In many ways Shida Kartli is Georgia’s heartland, filled with hidden valleys and secret treasures. Spreading out across both sides of the Mtkvari valley, Shida Kartli lies at the foothills of Greater Caucasus and the forested Trialeti Range, offering visitors a diverse range of cultural, educational, and archaeological tours, including walking tours to one of the main tourist attractions of the region. The continental climate in Shida Kartli region is very distinct from the rest of Western Georgia, however, the mountain peaks are covered with snow all year around.
What to see and do in Shida Kartli Region
The original fortress, constructed on a hilltop was named Gori (meaning hill in Georgian) and was mentioned in Georgian annals as early as the 7th century. Some historians believe that the fortress was built by Byzantine Caesar Heraclius to store ammunition when he fought against Persians. However, it wasn’t until the 11th century that the area became an active centre for trade, which is why some historians believe that David Agmashenebeli founded the town. Because of its geographical location, enemies frequently targeted the fortress, as conquering it meant controlling the whole Shida Kartli region. As such the fortress has been invaded many times and controlled by Ossetians, Iranians and Persians, amongst others. The stronghold has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The fortress was restored in 1774, during the reign of Erekle II, but it was significantly damaged during an earthquake in 1920.
Joseph Stalin Museum
The Stalin Museum includes the memorial house where Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) was born, a museum building with a tower, and Stalin’s personal carriage he used to visit Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam. There are many unique exhibits displayed there, including Stalin’s personal belongings and collections of paintings, photos, films, and other important historical works and items.
Ateni Sioni Church
The Ateni Sioni domed church is an early 7th century monument. It stands on the bank of the River Tana on the hilltop, like the Jvari monastery. Its façades are revenged with carved quadrangle greenish-gray stones and is richly decorated with ornaments. The walls of the church contain inscriptions using the early Georgian alphabet dating back to the 9th-11th centuries.
The cross-domed monastery of Kintsvisi, dedicated to St. Nicholas is a 12-13th century monument about 10 kilometers from the town of Kareli. The monastery is famous for its frescoes particularly the fresco of the Archangel from the Resurrection composition.
Uplistsikhe, one of the most significant tourist attractions in Shida Kartli is an ancient cave town, dating back to the 1st millennium BC. It’s where the foreman of Shida Kartli lived which is how the town got its name, which means ‘the Lord’s fortress’. In 4th-3rd centuries BC the settlement grew into an important strategic town, with two parts: the ‘inner’ town, located in the caves, which were used as shelter during invasions, and the ‘outer’ town where settlements were located around the caves. At the summit of the complex is a Christian basilica and there are many caves of different sizes and types to explore. You can also see fragments of roads carved in stone, ditches and secret tunnels.
The Skhvilo Complex is located on the high mountain slopes of the Kaspi borough. It was first mentioned in 10th century annals and the complex includes: a wall, main tower, church, and residential and operational buildings with their own water reservoir. The church has been invaded many times and it was significantly damaged in the 17th century.
The Tsromi Cathedral is located in the Khashuri borough in a village called Tsromi. Tsromi used to be one of the main cathedrals in 4th century. The present church was built in 626-634, but has been destroyed and restored several times. The cathedral was also severely damaged by an earthquake in 1940.
Khtsisi – St. John the Baptist Cathedral
The Khtsisi – St. John the Baptist Cathedral is located in the Khashuri borough, deep in the forest. According to an inscription found on the Eastern façade the church was built in 1002 and is still a functioning monastery today.
Surami Mountain Resort
The mountain resort of Surami, located on the southern slopes of the Likhi range, has been operating since 1928. Besides its healthy climate, Surami also has natural mineral springs, which can help to treat patients suffering from respiratory diseases.
Kvatakhevi is a medieval Georgian Orthodox monastery. Dating back to the 12-13th centuries its architectural form and decoration reflects the contemporary canon of a Georgian domed church. The monastery complex is covered with finely hewn white stone squares. The Eastern façade is adorned with a large ornate cross. The bell tower is a two-story building and to the West side there are residences dating back to the 19th century.
Uplistsikhe Historical & Architectural Museum-Reserve
The museum includes many artifacts and exhibits from the 1st Millennium BC including ceramic objects, and the wheel of an early iron carriage, many adornments, and jewellery and household objects.
Ruisi Cathedral of the Virgin
Ruisi Cathedral dates back to 7th-9th centuries and has been renovated several times up to the 18th century. Today you can still notice the 10th-11th centuries fragments on the façades.
Urbnisi is a town in the district of Kareli. Archaeological studies have demonstrated that the place was inhabited in the 3rd millennium BC and was an important city in ancient and early medieval times. A thick wall containing over 18 towers surrounded the town. In the 5th-6th centuries the largest three-nave basilica was constructed. The Bishop Theodore then restored it firstly in 9th-10th centuries and later by Queen Mariam in 17th century. One of the most significant events in the history of the Georgian church happened in Urbnisi – the Ruisi-Urbnisi ecclesiastic council was assembled here by David Agmashenebeli to deal with the problems within the church hierarchy.
Rkoni Monastery Complex
The Rkoni monastery complex is located in Kaspi district, near the town of Rkoni. The complex is divided into several layers: the Church of the Virgin Mary – dating back to the 7th century; the gate of the complex – dating from the 13th century; and a chapel, a church of John the Baptist, and a bell tower dating from the 17th-18th centuries; and housing for the monks. The Rkoni fortress is situated near the church and was used as a residence for Georgian feudal lords. Near the Rkoni monastery there is a bridge (King Tamara Bridge) over the river Tedzami and crossing this and climbing the hill brings you to another small church and cave carved in the rocks that was once used by monks.
The Surami Fortress overlooks the town of Surami. The exact date of construction is not known, though the town itself has existed since the 12th century. During his fight against Iran, Giorgi Saakadze defended the stronghold. Later the castle was conquered by the Osmans and during the 18th century it was held by Georgian and Russian soldiers. Besides the castle, there are 9 Christian churches and one synagogue in the area.
In 1944-1945 fourteen graves, dating back to 7th-6th century BC were discovered, some of them covered by cobblestones. Later, high quality black and red-burnt earthenware, silver, and bronze materials were also discovered.
Khizaant Gora, an archaeological monument of Shida Kartli, is located on the left bank of the river Mtkvari in a village called Urbnisi. In an area of 8 metres wide, no less than twelve antique cultural strata have been found. One gravesite discovered at this site belongs to the Bronze Age, and nineteen residences dating back to the 3rd-1st century BC have also been excavated here. In the 6th century a fortress also stood here which included a huge tower with six separate storage are.