Kartli is a historic province in eastern Georgia. Today the region is divided into Shida (Inner) Kartli, northwest from Tbilisi and Kvemo(Lower) Kartli in the southeast of Georgia along the border with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both regions are rich in archeological sites, spectacular views, amazing ancient architecture, and beautiful walking routes.
It's about a one-hour walk from Tetritskharo to the ancient settlement. Located at the junction of two rivers, at naturally fortified peninsula with thick walls and steep canyon beneath. Early the fortress was almost inaccessible. The history of the settlement Samshvilde goes back to 3rd century BC and it lasts till 18th century AD. The fortress, now in ruins, once it was the center of the settlement. There were several churches on the territory of Samshvilde and Samshvilde Sioni Church, built in the second half of the 8th century, was the most significant one. The church is now in ruins, and two other churches were rebuilt from the stones of the destroyed temple.
The original fortress was an important military stronghold of Medieval Georgia. The fortress is first mentioned in Georgian manuscripts in the second half of the 7th century, however, the settlement around the castle was established only in the 11th century. The castle, due to its strategic location, was the target for many enemy armies during the centuries and it changed hands continuously. In the 17th century, Gori's significance at the state level grew as a result of constant fights in Tbilisi. There were constantly a hundred armed soldiers to protect the fortress. An interesting fact is that before the 2nd World War Gori Fortress was not considered a serious stronghold by historians - the only part seen as the ruins of the castle. In 1946, after a mudslide, ancient walls around the fortress were discovered. The best-preserved part of the wall is the western one - Tskhrakari (Nine Doors). The fortress suffered serious damage during the 1920 earthquake, however, the settlement around the castle was founded only in the 11th century.
Skhvilo complex is on the slopes of the Kaspi borough. The historical sources first mention Skhvilo in the 10th century. The complex consists of many constructions of different purposes: the wall, church, tower, residential and operational buildings. The walls are higher than 10 meters at some places and they are 2m thick. The church was invaded many times and it suffered serious damage in the 17th century.
The village of Khtsis is located about 9km from Khashuri, and the church of St John the Baptist can be found deep in the forest about 1.5km from the village. According to the inscription on the Eastern facade, the church was started in 1002 by Archbishop Anania. It is still a functioning monastery today.
Uplistsikhe- if in Gori, it is really worth visiting the cave town of Uplistsikhe. This ancient city's history is dating back to the 1st millennium BC. In the 4th-3rd century BC, the settlement grew into an important strategic town, with two parts: the inner town located in the caves which were used as shelters in case of invasions, and outer town, where the settlements were located outside the caves. The complex was recently refurbished and it is now much easier to get into the town. It's a nice walk up the hill with lots of caves on the way. Most of them were inhabited, some served for different purposes: pharmacy, storage, temple. There is a 9th-10th-century basilica at the top of the hill. The complex suffered serious damage during the 1920 earthquake and stability of the monument still stays under a serious threat.
The ancient settlement at Mtkvari river. Archaeological studies have shown that the place was inhabited in the 3rd millennium BC and was an important city in ancient and early medieval times. The town was surrounded by a thick wall containing over 18 towers. Ruins of a fortress, rich baths, pagan sanctuaries, and even a Jewish temple showed the importance of the city. The traces show that the city was besieged, captured and subsequently plundered at the end of the 3rd century BC. The new period of prosperity came with converting to Christianity. In the 5th-6th centuries the largest three-nave basilica of St. Stephan was constructed. It was then restored firstly in the 9th-10th centuries and later in the 17th century. Urbnisi was captured again in 730 AD by the Arab commander Marwan. After the invasion, it declined into a small village. However, even then the basilica functioned as a center of a Georgian Orthodox diocese. One of the most significant events in the history of the Georgian church happened in Urbnisi – the Ruisi-Urbnisi ecclesiastic council was assembled here by king David the Builder to deal with the problems within the church hierarchy.
Tsromi used to be one of the main cathedrals in the 4th century, however, the original temple was destroyed. The present church was built in 626-634, probably at the foundation of the old church, but has been destroyed as well and restored several times during the 11th-12th and 16th-17th centuries. The cathedral was also severely damaged by an earthquake in 1940. It is interesting to look at fragments of mosaics preserved in the church.
Rkoni Monastery and King Tamar Bridge
The monastery and the bridge are in a beautiful Tedzami gorge. The complex consists of many buildings and quite a few of them were built at the initiative of Queen Tamar, one of the most influential rulers of Georgia (in Georgian she is called Tamar Mepe, what means King Tamar). One can find here: the Church of the Virgin Mary – dating back to the 7th century; the gate of the complex – dating to the 13th century; a chapel, a church of John the Baptist, a bell tower dating to the 17th-18th centuries; and housing for the monks. The Rkoni fortress is situated near the church and was used as a residence for Georgian feudal lords. Not far from the monastery there is a spectacular 12th century stone arch bridge (King Tamara Bridge) over the river Tedzami. Crossing the bridge and climbing the hill up brings you to another small church and cave carved into the rocks that were once used by monks. One cannot get to the monastery by car - it takes about one kilometer of a very easy walk - wide forest path leads you along the river. It gets a bit more difficult after the monastery, on the way to the bridge, but you still can easily do it, even with children. The only problem might be finding the spot from which to start your walking - the place is not easy to trace, and Google will hardly help. Two things one may need to get there are SUV and a local guide.
