12 Unique, Must-visit Fortresses in Georgia
The country of Georgia harbors some of the most spectacular tourist attractions in the world, including architectural masterpieces, alluringly beautiful landscapes, and famous wine destinations, among others. Nonetheless, you don’t want to miss out on the eye-catching Georgia fortresses spread out in the country. Most of these Georgia historical monuments were built in hard-to-reach areas, including gorges and mountain passes, to safeguard the cities from invasions.
The Georgian fortifications remain major tourist attractions up to date, although natural disasters and endless wars in the past have had a significant impact on their structure. With that being said, let’s guide you through 12 fortresses you ought to visit during your next trip to Georgia.
In Meskheti region of southern Georgia and on the top of a rocky hill overlooking the estuary of rivers Mtkvari and Paravani, stands one of the oldest Georgia fortresses, the Khertvisi fortress. It’s near the famous cave city of Vardzia and is easily visible from the Akhaltsikhe to Akhalkalaki road.
The monument is believed to be constructed in the 2nd century BC with the current walls dating back to 1354. In spite of several centuries, Khertvisi has maintained much of its original state. Khertvisi fortress was the center of the Meskheti region from the 10th to 11th century and then became a town in the 12th century. Following the destruction by the Mongols in the 13th century, the fortress lost its power until the 15th century when Meskheti royals took over its ownership. The Turks owned the fort from the 16th century until the 19th century when it was transformed into a military base for Georgia and Russian troops.
The present complex boasts ruins of a small church, fortified walls, and robust citadel. Two tunnels run from the eastern wall to the river: one was used for communication while the other for water delivery.
Standing firm on a hill above the Gori city in Kartli is the oval Gori Fortress, believed to be constructed centuries before the 13th century when records about it were first found. A fantastic historical illustration of the fortress drawn by Cristoforo Castelli in 1642 under the instruction of King Rostom remains to date.
The Georgia fortress controlled vital economic and strategic routes, and this could be the reason why the Ottomans captured it in the mid of the 16th century. For nine months, Georgians tried recapturing the fortress to no avail until they feigned a relaxation and launched a surprise attack in 1599 when they regained control.
The present form of the fortress is a result of the reconstruction by King Rostom and Erekle II in the 30s of the 17th century and 70s of the 18th century, respectively. In the middle of the south wall and southeast of the fortress are arched gates and ruins of a small church, respectively. The 1920 earthquake incredibly damaged this Georgia historical monument.
At the foot of Gori fortress is a circle of eight mutilated metal sculptures forming the Memorial of Georgian Warrior Heroes. The sculptures, made by Giorgi Ochiauri from 1981 to 1985, were relocated from Tbilisi’s Vake park to the present location in 2009.
At the heart of Telavi, the capital of Kakheti-the eastern region of Georgia sits the Batoni fortress or the Batonis Tsikhe. The Batoni complex comprises the remains of the palace of former Kakheti kings, bathhouses, two royal chapels, and a museum that houses a fine art gallery, military equipment, manuscripts, and ethnographic and archaeological exhibits. Surrounding the complex is a massive wall with massive circular towers at the corners
The Georgia historical monument was built in the 17th century by King Archil II of Kakheti region. Following the political conflicts of the 17th and 18th centuries, the palace underwent several destructions and renovations. Heraclius II, also known as Erekle II, built a considerable part of the surviving building in the 18th century. Following Russia’s occupation of Kakheti and Kartli in the 19th century, another building that functioned as an educational facility and later the Museum of Ethnography was constructed behind the rampart. As you visit the Botoni fortress, be sure to explore the rectangular palace with pointed arches, high ceilings, and four balconies.
If you ever left Tbilisi without visiting the Narikala fortress, you’ve not explored Georgia’s capital at all. Consisting of two-walled parts, Narikala (meaning inner fortress in Persia) overlooks Mtkvari River and Tbilisi and has seen several renovations over the centuries. Narikala is located between the Tbilisi botanical garden and the sulfur baths.
