The mountain region of Svaneti is just one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Georgia. This means the country is teeming with unique treasures of nature, intriguing historic structures and other-worldly locations, such as Svaneti, home of the Svans.
This piece of land is marked by ancient towers, delicious varieties of wine, craggy peaks, and tons of dancing and merrymaking. Svaneti is described as wild, mysterious and extremely beautiful. It may only be about 180 km from the capital city of Tbilisi but it is difficult to reach. The region is one of the remotest tourist destinations in Georgia, since visitors need three days at least of rough-land travel to get there.
Its remoteness is both the region’s blessing and bane. It is too far to be conquered by invading forces but also too distant for tourists to enjoy. It is perched high up in the Greater Caucasus Mountains and some tourists may find that discouraging. Local residents have basically preserved their traditional way of life since they have not been influenced by foreign races or cultures.
The far-flung region enjoyed another blessing brought about by its isolation. When people from different kingdoms have invaded Georgia through the centuries, important national artifacts, icons, religious items, and artworks were all brought to distant Svaneti for safekeeping. Some of these were never returned and until now kept in private homes.
Today, the region’s hard-to-reach location should not stop tourists from coming. The trip is definitely worth it and here are a few reasons why. The Upper Svaneti landscape has somehow magically preserved its appearance since the Middle Ages. It is immaculately green with forests teeming with subalpine plants such as chestnuts, hornbeams, pines, and firs. Also seen roaming around are wolves, foxes, wild goats, and bears. The ethnic Svan people live by farming, and breeding cattle and semi-wild pigs.
The most iconic landmarks in this mountain retreat are the defensive stone towers that were built from the 9th to 13th centuries. There are more than 170 well-preserved 3-storey to 5-storey towers in the villages of Mestia, Ushguli and Latali. The towers are thick at the bottom and slender on top.
Local homes are almost like towers themselves since most of them have two floors. The ground floor is an open area with a lavishly decorated partition to accommodate people and animals. The second floor, on the other hand, is used as storage and also for human occupancy in summer.
The region is also littered with several small stone churches that surprisingly have 1000-year-old frescoes. To make sure that these churches, towers and homes are preserved and protected for all the world to see, the Svaneti village of Chazhashi has been preserved as a living museum. This was the perfect choice among all other villages since it is home to 200 towers and 400 houses, as well as a couple of churches and castles.
When taken together – towers, churches and homes, tourists are treated to a unique site set before snow-covered peaks, gorges, valleys, and alpine meadows that are dotted with colorful mountain flowers.
The list of attractions and unique treasures in Svaneti goes on and on. The region is truly a pride of Georgia. Also preserved in the region are unique textiles, wood carvings, paintings, manuscripts, pieces of embroidery, and architecture, as well as several ancient forms of Georgian music. If these can’t convince you to come, nothing else will.