Samegrelo and Upper Svaneti are completely different regions and the only reason to present them together is that they are united administratively. Because of their dissimilarity however it seems reasonable to split the description into two parts, one describing Samegrelo, and the other Upper Svaneti. A very special region of Georgia, not only because of its diverse climate and landscape but also because of the local people – Megrelians.
Samegrelo and Upper Svaneti are located in western Georgia in the valleys of the Rioni, Enguri and Tskhenistskali rivers.
In Soviet times, Samegrelo was one of the richest regions of Georgia and one can still see it as an echo of their past – wide streets (often with sidewalks) in the villages, clean and big yards, neat houses. Even the Megrelian khachapuri (kind of Georgian pizza) is with double cheese ;-) The climate is subtropical with frequent rains in the summer and mild winter. The coastal areas still have many marshlands despite the Soviet Georgian authorities' efforts to dry them up. These marshlands contain many rare birds and animals not found in other parts of the country. For this reason, a substantial part of the territories is protected by the Georgian law as part of the Colchetian Nature Reserve. (source: Wikipedia) In ancient times Samegrelo was a major part of the kingdom of Colchis (9th-6th centuries BC) and its successor Egrisi (4th century BC-6th century AD). According to a Greek legend the mythical King Aeetes – the son of Helios, the God of Sun – ruled over the Kingdom of Colchis. The pre-Christian Kingdom of Colchis was the first Georgian state mentioned in Greek history and mythology, as the country where the Argonauts came to find the Golden Fleece. (source:)
Getting to Svaneti was a challenge even 10 years ago and only recently a new road was built letting the region open to the world and tourism more widely. Medieval stone towers, of which thousands survived, can still be found in many private yards. The majority of tower settlements in Svaneti come from the early middle ages and were used primarily as defensive structures. Most of these towers are 20-25 meters tall and have four or five floors. The tower levels are connected to each other via internal wooden staircases and covered by gabled roofs, with several narrow defense windows. The ground floor was used for living and keeping livestock, the first floor was used for storing hay. The house was heated by a hearth in the center of a big room, where the food was also cooked. As a rule, the house was attached to a tower. On the highest floor, there is usually a platform to attack from during invasions. Surrounded by mountains, Svaneti is a great place for visitors seeking an adventure. With many of its mountain peaks over 5,000 meters, the region is one of the world’s best locations for mountaineering.
Upper Svaneti is one of the most ancient provinces of Georgia.
Upper Svaneti is located on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountain range. The place where two river streams Enguri (Upper Svaneti – “Zemo Svaneti”) and Tskhenistskali (Lower Svaneti – “Kvemo Svaneti”) are merging together. Surrounded by the gigantic snow-capped peaks, Svaneti is one of the most remarkable and picturesque regions of Georgia. The highest mountain, Mount Shkhara (5,201 meters) (17,059 feet) above sea level is located in the Upper Svaneti. Mount Ushba (4,690 m or 15,387 ft) above sea level, is the most scenic mountain in the area and considered as one of the most difficult mountains for climbing within Europe.
It is also the highest inhabited area in the Caucasus and the only one never conquered by the enemy.
Ushguli is a group of four historical settlements (Zhibiani, Chvibiani, Chazhashi, and Murqmeli) located in the very East of Svaneti. It is one of the highest settlements in Europe, reaching an altitude of 2,410 meters (7,910 ft) above sea level. Ushguli was a part of the so-called “Free Svaneti” as for centuries the people here defended the region against numerous attacks. Local Medieval constructions, just like the towers and churches of Svaneti, are under the protection of UNESCO. 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. It is also a superb hiking and climbing area. Horse riding, as well as mountain biking, are also available. The transportation to Ushguli is quite limited – it is possible to rent a private SUV with a driver in Mestia (the road is passable to SUVs only). Despite the small distance (about 50km), the drive from Mestia takes about 4 hours, due to the very poor quality of the road. Apart from that, driving is possible mainly in the summer months, because the area is covered with snow for about 6 months a year and the months before and after the wintertime are wet and make the road impassable.
The main regional center of Upper Svaneti is situated about 450km from Tbilisi and is 1,500 meters above sea level. The whole town was seriously renovated in 2012 – new hotels, hostels, parks, roads, public buildings some of them built from the scratch and some refurbished completely to make Mestia and Svaneti more accessible and attractive for the tourist. Mestia is a convenient base for exploring the area and the starting point for most trips in Svaneti. From the center of the town, one can go hiking up to the glaciers at the foot of mount Ushba or take horses up to the pristine alpine meadows. Tourists interested in religious history will find plenty of ancient wall paintings, frescoes, and icons coming from the Middle Ages. Saint George Church has preserved crosses and icons from the 12th century. Also, Pusdi Church still contains fragments of 13th-century wall paintings. One can take a plane to Mestia (and Svaneti). The Queen Tamar airport was opened in 2010. However, if you want to fly to Svaneti, have a "Plan B" ready. The flights can be canceled due to moody weather conditions.