Narikala walls were constructed at different periods, with the earliest being built in the 4th century when Persian ruled over the region. Arab emirs built most of the existing walls in the 8th century, with Georgian King David the Builder expanding it considerably from 1089 to 1125. Some of Narikala’s fortifications date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. This Georgia historical monument has long been a symbol of Tbilisi’s defense abilities, notable for its strong towers, bastions, and walls.
Narikala offers you a panoramic view of Tbilisi. You surely don’t want to miss out on the stunningly beautiful sighting of this fortification at night. At its lower yard, is the easily distinguishable St. Nicholas church whose interior is decorated with frescos depicting scenes from the Bible and Georgia history. At the foot is the 161-hectare botanical garden. You can reach the fortress by boarding a cable car from Rike park or walking from Meidan.
The Kolagiri fortress was built in the later years of the 18th century by the wife of King Heraclius II, Queen Darejan. Found in the Kvemo Kartli region, the fortress served as an outpost for Tbilisi besides sheltering the neighboring population during invasions. It’s one of the last standing Georgia fortresses built during the feudal era.
This raw-stone historical monument occupies about 2000 square meters and has a square plan. At the corners are large cylindrical towers, each consisting of four floors, with the first three floors serving as warehouses for food, weapons, and ammunition. Inside the fortress stands the only building: St. Ketevan church that’s named in honor of holy Queen Ketevan.
Kolagiri fortress features two-tiered walls, with the lower tier being thicker while the upper tier walls being thinner and consist of defensive holes. The corner towers were built on the same principle, with the lower floors being thick while the upper ones incorporated embrasures. You will encounter the gates in the middle of the western and eastern walls. The gates have rectangular towers.
Sitting on the shores of river Potskhovi and a significant sight for Akhaltsikhe town is the Rabati castle believed to be established in the 9th century as Lomisa castle. It functioned as the capital of the Samtskhe-Saatabago dynasty from the 13th century to the later years of the 14th century. The fortress had to be restored following the destruction by Tarmalane’s army in 1393. Subsequent damage was carried out by the Mongols in 1486, with the Ottoman empire restoring it from the 16th century. The Georgian and Russian forces seized the monument in 1810.
Rabati fortress occupies seven acres and is divided into an upper historical part and lower modern part. In 2012, the complex became a city within a city following incredible reconstruction that saw the reinvention of the Jaqeli castle, Akhmediye mosque, the fortress and orthodox church walls, the citadel, baths, and mosque minaret. You will also find several shops, a hotel, a history museum, a synagogue, a civil registry office, and a small park inside the fortress. Be sure to enjoy spectacular views of the Akhaltsikhe city from any of the fortress’s towers.
The Ksani Fortress is a famous Georgia historical monument located atop Mt. Sarkineti and overlooking the intersection of the Mtkvari and Ksani rivers in the Mukharani district of Mtskheta. Ksani or Mtveri was constructed in 1512 by the prince of Mukharani, Bagrat I, with his descendant, Konstantin Mukhranbatoni renovating it in 1746. Above the gate is an inscription documenting the reconstruction.
Bagrat built the Ksani at a time when Giorgi the second, king of Kakheti, invaded the Kartli kingdom. In 1513, Giorgi placed the fortress under siege with the purpose of starving the defenders into surrender. However, the defenders had enough provisions and water, and this forced Giorgi to withdraw. However, Giorgi attacked again in the same year, this time being captured and confined in the fortress by Bagrat.
The original construction featured cobblestones, while bricks and mixed stone were used during the 18th-century reconstruction. The walls of this irregular polygon-shaped fortress are augmented with differently sized towers and bastions. A tunnel running through the mountain ridge supplied water to the fort. You will also find a wine cellar and pond in the courtyard.
Petra fortress stands on a hilly outcrop near the Black Sea shore in the Tsikhisdziri village in the district of Kobuleti. Petra is a Greek name meaning “rock.” It’s about 7 km from Kobuleti city, 20 km from Batumi, and 350 km from Tbilisi. Petra Fortress is believed to be the Hell castle mentioned by the Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli in his poem, “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.” The Georgia historical monument was virtually inaccessible, with it being located between the cliffs and the sea. It commanded a strategic point at the crossroads of the route connecting the western part of the country to Armenia and Iran.
