About Sights – Svanetian Towers
Svaneti (Georgian: სვანეთი) is situated on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountains in the northwestern part of Georgia. It is the highest inhabited part of the Caucasus.
The characteristic landscape of Upper Svaneti is formed by small villages situated on the mountain slopes, with a natural environment of gorges and alpine valleys and a backdrop of snow-covered mountains.
Svaneti is known for its wonderful scenery and its architectural treasures, including dozens of churches and the famous Svanetian towers erected mainly in the 9th-12th centuries.
The towers were built as protection against invaders and raiders. For many centuries the Svans (Georgian: სვანი) have been in contact with the northern Caucasian tribes on the other side of the mountains and with the Ossetians to the east. Though trading took place, these relations were often hostile, with raiding parties from one or the other group attempting to seize the other’s property.
The towers also protected families during the blood-feuds that often took place in these communities.
Instead of entrusting the defense of a village or town to a large fortress or castle, each Svan family built their own tower.
The towers usually have from three to five storeys and the thickness of the walls decreases, giving the towers a slender, tapering profile.
For protection, the entrance to a tower is some twelve feet above the ground, with a ladder or staircase below that could be destroyed in the event of an attack. Inside, large, flat rocks lay beside the ladder holes, ready to be employed as seals.
Drawing of a defensive tower of Chazhashi (ICOMOS Georgia Study funded by Getty Grants Foundation).
Each tower is attached to a machubi, a big two-storey house. The ground floor is a single hall with an open hearth and accommodation for both people and domestic animals, the latter being separated by a wooden partition, which is often lavishly decorated. A corridor annex helped the thermal insulation of the building. The upper floor, called a darbazi, was used by the family in the summer, and also served as a store for fodder and tools. A door at this level provided access to the tower, which was also connected with the corridor that protected the entrance.
The house was heated by an open hearth in the centre of the hall, where food was also cooked. The residential unit was completed by a low boundary wall that enclosed an adjoining courtyard with stables and accessory structures.
Sometimes families consisted of up to thirty or even a hundred members and huge residential compounds, with several towers, were constructed to accommodate them.
Many of the tower-houses have disappeared or have collapsed into ruins over time. However, the village of Chazhashi (Georgian: ჩაჟაში), part of a group of villages collectively called Ushguli, located at the head of the Enguri gorge in Upper Svaneti has been preserved as a museum-reserve. Here more than 200 towers have survived. Other towers can be seen in Mestia and the frontier villages, such as Latali.
Architectural monuments of Upper Svanetia are included in a list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
By Air: It is now possible to fly from Tbilisi International Airport to the newly opened Queen Tamar Airport in Mestia (the administrative centre of Upper Svaneti). At the time of writing, a return flight will cost 150 GEL.
By Train: From Tbilisi to Zugdidi by night train, then take a minibus from Zugdidi train station to Mestia. Duration 3-4 hours.
By Bus: Tbilisi – Mestia mini buses go every day from “Vagzali” bus station.
By Car: A new highway from Zugdidi to Mestia has been opened.
With its breathtaking vistas of mountains, valleys, glaciers, forests and medieval fortified villages, Svaneti is a wonderful adventure and discovery!
Georgia About recommends a trip to see the towers of Svaneti!