The complex consists of three churches - the central one dedicated to St. Nicolas dates back probably to the 12th-13th century, a small chapel of St. George standing next to it dating to around the same time and the oldest church dedicated to St. Mary, built in 10th-11th but now in ruins. St.Nicolas church is famous for its unique medieval frescoes, especially the fresco of the sitting Archangel from the Resurrection composition, between two windows. The murals were ordered by Anton Gnolistavisdze, a local feudal magnate who served as a royal minister. His fresco with a model of a church in his hand is represented on the lower register of the south wall, along with a severely damaged cycle of images from the life of St Nicholas, and depictions of various Georgian saints (wikipedia.com)
Khizaant Gora - an archaeological monument of Shida Kartli, is located on the left bank of the river Mtkvari in a village called Urbnisi. In the area, less than 8 meters wide, twelve antique cultural strata have been found. One gravesite discovered at this site belongs to the Bronze Age, and nineteen small residences dating back to the 3rd-1st century BC have also been excavated here. In the 6th century, a fortress has been here. It included a huge tower with six separate storage houses.
Ateni Sioni Church
Ateni Sioni Church - an early 7th-century domed church. It stands on the bank of the River Tana on the hilltop. The construction and location remind these of Jvari monastery at Mtskheta. Its facade is covered with carved quadrangle greenish-gray stones and is richly decorated with ornaments. The walls of the church contain inscriptions using the early Georgian alphabet dating back to the 9th-11th centuries (georgia.travel).
Pitareti Monastery - the key treasure of the monastery is the Church of the Mother of God constructed at the beginning of the 13th century. The entire interior was once frescoed, but only significantly damaged fragments of those murals survive. The monastery thrived in the 17th and 18th centuries and it was forced to close in 1752 due to a marauding attack from Dagestan. After that Pitareti stood abandoned for 250 years and suffered major structural damage from an earthquake in 1988. At the end of the '90s the complex underwent some renovations.
Dmanisi - due to its location at the crossroad of trading routes and cultural influences, Dmanisi, settled since the early Bronze Age, grew into a main commercial center of the region in the Middle Ages. Dmanisi was conquered and liberated a few times in course of ages, but after devastating Turkomans' attack at the end of 15th century, the town never recovered again and it lost its importance. Nowadays, the area is a very important archeological site. Ruins of numerous buildings and other structures were discovered during excavations, as well as a very rich collection of ancient and medieval artifacts. The most important discovery, however, are unique remains of humans that prove the earliest known human presence outside Africa in this region. The fossils were dated at 1.8 million years and designated Homo erectus georgicus. The site is now covered with a roof, so the visitors can walk around and see the unearthed ruins. It is also possible to see the models of Homo erectus georgicus displayed in the little museum (picture above). The models were even given names: Mzia (woman name) and Zezva (man name).
Bolnisi Sioni Church
Bolnisi Sioni Church -the town of Bolnisi was founded in 1818 by a number of German colonists who named the place Katharinenfeld. In 1921 the place was renamed to Luxemburg (after Rosa Luxemburg). Later during the 2nd World War German descendants who hadn't married Georgians were sent to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Only in 1944, the town was renamed to Bolnisi. The main tourist attraction here is the Sioni church - three-nave basilica dating back to the end of 5th century, the oldest surviving church building in Georgia.
The decorations on the pillars are very impressive and one of them displays Bolnisi Cross, which became the symbol of Georgia. The cross is engraved in the middle of an inscription, which is considered the oldest dated sample of Georgian writing (5th century). The church features also some relief sculptures related to the pre-Christian era. The original roof of the church due to damage was replaced by new construction.
Birtvisi Fortress - a must-see for any hiker coming to Georgia. Getting to the fortress will require quite a walk, and part of it will be scrambling on all fours, but it is definitely worth it. The first part of the walk is a nice hike up the hills, but only when you enter the canyon and see a fairytale forest that makes you feel as if back to Middle Ages and vertical cliffs rising up on all sides, you understand why it was worth walking and climbing and scrambling... But this is not the fortress yet. Birtvisi is a great example of producing a fortress in the most unexpected place.
After one gets to the canyon it still takes a bit of walking to see the first tower hidden among the rocks in a narrow passage - the foremost part of the tower. It is preceded by a big, wooded square - a nice camping site, or a place for a picnic. The castle is not far from that point, and you can climb it as high as you wish, with huge rocks stuck between the cliffs hanging over your head. Impressive.