Built in the 10th century, Atskuri Fortress was an important stronghold for the defense of Georgia during the Medieval ages.
If you walk about 3km upstream, beyond the ‘attractions’ of the park proper, you’ll find a small, spring-fed swimming pool with a constant temperature of about 27°C.
BORJOMI-KHARAGAULI NATIONAL PARK
The Chulevi monastery sits on the left bank of the Kvabliani river, near the town of Adigeni in the historic province of Samtskhe. The monastery is alternatively known as Chule or Chulebi. The site was home to a monastic community already in the 11th century, but it was in the latter part of the 14th century that the current edifice was constructed to become a major religious and cultural center in south Georgia. An inscription in the medieval Georgian asomtavruli script reveals the name of the artist Arsen who frescoed the interior of Chulevi in 1381. The murals depict, inter alia, a group portrait of the local princely house of Jakeli, patrons of the monastery.
The Chulevi monastery shares a series of common features with the contemporary and nearby located churches of Zarzma and Sapara such as the typically elongated overall plan and the interior space, rectangular shape with no projections, a dome resting upon the walls of the altar and two cross-shaped pillars.
After the Ottoman conquest of the area, the Chulevi monastery declined and had been completely abandoned by 1595. The locals, still Christian at that time, saved the bells and some other church items by burying them in the adjacent wood. The bells were accidentally discovered in the 1980s and donated to the Akhaltsikhe local museum but were eventually turned over to the monastery once it was restored to the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate in October 1999.
A team of Russian architects attempted, unsuccessfully, to repair the church in 1935/36 and several architectural details were lost in the process. Another attempt at rehabilitation was made in the 1970s and 1980s but was then interrupted. It was not until 2003 that systematic reconstruction fieldworks were launched and the monastery has largely been repaired since then.
According to the Georgian Chronicles the city was established in the 9th century by Guaram Mampal, son of the King of Tao. From the 13th to the end of 14th centuries it was the capital city of Samtskhe-Saatabago, ruled by the Georgian princely (mtavari) family and a ruling dynasty of the Principality of Samtskhe, the House of Jakeli.
In 1393 the city was attacked by the armies of Tamerlane. Despite the Turko-Mongol invasions fortress withstood and continued to thrive. After the Treaty of Constantinople in 1590, the whole territory of Samtskhe-Saatabago went under the rule of Ottoman Empire. Turks Mostly used to build defensive edifices. In 1752 first mosque was built in Rabati.
By the end of the 18th century Metropolitan John writes that “despite the fact that a large part of the population has been Islamized, there’s still a functioning Orthodox church”. After the Treaty of Georgievsk between the Kingdom of Kartli and the Russian Empire was signed, the question of the fate of Akhaltsikhe arose. The first attempt to take the fortress in 1810 failed. Russians took the city after 18 years in 1828. After the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, the Ottomans yielded part of Akhaltiske Region.
The fortress and its adjacent buildings were extensively rebuilt and renovated in 2011-2012 in order to attract more tourists to the area.
It has existed from at least the 9th century, and has numbered among its monks many important figures in Georgian ecclesiastical history. At the end of the 13th century Sapara became a possession of the Jakeli family, whose leader, Sargis Jakeli, was adept at staying on good terms with the Mongols, which enabled Samtskhe to enjoy a peace unusual for the time. When he grew old, Sargis took monastic orders and changed his name to Saba. His son Beka built the largest of the 12 churches here, St Saba’s Church, named after the saint whose name his father had adopted, one of the most architecturally important churches of its time. The 14th-century frescoes inside are of high quality.
From the end of the 16th century until the beginning of the 17th century the Sapara Monastery became empty due to the expansion of Turkish policy into Samtskhe and during this process the monastery’s icons and other treasures were taken to more protected areas of Georgia.
The name “Tmogvi” is derived from Georgian word mogvi, meaning “pagan priest” or “magus”. The fortress is first mentioned in sources from the 9th century. It was built as a defensive work controlling the ancient trade route between the Javakheti plateau and the gorge of Kura, over a gorge formed by the Kura River. It was a crucial military stronghold in the region of Javakheti. The feudal lords of the region were at that time the Bagratids, the Georgian branch.
Tmogvi gained importance after the neighboring town and fortress of Tsunda was ruined around 900 AD. By the beginning of the 11th century, the fortress had passed under the direct control of the unified Kingdom of Georgia.
In 1073, it was given in apanage to the nobleman Niania Kuabulisdze; his descendants kept it in the following centuries, before it passed to other major feudal families such as the Toreli, the Mkhargrzeli, the Shalikashvili or the Jakeli. In 1088, the castle collapsed in an earthquake. The medieval Georgian writer Sargis Tmogveli was from Tmogvi. The Ottoman Empire gained control of the fortress in 1578. In 1829, the Treaty of Adrianople transferred the fortress, among with the surrounding region, to the Russian Empire.
There are also two churches in the complex. A newer stone church that is in quite good shape stands near the top of the wall, and a smaller, domed church that clings to the rock on the level of the highest tunnels
The Zarzma monastery is nested in the forested river valley of Kvabliani in the Adigeni municipality, 30 km west of the city of Akhaltsikhe. It is the complex of a series of buildings dominated by a domed church and a belfry, one of the largest in Georgia.
The earliest church on the site was probably built in the 8th century, by the monk Serapion whose life is related in the hagiographic novel by Basil of Zarzma. According to his source, the great nobleman Giorgi Chorchaneli made significant donation – including villages and estates – to the monastery. The extant edifice dates from the early years of the 14th century, however. Its construction was sponsored by Beka I, Prince of Samtskhe and Lord High Mandator of Georgia of the Jaqeli family. What has survived from the earlier monastery is the late 10th-century Georgian inscription inserted in the chapel’s entrance arch. The inscription reports the military aid rendered by Georgian nobles to the Byzantine emperor Basil II against the rebellious general Bardas Sclerus in 979. In 1544, the new patrons of the monastery – the Khursidze family – refurnished the monastery.
The façades of the church are richly decorated and the interior is frescoed. Apart from the religious cycles of the murals there are a series of portraits of the 14th-century Jaqeli family as well as of the historical figures of the 16th century. After the Ottoman conquest of the area later in the 16th century, the monastery was abandoned and lay in disrepair until the early 20th century, when it was reconstructed, but some of the unique characteristics of the design were lost in the process.
Currently, the monastery is functional and houses a community of Georgian monks. It is also the site of pilgrimage and tourism.
A smaller replica of the Zarzma church, known as Akhali Zarzma (“New Zarzma”) is located in the same municipality, near Abastumani. It was commissioned by Grand Duke George Alexandrovich, a member of the Russian imperial family, from the Tbilisi-based architect Otto Jacob Simons who built it between 1899 and 1902, marrying a medieval Georgian design with the contemporaneous architectural forms. Its interior was frescoed by the Russian painter Mikhail Nesterov.