About History – Photographs of 19th Century Svaneti

During the period 1889-1896, the famous mountain-climber and pioneer of photography, Count Vittorio Sella made a number of climbs in the Caucasus Mountains in the Svaneti region of Georgia and photographed the remote fortified communities that were virtually hidden from the world.

Village of Chazhashi (Ushguli) where two streams come together. 1890. Photo courtesy Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Chazhashi (Ushguli) where two streams come together. 1890. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Sella, Biella

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.

Village of Adish. 1890. Photo courtesy Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Adish. 1890. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Sella, Biella

The fortified stone towers and houses were erected mainly in the 9th-12th centuries and were built as protection against invaders and raiders and also protected families during the blood-feuds that often took place in these communities.

Village of Gebi and Monte Cioda from the village church. 1890. Photo courtesy of  Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Gebi and Monte Cioda from the village church. 1890. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Sella, Biella

The towers usually have from three to five storeys and the thickness of the walls decreases, giving the towers a slender, tapering profile.

Village of Mestia. 1889. Photo courtesy of  Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Mestia. 1889. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Adish and surroundings. 1890. Photo courtesy of  Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Adish and surroundings. 1890. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Sella, Biella

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 upper floor, called a darbazi, was used by the family in the summer.

Village of Mujal. 1890. Photo courtesy of  Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Mujal. 1890. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Sella, Biella

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.

Fortified towers in the village of Mestia. 1890. Photo courtesy of  Fondazione Sella, Biella

Fortified towers in the village of Mestia. 1890. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Mestia. 1889. Photo courtesy of  Fondazione Sella, Biella

Village of Mestia. 1889. Photo courtesy of Fondazione Sella, Biella

In 1890 the Royal Geographical Society awarded Sella their prestigious Murchison Prize in recognition of the photographs he had taken in the Caucasus region.

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