, preserved in this natural mountain fortress from centuries of pillagers. Here you are truly in the heart of the mountains and the feeling of being here is indescribable!

Downhill Skiing

Newly constructed ski lift, that offers four-seated open cabins enabling skiers to reach the peak of the route in comfort, is 1 400 meters in length. It starts at an altitude of 1 800 meters and reaches 2 350 meters at its highest point.

The length of the red ski run for professional skiers is 2 600 meter long. The blue run targeting less experienced skiers is 2 670 meters in length. 300 meter long Mugviri run is for amateur skiers.

Helisking

Being a new winter resort Mestia’s heliskiing potential is yet to be explored. Though lovers of extreme venture to ski down the highest peaks of the resort.

Ace Skating

Ice skating rink is located in the centre of Mestia. It is run by local government. The rink offers skating lovers 70 pairs of skates for free.

Hatsvali Ski Station

The ski station at Hatsvali, 8km south of Mestia up a good paved road, opened in 2010. The season runs from December or January to about early April. The station has a 300m beginners’ slope, a 2565m blue run, a 1900m red run and a French-built chair-lift.

Sleeping

Mestia & Ushguli have dozens of guesthouses and home- stays, most of them happy to provide as many or as few meals as you like, including picnic lunches. Most can arrange vehicles and/or guides for out-of-town trips and help with most things you might want to do. All those mentioned here have shared bath- rooms with hot showers.

Culture and history info

Great Caucasus

A trip into the Great Caucasus along Georgia’s northern border is a must for anyone who wants to experience the best of the country. Spectacular mountain scenery, wonderful walks and picturesque, traditional old villages with strange, tall defensive towers are all part of a trip to the Great Caucasus.

Georgia’s very identity hinges on this mighty range that rises in Abkhazia, forms the border with Russia and runs the length of the country into Azerbaijan. The Caucasus includes the highest mountain in Europe, Mt Elbrus (5642m, on the Russian side of the border), and remains little touched by commercial development in a way the Alps can only dream about.

The most accessible destination is Kazbegi, reached by the dramatic Georgian Military Highway from Tbilisi, but other areas are more than worth the effort of getting there – including enigmatic Svaneti, a refuge for many things considered essentially Georgian, and beautiful, pristine Tusheti.

It’s notably cooler in the mountain villages, which can be a blessed relief in August, and in the hills you should be equipped for bad weather any time. The best walking season in most areas is from June to September. Some areas such as Khevsureti and Tusheti are only accessible for a few summer months.

Architecture
Towers and fortresses in Svaneti

Svaneti has preserved its original medieval architectural appearance to a remarkable degree. The characteristic landscape of Svaneti is formed by small villages on the mountain slopes, dominated by towers and surrounded by a natural backdrop of gorges, alpine valleys and snow-covered mountains. The majority of tower settlements in Svaneti come from the early middle ages and the Svan towers were primarily used as defensive structures. Most of these towers are 20-25 metres tall and have four or five storeys. The tower levels are connected to each other via internal wooden staircases and covered by gabled roofs, with several narrow defense windows. On the highest floor there is usually a platform to attack from during invasions. The towers were built from local stone and some families still use the upper floors for storing crops. A typical Svan family consisted of up to thirty or even a hundred members . Svan fortress was also the residential house. In the event of an attack they were used to protect their inhabitants. The ground floor was used for living and keeping livestock, the first floor was used for storing hay. A hearth in the centre of a big room, where the food was also cooked, heated the house. As a rule, the house was attached to a tower.

Culture

The history and culture of Svaneti is rich with folk music, with rigorous and powerful singing to match the severe habitat and hard life-style of the Svans’. The songs are mainly dedicated to national heroes, fights against the conquerors, religious holidays and famous royals (e.g. Queen Tamar), the Goddess of Hunting Dali. Many songs were composed before Christian times and therefore have a heathen context (e.g. the song “Lile” – is dedicated to the goddess of the Sun “Kaltidi”). Listening to these songs surrounded by snowy mountains and Svan towers and fortresses, you will certainly get a sense that you are back in the middle ages. The Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography is located in Mestia. It houses some of the most important archaeological and ethnographical materials and a rich collection of Georgian manuscripts and icons.

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Svaneti tour for 4 days

Mestia
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