The construction of Petra fortress dates to the 6th century during the Roman empire. The ownership of the fort changed hands in the course of several years, until 552 when Roman-Lazi recaptured it from Khosrow I and burnt it to ruins.
In Petra complex, you will find the ruins of a small 10th-century church, remains of a town, antique bath, soldier’s housing, and palace. A massive basilica church believed to be the Petra cathedral church also existed on the complex. From this site, archaeologists have excavated plenty of medieval, Roman, and Late Bronze Age objects.
Occupying a territory of 4.5 hectares in Gonio village, Adjara is a masterpiece of Roman-Byzantine army architecture and the oldest Georgia fortress-the Gonio fortress. Located near the mouth of River Chirokhi and about 15km from Batumi, the monument offers an ideal insight into the ancient culture and architecture. The Romans built in the 1st century AD. Its strategic location made it an essential pillar for the Ottomans (16th century), Byzantines (6th century), and the Roman Empire (1st century).
The fortress is rectangular in plan, measuring about 230m by 196m. Eighteen towers enforce the walls, which have several layers of construction owing to the numerous restorations carried out on the fortress. The oldest layer features large boulder rocks. The largest of the 18 towers are the four corner towers rising about 7 meters high. At the main entrance to the castle was an ornamented door said to be taken away by foreign archaeologists. You will love to check out the museum sitting at the center with a cross that marks what is said to be the grave of one of the Apostles of Christ, Matthias. Gonio fortress has long been a point of interest for archaeologists.
Khikhani is a famous Georgia fortress found on top of a rocky cliff in the Adjara region in Khulo municipality. Believed to be built in the 13th century, the historical monument has 5-7m high and 90-95cm thick walls with rectangular towers. It occupies about one hectare, with the largest portion being on the hillside. The fortress sheltered Georgian royals when Gori and Tbilisi fortresses were under attack.
Legend has it that the castle was constructed around the St. George church built in 1230AD by the archduke Tbel. Today, you will encounter the remains(foundation) of the hall-type church in the southeastern part of the castle. In this fortress, you will also find a 2m diameter pit well, remains of a Marani and bakeries. Access to Khakhani fortress is through a footpath and a rope ladder. In 2015, archeologists discovered 43 medieval wine-making qvevris on this site.
On a cliff in the valley of Khrami river and near the Pitareti monastery stands the Khuluti fortress built in the 17th century by Prince Baratashvili-Orbelishvili. Khuluti blocked the gorge passage and has walls with five differently sized towers. Each tower had several floors, with the upper two serving combat purposes while the rest served as residential places. Fireplaces heated the rooms, whose remains of wooden floors are extant. At the center of the fortress is a courtyard. Visitors can access the local stone castle through an uphill tunnel.
When traveling to Batumi from Tbilisi, or vice versa, remember to check out the Nokalakevi fortress found in the Senaki municipality, Samegrelo region. It’s about 50km from Kutaisi, 15 km from modern Senaki town, and on a plateau surrounded by a loop of river Tekhuri. Rendering the fortress impregnatable is the rocky, steep terrain on the north. It’s believed that Nokalakevi was established in the 3rd century AD and held a strategic position as Lazika’s capital. The first wall of this fortress was built of dark boulders while the second wall (believed to be built in the 16th century) features limestone construction.
Nokalaveli fortress harbors fantastic historical and religious monuments, including the baths, remnants of a palace, Forty Martyrs Church, tower with arches, and a unique tunnel that runs from the fortress to Tekhura river.
Most of these Georgia fortresses boast not only interesting features and stories but also offer spectacular views of the surroundings since they were built in high places. Several have undergone recent renovations to boost Georgia tourism while there are plans underway to renovate others. Although you may not be in a position to visit them all, don’t hold back from adding a few in your Georgia bucket list.