You only see it in books or on TV, an ancient settlement with rows of brick houses and towers on the slope of a mighty mountain range; time-worn dwellings of brick and mortar set in a background of lush green meadow and blue sky. To see this for real, visit the historic highland village of Shatili in the country of Georgia.
Holidays are meant to relax you and transport you to a world that’s completely different from your own. You’ve tried the beach, sea and tropical islands before; now, it’s time to see the mountains and historic landmarks of Georgia and be transported back in time when people constructed hand-made fortresses and homes that could last for a long, long time.
Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region between Russia and Turkey. People here wear different clothes, eat different foods, enjoy different things, and speak a different language from what you have been used to all your life. The United States is the West; the Caucasus is the East. The world knows a lot about the West; now it’s time to set your eyes on eastern places, eastern people, eastern foods, eastern sites, eastern culture, and eastern history.
One of the best ways for you to better understand and appreciate eastern traditions is to see unique historic places such as Georgia’s Shatili.
This ancient direct-from-the-pages-of-a-magazine settlement is found in a gorge on the northern side of the Greater Caucasus Mountain range in the province of Upper Khevsureti. It is near the Georgia-Chechnya border at an elevation of about 1,400 meters.
You won’t believe your eyes as you approach this medieval complex that is composed of mortar fortresses and dwellings. This village did serve as a fortress but people did live here, too. It was a residential area that protected the north-eastern part of the country. The Khevsurians or the people of Khevsureti were tasked to guard the northern border with Russia, and building Shatili was an amazing initiative towards this goal.
The residential fortress includes homes, towers, chapels and storage areas. Since the settlement stands on a slope, the structures (homes, towers, chapels) stand side by side like a chain and on top of each other like a terrace. Towers are clustered to form a long stretch of rocky defense.
Although only a few dozen structures of the original hundreds remain, you can imagine how the Khevsurians lived. As you walk inside the rocky village, you can clearly picture how they walked or ran along the network of narrow bridges and corridors that connected the structures, or how they jumped from roof to roof. There are narrow entrances, loop holes and secret passages; clearly a giant, stony labyrinth that was meant to confuse invading soldiers.
A visit to Shatili is truly an exciting trip in time and to a very interesting cultural history in this part of the world. The village is only 140 km from the capital city to the north. Not many locals live near the area since the Soviet government relocated local residents in the 1950s. You can reach the Shatili by bus but the best way to get there is on a rented 4×4 since the four-hour drive is very bumpy.