Rich in natural beauty and cultural monuments, Mtiuleti boasts picturesque landscapes of alpine meadows, sparkling waterfalls, deep gorges and high mountain passes studded with medieval churches, watchtowers and fortifications. With the stunning 17th century Ananuri Fortress as its top attraction, Mtiuleti is also a mecca for lovers of khinkali – Georgian dumplings, said to be the best in the country.
THE HISTORY OF MTIULETI
Nestled on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, Mtiuleti is a historical province in eastern Georgia country. Bordered by Khevi to the north, it embraces the gorges of the White and the Black Aragvis. Mtiuleti includes sections of the Dusheti and Kazbegi districts of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region, with the townlet of Pasanauri as its traditional center.
In Georgian, Mtiuleti translates to “the land of mountains.” In its original and narrow sense, Mtiuleti consists of a small historic highland community known as Tskhavati. From the 13th century, the neighboring valleys of Gudamakari to the east and Khando to the south have also been viewed as being part of Mtiuleti.
During the early 4th century, Saint Nino, who is credited with introducing Christianity to Georgia, preached in Mtiuleti. In the 850s, the Arabs attacked the mountains of Iberia/ Kartli, but were unable to force the people of Mtiuleti into submission.
In the centuries that followed, the Mtiuleti people remained loyal subjects of the Georgian monarchy and joined the early 13th century expedition sent by Queen Tamar to subdue the rebellious highland clans. During Tamar’s reign, Mtiuleti was put under the rule of high-ranking Georgian officials due its strategic location.
During the early 14th century, Mtiuleti was fought over by 2 powerful feudal families: the dukes of the Aragvi and the Ksani. Initially enjoying support from the Georgian monarchs, the latter prevailed, but only for a short while. The eventual winners, the dukes of Aragvi, controlled the area until 1743 when they were dispossessed by the Georgian king.
In 1804, Mtiuleti was the scene of a revolt against the Russian Empire, which had annexed eastern Georgia in 1801. This was the first major Georgian uprising directed against Russian rule. The rebellion spread quickly to the neighboring mountain regions, but was eventually crushed by the Russians after heavy fighting.
In the Soviet era, Mtiuleti became a popular tourist destination, but suffered during the years of post-Soviet crisis. Since independence, the Georgian government has made efforts to restore Mtiuleti to its former glory as a worthwhile tourist haven in Georgia.
PLACES TO VISIT IN MTIULETI
Once you arrive in Mtiuleti, you will understand why in old times its proud people fought bravely for their land, time and again. From landscapes of stunning nature to spectacular cultural monuments, Mtiuleti offers an abundance of fantastic places to go in Georgia.
Dating from the 17th century, Ananuri Fortress is situated on the left bank of the Aragvi River, along the famous Georgian Military Highway. The fortress comprises a circuit wall with turrets, the Church of the Virgin, the minor Church of Gvtaeba, the single-nave Church of Mkurnali, Sheupovari tower, a tower with a Svanetian type stepped pyramidal roof, a porch, bell-tower, spring and reservoir.
Some of the eristavis (dukes) of Aragvi are buried Inside the Church of the Virgin. Constructed in 1689, the Church of the Assumption boasts richly decorated facades with the fine relief carvings of human, floral and animal images, including a carved entryway. It also holds the remains of several beautiful wall paintings.
The frescoes painted between the 17th and the 18th centuries depict the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers, who came to Georgia to spread Christianity. Ananuri has been included on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Pasanauri is a small town and the traditional center of Mtiuleti. Situated along the Georgian Military Road at a Georgian altitudinal zone of 1,050m above sea level, Pasanauri is flanked by the Aragvi River and surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains.
Its picturesque location, proximity to key historical sites, as well as its mineral water springs, hiking routes and handicrafts such as colorful carpets, has made Pasanauri a popular tourist destination.
Tourists also come to Pasanauri for its delicious Georgian food. The town is particularly famous for having the best khinkali (Georgian dumplings) in the country, as well as for dambali khacho cheese, which has been included on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia list.
One of the most popular Georgian cheeses, dambali khacho originates from the historic provinces of Mtiuleti and Pshavi. Dambalkhacho is a mildewed cheese made from quark. Quark is a fresh dairy product made by warming sour milk until it curdles, and then straining it. Quark is soft, white and unaged, usually with no added salt. Dambalkhacho is typically cooked in melted butter before eating.
Located 70km from Tbilisi, Zhinvali Reservoir is a hydroelectric dam built on the Aragvi River in 1986. It measures 11.5 square kilometers wide and has a maximum depth of 75 meters. With a volume of 520 million cubic meters, the dam supplies half the population of Tbilisi with water.
Construction of the dam began in 1971, with Soviet authorities facing protests by locals who did not want to be forcibly evicted from their villages. The villagers also protested that the dam would submerge the remains of the medieval Georgian city of Zhinvali.
Located at the crossroads of great trading routes, the city of Zhinvali was, throughout its history, a city of the Georgian elite. It was a wealthy city of merchants and craftsmen, with fortresses, palaces and towers. Although most of these had fallen to ruins over the centuries, the territory promised a big archaeological treasure.
Historical sources talk of Georgian King David the Builder settling the Kivchaghi people in Georgia at Zhinvali City.
Later, Georgian Queen Tamar is said to have given the city to her loyal Chiaber Mandaturtukhutsesi, a royal court servant. During excavations, the servant’s tomb was found with many Georgian artifacts including 17 coins from the Tamarian time of which, until then, only 2 existed – one in St. Petersburg and the other in England.
