Surrounded by 3.000-5.000 meter peaks, svaneti, situated in the North-Western part of the country, is the highest
inhabited area in the Caucasus. Situated on the southern slopes of the central Greater Caucasus, Svaneti extends over the upper valleys of the Rioni, Enguri and Tskhenis tsqali. The province has been divided into two parts-Upper Svaneti and Lower Svaneti-centering on the valleys of the upperreaches of the two rivers Enguri and and Cxenis-c’q’ali, respectively. They are distributed between the present-day regions of samegrelo, Zemo Svaneti and Racha-Lechkhumi, Kvemo Svaneti
Minibuses run regularly to Svaneti from Tbilisi’s “Sadguri Square” bus station.
Travelling by train is possible from Tbilisi Central Railway Station (2, Station Square) to Zugdidi, and then from Zugdidi to Mestia by minibus.
Domesic flights are available at Mestia Queen Tamar Airport.
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 Riivers. 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 the whole world.
Aside from the stunning natural beauty, the region’s real treasure is the people – the Svans. With their own language, related to but distinct from Georgian, their owns ancient traditions and crafts, and their immense 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.
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 on 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” 300m.
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 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 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 strong hay. The house was heated by a health in the centre of a big room, where the food was also cooked. As a rule, the house was attached to tower.
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, gfights 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 goddesss of the sun “Kaltidi”). Listening to these songs surrounded by snowy mountains and Svan towers and fortresses, you will certainly get a sense that yopu 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.
Mestia, the main regional center of Zemo Svaneti, is situated 456km from Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi and is 1,500 metres above the 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 center og the town it is possible to hike up to glaciers at the foot 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. Tourist interested in religious history will find plenty of examples of wall paintings, frescoes and icons from Middle Ages in the churches around Mestia. Withing Mestia, Saint George has preserved crosses and icons from the 12th century. Also, Pusdi Church still contains fragments of 13th century wall paintings.
Most of the treasures of Svaneti are found in the Historical and Ethnographical Museum of Mestia, which has founded in 1936 houses collections of the Church of Saint George, in Seti. Exhibit highlights include icons from 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 Vit
torio 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.
Ushguli’s Medieval constructions, just like the towers and churches of Svaneti, are under the protection of UNESCO. A historical settlement located in the very East of Svaneti, Ushguli is one of the highest settlement in Europe (2,000-2,200 metres above sea level ). It was part of the so-called “Free Svaneti”as for the centuries the people here defended the region against numerous attacks.
The church of Saint Mary is located on one on the highest points in Ushguli and it is also the home of the remnants of one of the most ancient fortress 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.