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Svaneti: The Gateway to Georgia’s Ancient Highlands


Svaneti, Georgia (CNN) — It is a darkish and eerie quiet night in February, simply 10 weeks earlier than Easter, when teams of males carrying torches make their solution to a close-by cemetery.

They would participate in night feasts, tearful toasts for the useless, singing sacred chants and dancing round bonfires. One by one, every grave is lit with torches comprised of home-dried birch, as tables sculpted from ice are set with jugs of home made spirits and saucers of bread pierced by skinny wax tones goes.

It marks the start of Lamproba, an annual ritual aimed toward securing a fertile spring and rekindling the reminiscence of the useless—actually and figuratively.

It is certainly one of many enduring traditions of Svaneti, a distant area unfold throughout an expanse of snow-capped peaks and spruce-covered valleys within the Georgia highlands.

Linked collectively by a sequence of small medieval settlements, the area is understood for its distinctive highland tradition, mysterious people customs, and historical vernacular. None of those is extra consultant of Svaneti than the lots of of koshkebi (medieval watchtowers) overlooking the mountainous panorama.

a hiker’s paradise

Thanks to the area’s rugged panorama and excessive isolation, it’s an intrepid traveler’s dream. Svaneti’s alpine summers reel in some ways for these seeking to conquer a web of trails by means of old style villages with crumbling church buildings, meadows of flowers and breathtaking views of the broad open vary of the Caucasus Mountains.

The most well-known trek takes about 3-5 days and begins in Mestia, a quaint townlet dotted with picturesque swan towers surrounded by towering peaks. Instead of pitching tents, the handy variety of villages alongside the route offers backpackers an in a single day respite at an area house keep the place the meals is heated and the wine fortified.

Among these villages is Adishi, a quiet little hideaway wealthy with historic websites such because the Twelfth-century St. George’s Church, the place pilgrims give because of the dragon-slaying martyr within the type of slaughtered sheep and potent home wine. Finally, as weary vacationers attain Ushguli, a bunch of villages sit within the shadow of the mighty Shakra Mountains.

It's easy to see why Svaneti is a popular destination for hikers.

It’s straightforward to see why Svaneti is a well-liked vacation spot for hikers.

Melanie Hamilton

Save for a couple of purple beer tents, Ushguli has remained principally unchanged since its conception within the Twelfth century, with younger boys racing bareback horses preserving the village buzzing.

On a lonely Ushguli hill is Lamaria, a humble Tenth-century Orthodox Christian church named after the traditional Swan goddess, and an everlasting instance of the fiery duality within the area. Inside you will see an altar lit with distressed frescoes and prayer candles, and a swirl of sunshine from the cleric above.

Though for the much less adventurous, Mestia and close by Mazari provide day hikes that may go away John Muir blushing. Spend the day strolling the Shadugara Falls atop Mazari village, or deal with the extreme day hike from Mestia to the pristine Koruldi Lakes.

To join the 2, spend the day trekking the Gully Pass – an intense however rewarding stretch between Mazari and Mestia. The route affords spectacular views of Mount Ushba, a peak steeped in lore round Dali, the swan goddess of looking and the central determine in historical people music and circle dance, “Dilil Kojas Khelghwajale” (“Dali is Giving Birth on the Crags”. “).

A culture as diverse as its landscape

“Khocha Ladgh” is the local greeting for good days.

Trapped in the jungles of the mountains for centuries, the Swan survived the many conquests and wars that devastated the lowlands of Georgia. Its isolation throughout history has defined it as a culture and language as defined by its landscape.

The vernacular, Swan – an unwritten, endangered cousin to Georgian – has survived only thanks to oral tradition, serving as another testament to the region’s resilience. And while the language may be in danger of extinction, its polyphonic hymns have preserved it in amber.

Groups of men donning woolen, garnet-coloured chokhas (traditional men’s coats) with raised daggers hanging from the waist still gather in their native swans to play the immaculate tunes of folk tales and ritual chants.

Men participate within the annual pilgrimage of St. Quirique, an Eleventh-century Orthodox church, to Kewirikoba.

Men take part in the annual pilgrimage of St. Quirique, an 11th-century Orthodox church, to Kewirikoba.

Melanie Hamilton

These folk melodies originate from many religious gatherings, unique to the area such as Quiricoba, which is an annual pilgrimage of Orthodox Christian believers to the 11th-century Orthodox church of St. Quirique, located on a high hill above the village of Cala. Is.

The holiday is marked with fervent prayers to the mysterious Shaliani icon, a relic usually kept behind glass in a local museum that is loaned annually for the holy day. Such traditions have been going on for a long time. Throughout history Svaneti has served as a hiding place, with relics and treasures often brought from the lowlands for safekeeping in times of war.

Hundreds of koshkebi (medieval towers) – some more than a thousand years old – make Svaneti feel more like a Tolkien epic and less like a place in modern Europe.

After all, the forests of Svaneti could never be fortified with a specific defense wall. In their day, these towers served as a warning to invaders and as living quarters for entire families. Many of these minarets still hover over Svaneti, of which the small village of Chajshi has a maze of 200.

Meanwhile, in Mestia you’ll find the Margiani House – a tower-turned-museum that encapsulates the lives of the famous Margiani family that once occupied it.

local eats

Svanuri marili (Svan Salt) is made from scratch using several spices.

Svanuri marili (Svan Salt) is comprised of scratch utilizing a number of spices.

Melanie Hamilton

Certainly the spine of Swan tradition is its meals – wealthy, dense and comforting. In a small slim schoolhouse off a rural street in Latali, girls in floor-length robes work toil on the grindstone as aromatic whispers of untamed caraway, coriander and garlic whisper.

They’re making savanuri marili (Sawan salt) the old-school means, by combining it from scratch with all seven spices: salt, coriander, blue fenugreek, crushed purple pepper, dill, marigold petals and wild caraway seeds.

Born out of a necessity to extend salt reserves, it rapidly grew to become a staple in Svaneti and Georgia. Add a smidge to your steaming pot of lobio—the neighboring racha-lekhkhumi stewed beans—or use it to make a easy cucumber tomato salad. Find it in little plastic parcels everywhere in the space and use liberally in every kind of Swan and Georgian meals.

The harsh winter meant a stockpile-friendly food plan consisting of meat, potatoes and grains.

Local favorites embrace tshmijabi, a dish comprised of piping scorching potatoes which might be was glazed cheese till an ultra-stretchy, gooey, putty-pure fuses collectively.

Even extra in style is kubdari – a smooth frisbee of bread filled with beef, stewed onions and spices.

For a meatless however equally filling possibility, select fettaviani, a flatbread made with salty mountain cheese and inexperienced millet flour, or chavishti, a crispy corn bread full of chunks of cheese. Wash all of it down with a swirl of native moonshine comprised of Swanetian alpine honey.



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