Unfortunately, the protests didn’t stop the Soviet authorities who proceeded to flood the area, burying centuries of history under water. Nevertheless in winter, you can still see a tiny gem of the old Zhinvali. As the water levels drop, a 12th century church once located on a hill overlooking the city, surfaces from beneath the waters.
Although the history of the city is forever lost, the dam still delights visitors with panoramic views of its incredibly beautiful turquoise-colored waters, from its photogenic setting nestled among lush green hills.
Stretching 112km across the Kazbegi, Dusheti and Mtskheta districts, the Aragvi is a river system in eastern Georgia and the left tributary of the Mtkvari. It is formed by the merger of the Gudamakari Aragvi (Black), Mtiuleti Aragvi (White), Pshav Aragvi and Khevsureti Aragvi rivers that flow from the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus. The Georgian Military Road trails the valley of the Aragvi.
The Aragvi River in Mtiuleti is one of the best white-water rafting destinations in Georgia. Rafters and kayakers can enjoy rafting in Pasanauri on Mtiuleti Aragvi, which offers big waves when water levels are high. The highlight of this rafting tour is the spectacular view of Ananuri Fortress set against the stunning Georgian countryside. At the end of the tour, you can camp and enjoy a delicious picnic by the river.
Rafting season on Mtiuleti Aragvi stretches from April through September. The route starts in Pasanauri and ends in Meneso village. With a difficulty rating of Class II-III (Easy), it is 13km long and takes about 1h 20m to complete. Boats are accompanied by qualified instructor/ guides who provide equipment, a safety briefing and training before you hit the water.
Khada (also Khde) is one of the most beautiful valleys in Georgia. Most visitors are attracted here by the panoramic vistas of Georgian nature, particularly from Korogho Church.
Nestled within Khada Valley is the small Khada Gorge, which is situated at Upper Lars on the left tributary of the White Aragvi, close to Georgia’s border with Russia. After Svaneti, Mtiuleti boasts the second largest number of towers in Georgia, most of which are concentrated within Khada Gorge. The towers were mainly built in the 10th century during the early feudal era.
Nestled on the slopes of the Lomisa Range and towering above Mleta Village, St. George Church of Lomisa is the main prayer house of the people of Mtiuleti. Dating from the 9th to 10th centuries, the church is one of the oldest in Georgia. In pre-Christian times, it was a Pagan temple dedicated to the Moon. Later, when Christianity spread in Georgia, a Christian church was built on the site.
Every June on the seventh week after Easter, Mtiuls gather here to celebrate Lomisoba – the most important local traditional festival. Hikers can access the church via the Lomisa Mountain hiking trail, which is one of the best Georgian day hiking destinations in winter. Along the way, enjoy stunning views over the Aragvi Valley and the road to Gudauri.
Nestled among breathtaking nature, Bazaleti Lake is a gorgeous lake located 5km south of Dusheti town. Fed only by rain and underground sources, the lake has waters rich in minerals which are believed to possess curative properties.
Gudauri Ski Resort
Winter sports enthusiasts can visit Gudauri Ski Resort – the most beautiful of the Georgia ski resorts, for amazing skiing and snowboarding. Or go paragliding for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that lets you free your mind and body in the air, as you soar over misty powdered peaks.
Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument
The Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument is located on the Georgian Military Highway between Gudauri Ski Resort and the Jvari Pass. It was built in 1983 to commemorate the bicentennial of the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk, which established Eastern Georgia as a protectorate of the Russia Empire.
The monument comprises a large round structure of stone and concrete that overlooks the Devil’s Valley in the Caucasus Mountains. The inside walls feature a tile mural that depicts scenes from Georgian and Russian history. Also known as the Gudauri View Point, the Georgian monument offers stunning views of the surroundings.
In ancient times, Tskhavati village was famous for its pottery, in particular kvevri (egg-shaped clay pots used in the ancient Georgian wine-making tradition). For a long time, Tskhavati earthenware crockery was in high demand in many towns and villages of eastern Georgia, especially the smaller-sized kvevris. Tskhavati’s poetry tradition has been included on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia list.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT MTIULETI
Mtiuleti weather is characterized by warm summers and cold winters. The best time to visit Mtiuleti is from the months of May to September when the weather is pleasantly warm and perfect for sightseeing.
HOW TO GET TO MTIULETI
For flights to Georgia landing at Tbilisi airport, you can rent a car and drive yourself to Mtiuleti. But driving in country Georgia can be challenging if you don’t speak the Georgian language or understand the Georgian alphabet. A better option is to travel to Mtiuleti via private transfer.
FINAL WORDS AND TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS
Mtiuleti is unique for its wild nature, deep gorges, dense forests, alpine meadows, sparkling waterfalls, medieval towers, and of course the towering Caucasus Mountains. You simply can’t go wrong with Mtiuleti on your itinerary when planning your next fantastic Georgian adventure!
Be sure to book Mtiuleti hotels ahead with our travel service. If you would rather drive, we have a modern fleet of Mtiuleti rental cars available for hire. We also arrange Georgia tours from Mtiuleti that include private transfers to and from Tbilisi airport.
Alternatively, create your own custom vacation package that includes the specific places you’d like to see and things you’d like to do in Mtiuleti. Fancy an amazing food and culture tour? Order your custom tour to Mtiuleti today for some fantastic sightseeing and the best khinkali in Georgia!