The South Georgian region of Kvemo-Kartli is one of Georgia’s most overlooked treasures. Full of natural beauty and magnificent ancient monuments, as well as archaeological sites and remains, there’s so much for history buffs to absorb. The region is characterized by continental climate, with a landscape ranging from lush, forested steppes to semi-desert lowlands. Nature lovers, veteran hikers, canyoners and adventurers, will enjoy the massive natural complex of limestone crevasses and ravines providing one of the most spectacular hiking destinations in Georgia. Just an hour from Tbilisi, the hidden valleys of Birtvisi contain secret castles, springs and waterfalls, all set in the most amazing limestone massif. There is enough to explore here to keep you busy for weeks, but it might be worth taking a guide, as the place really is a maze!
The Algeti National Park
The Algeti National Park is a spectacular combination of rugged mountain landscape, small rivers and deep ravines. Its highest point is Kldekari at 2000m and the Algeti River flows through the area, giving life to over 1600 species of plants. With 80 types of trees, 800 grasses, 150 medicinal plants, (as well as 43 poisonous ones), there’s plenty for the keen botanist to explore.
Gardabani Protected Area
The Gardabani Managed Nature Reserve is vast, with almost 3,500 hectares of land. The main treasure of the reserve is the flood plain forests covered with indigenous plants and fragments of nipplewort, which are characteristic to this area. Established in 1996, its located just 39km from Tbilisi, close to the Azerbaijan border.
There’s so much history to discover in Dmanisi. As the largest fortified town in the region, and located on a crossroads of trading routes, Dmanisi grew into a major commercial center of medieval Georgia. An amazing number of ancient buildings still exist today, like the medieval tower and citadel with its cellars, baths, halls and jails, as well as the stunning three-church basilica, built in the 6th century. The tunnels dating back to the 12th century are definitely worth a visit. Dmanisi has a great archaeological significance, as human remains dating from 1.75 million years ago were discovered here. At the Historical and Architectural Museum, you can see a medieval town with its citadel, public and religious buildings. Of special interest is Dmanisi Sioni, built in the 5th century with ornamental gates added in the 12th century.
Located on the Algeti gorge of Tetritskaro district, Birtvisi Fortress was built before or during the 11th century and sits between inaccessible cliffs and surrounded by high walls so it’s not surprising that Birtvisi was considered an impregnable fortress. The ‘Sheupovari’ tower, meaning ‘unbeatable’, is located on the highest wall of the fortress.
The Khuluti Fortress is an excellent example of Georgian architecture. Built in the early to mid 18th century, the palace was constructed with local stones and lies in the narrow pass of a deep river gorge. The central fortress has two sections and is defended by a surrounding wall containing five towers, though these were mainly used for living purposes.
The village of Gudarekhi dates back to the 13th century and includes an architectural monument, a large monastery, and the ruins of an ancient settlement. The monastery complex is surrounded by a high wall and includes a church and a belfry constructed during the reign of Queen Rusudan. One of the most interesting structures in the complex is the belfry that was constructed in 1278; the earliest built in Georgia, during the period of Demetre the Hero. Coins from the reigns of George III, Rusudan, and Lasha-Giorgi, as well as Mongolian coins, have also been found here.
The Bolnisi Sioni church is the only remaining three-nave basilica in Georgia. It was constructed using carved stones and the temple is decorated with beautiful, clear, turquoise-hued stones. The decorations on the pillars are of particular interest and one of them includes the famous Bolnisi Cross. The church is the first known monument of Georgian architecture that uses relief sculptures related to the pre-Christian period, but adopted by the Christian era as well. The church is also famous for its oldest Georgian inscription dating back to the 5th century.
The historical fortress of Samshvilde is located at the junction of the Khrami and Chivchavi rivers, on a naturally fortified peninsula. During the 4th-3rd centuries B.C. the fortress was the center of Samshvilde. The fortress also included the Samshvilde Sioni Temple, which dated back to 759 - 777, and is now in ruins. A medieval church and three-part basilica, constructed from the old temple’s stones, still remain.
On the outskirts of Pitareti village lies the Monastery of Pitareti. One of its key treasures is the Church of the Mother of God, one of the most significant examples of Georgian architecture, constructed from 1213-1222. Pitareti Church contains paintings dating back to the 13th century; with some very diverse pieces of beautiful art work and intricate engravings.
In the times of antiquity there was a significant settlement on the territory of Manglisi. During the reign of Giorgi I, from 1014-1027, the Sioni Church dedicated to the Virgin was expanded and remodeled. The engraved dome is noteworthy, along with the 11th century gates depicting a starry sky. The church has fragments of wall paintings dating back to the beginning of the 11th century. There is also a medieval belfry, but the date of its construction is unknown.