Crystal Lake Tobavarchili
The glacier lake is located at 2,643m above the sea level. The lake is also known as “Crystal Lake” due to its clear crystal water. It was formed by a glacier that erodes the rock, filling the depression created by the glacier. The lake is in 20 km from Chorotosku. Visitors need to be physically fit and equipped with appropriate clothing and boots because it is reachable only by feet. The best time to see the lake is the end of June to early September.
Church of St. Quiricus/Kvirike (in Svan: Lagurka)
The church is one of the most significant cultural sites in Svaneti. Located in Kala village community on a steep and rocky hill, with the magnificent Mount Ushba in the background, it is the biggest church in Svaneti. Annually it attracts the Svans from all over Georgia to celebrate their most important holiday, Kvirkoba (July 27th). In Svaneti, Kvirike is known as an agricultural divinity, which grants and protects the fertility of both people and animals. (source: georgia.travel) The interior of the church is decorated with extraordinary murals dating back to 1111. The author, Theodore, names himself as “painter of the king” in one of the inscriptions. He was indeed the artist of King David Aghmashenebeli.
The village is located several kilometers 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 is keeping icons from the 11th-14th centuries (now stored at a museum), as well as a manuscript of Shatberdi. Shatberdi Codex is the oldest of surviving manuscripts of “The Conversion of Kartli”, a major historical document of medieval Georgia written in the 7th and 9th centuries describing the history of Kartli and focusing on Christianization of the country. It dates back to 973 BC and includes detailed artwork known as the four-chapter book of Adishi.
The church was built only because of the Virgin Mary of Vlakerni icon. The icon, as well as the waistband of the Virgin Mary, were considered as the most sacred items of Samegrelo. The icon was taken to Russia and given to Alexander I with the hope that the Emperor would one day return this relic to Georgia. Later, the Emperor returned the icon to Levan Dadiani and financed the construction of the church.
The ruins of the castle are located in the village of Rukhi, on the left (east) bank of the Enguri River. The main difference between Rukhi castle and other fortifications is that it was built on a plain but not on the hill. The castle was built in the 17th century by the duke of Samegrelo, Levan Dadiani II, and served as the major fortification and a hideaway for the local people during invasions. The duke was actively developing the town (at that time it was a town, not a village-like today) by bringing craftsmen and traders, sometimes even forcefully, to make the site as a trade center. The castle withstood many attacks, and finally in 1725 was captured and destroyed by the Osmans. However, later it was reconstructed and in 1769 Russian commander Gottlieb Heinrich Totleben captured the castle. After that, the castle was abandoned and came to ruin. Presently the castle consists of a citadel and an inner courtyard with two towers in the north and south of the yard. The territory encompasses the ruins of the castle and a cemetery where more than 180 German captured soldiers found their last resting place.
Poti cathedral the Guria-Samegrelo eparchy church was established in Poti during the 19th century. The military governor of Kutaisi established a committee for the building of a Cathedral in 1895 with the permission of the Russian Commander. The church was meant to be built in a Georgian architectural style, but the Russian government rejected this project and the architects, Zelenko and Marfeldi, had to submit a new design. According to that proposal, it was intended for the church to be a small version of the Hagia Sophia Church in Constantinople (Istanbul) with enough room for 2000 parishioners.
The village and archaeological site located along the river Tekhuri in Senaki municipality. Nokalakevi is also known as Archaeopolis (Greek Αρχαιόπολις, literally meaning "ancient town") and Tsikhegoji meaning “Fortress of Kuji”, who was a semi-mythical Duke of Egrisi and Svaneti in the 3rd Century BC. According to the legend, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Colchis, and home of the fabled Golden Fleece. However other scholars prefer the traditional identification of Aia with Kutaisi. Archaeological excavations have revealed several different layers of civilization. A wall connecting the 'upper town' with the 'lower town' belonged to the fourth to sixth century AD. B
Dadiani Palaces Museum
The palace complex is located in Zugdidi. It belonged to the former Dukes of Samegrelo. The first exhibition of archaeological excavations of the ancient city of Nakalakevi (see below) took place in the palace in 1840. In 1850 Prince David Dadiani opened a museum in the palace. It exhibited a collection of ancient stone-age items, European military weapons of the Middle Ages, paintings, and fine works of art.
The museum complex consists of the palaces of Ekaterine Chavchavadze-Dadiani and Niko Dadiani (19th century.), a church and a decorative garden designed by the Dadianis. Niko Dadiani’s palace includes the largest ballroom in Georgia. The palace garden is planted with unique trees and bushes brought from different parts of the world. Today more than 50,000 rare exhibits are on display at the museum. The collection includes relics of European monarchs and imperial families -
Kolkheti State Nature Reserve
The park was established in 1999. It covers the eastern part of the Black Sea coast including the Kolkheti State Nature Reserve, which had been established in 1947. Kolkheti is surrounded by wetlands and Paliastomi Lake. The park was founded to protect and ensure the survival of the wetland ecosystem devastated during massive drainage undertaken by the Soviet authorities, especially in the 1920s.