The Historical and Ethnographical Museum of Mestia
Svaneti, one of the most ancient and historical provinces of Georgia, is located on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountain range. Surrounded by the gigantic, snow-capped peaks of the high Caucasus, Svaneti is one of the most remarkable and picturesque regions of Georgia, if not of the whole world. Aside from the stunning natural beauty, the region’s real treasure are people - the Svans. With their own language, related to but distinct from Georgian, their own ancient traditions and crafts, and their immense sense of honour, Svans have always been a proudly independent people. Reflecting their pride and independence, many Svans today still live in 25 metre high medieval stone towers, of which thousands survive. These towers, some with foundations dating back a millennium, were used to protect families in time of war, and it is said that some still house ancient treasures, brought up to Svaneti hundreds of years ago to protect them from invaders. Indeed, Svaneti’s museums boast world class collections of icons, religious manuscripts and gold and silver jewellery. Summer in Svaneti is short and mild and the winter is very strict and long.
Svaneti has preserved its original medieval architectural appearance to a remarkable degree. The characteristic landscape of Svaneti is formed by small villages on the mountain slopes, dominated by towers and surrounded by a natural backdrop of gorges, alpine valleys and snow-covered mountains. The majority of tower settlements in Svaneti come from the early middle ages and the Svan towers were primarily used as defensive structures. Most of these towers are 20-25 metres tall and have four or five storeys. The tower levels are connected to each other via internal wooden staircases and covered by gabled roofs, with several narrow defense windows. On the highest floor there is usually a platform to attack from during invasions. The towers were built from local stone and some families still use the upper floors for storing crops.
Mestia, the main regional centre of Zemo Svaneti, is situated 456km from Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi and is 1,500 metres above sea level. Mestia is the starting point for most trips in Svaneti, with a range of hotels, guesthouses and local travel services. It is a convenient base for exploring the area. From the centre of the town it is possible to hike up to the glaciers at the foot of mount Ushba, or take horses up to the pristine alpine meadows. Plus, a new ski resort and a new ski lift (length: 1407m) makes it possible to ski or snowboard even in the height of summer. Tourists interested in religious history will find plenty of examples of wall paintings, frescoes and icons from the Middle Ages in the churches around Mestia.
Most of the treasures of Svaneti are found in the Historical and Ethnographical Museum of Mestia, which was founded in 1936 and houses collections of the Church of Saint George, in Seti. Exhibit highlights include icons from the Middle Ages and ancestral artifacts from the noble family Dadeshkeliani dating back to the Middle Ages. You can also view samples of metal chasing work from the 11th century, heirlooms from the Svaneti Dadeshkeliani royal family and an exhibition of Vittorio Sella’s prints, an Italian photographer who travelled in Svaneti in 1889, 1890, and 1896, taking photographs of Svaneti’s landscapes and settlements, and documenting the daily lives of the local inhabitants.
Latali-For centuries Latali was one of the strongest and richest communities of Zemo Svaneti. While the villages around Latali are known for their churches, the region itself has earned a reputation for its talented musicians and during festivities, visitors can enjoy the unique and amazing ancient polyphonic songs of the locals. Becho The path that connects Zemo Svaneti to North Caucasus is in Becho. A 13th century icon of the Archangel can be found in the nearby Church of the Messiah in Chokhuldi.Kala- The most significant cultural sites in Kala are the Ipari churches of the Archangels and Saint Kvirike. The Church of St. Quiricus is the biggest in Zemo Svaneti. On July 27th in Kala there is a celebration for Saint Kvirike, which is attended by most of the local community. In Svaneti, Kvirike is known as an agricultural divinity, which grants and protects the fertility of both people and animals. Ipari- The biggest and most decorated church in this community is the Nakipari Church, built in the 10th century. The church also contains an 11th century icon of Saint George carved in gold and silver.
Ushguli’s Medieval constructions, just like the towers and churches of Svaneti, is under the protection of UNESCO. A historical settlement located in the very East of Svaneti, Ushguli is one of the highest settlements in Europe (2,000-2,200 metres above sea level). It was part of the so-called “Free Svaneti” as for centuries the people here defended the region against numerous attacks. Ushguli is also the home to the remnants of one of the most ancient fortresses of Svaneti with 37 towers, dating back to the reign of Queen Tamar. There is also superb area hiking and climbing, while horse riding and mountain biking are also available.