Issue 2, 2014. April-May

   

24 HOURS OUT OF TBILISI

Looking for something to do this Sunday? Investor.ge's Monica Ellena offers three options close enough to Tbilisi to see in a day trip, but far enough away for an adventure.

Russian poet Alexander Pushkin reportedly enjoyed soaking in Tiflis' thermal waters. But idling about in Abanotubani may not be the only reason why the revered bard called the Georgian capital "the fabulous land" - the bohemian vibe, the ornate buildings, and secret courtyard gardens still catch people's imaginations. But there is so much more to offer within two hours' drive of Tbilisi. Georgia's spectacular countryside hosts ruined fortresses, ancient churches, and archeological sites, making it possible to mix hiking and cultural excursions at the same time.

Bazeleti Lake and Ananuri

Ananuri

The splendid Ananuri complex, which lies about 60 km from Tbilisi, is just one example of how Georgians historically located fortresses and churches in the most beautiful locations.

Situated along the winding Georgian Military Highway, the Ananuri compound is perched on an indigo-colored reservoir with a magnificent mountain backdrop. Within the 13th-century fortress, there are two churches dating to the 17th century.

The larger, the Assumption Church, boasts a stone carved façade with lions, vines, and Georgian writing. A short climb up the tallest of the fortress' towers, at the top end of the complex, offers a fantastic view over Bazaleti Lake.

After Ananuri, you have a choice: either drive further to Pasanauri to eat the best khinkali in Georgia, or make your way to Tbilisi and stop for a picnic at Bazeleti Lake. Legend has it that a golden-haired child is lying in a golden crib at the bottom of Bazeleti, and that the water came from the mother's tears.

Birtvisi Canyon and Fortress

Set in scenery reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings, the maze of Birtvisi Canyon is one of the most spectacular hikes in the vicinity of the capital.

Birtvisi is a natural rocky fortress of 1 km², secured by walls and towers. This natural shelter was discovered by a local prince in the 9th century, who ordered a hidden city to be built there.

The complex became one of the most protected fortress-cities in the Eastern Georgian Kingdom, from where its rulers could control the entire strategic Algeti gorge. In 1403, Tamerlane conquered it - but only on his eighth attempt, after deceiving the Georgians.

For a day in the canyon and its evocative forest, drive to the village of Tbisi to start a one-hour walk to the entrance of the canyon.

Monument to the Battle of Didgori

Dozens of gargantuan swords pushed into the ground and posing like crosses; colossal cement blocks arranged like orderly coffins; enormous sculptures of dismembered bodies of warriors: by any standard, the monument to the Battle of Didgori is dramatic.40 km west of Tbilisi, the monument is on Mount Didgori, in the eastern part of the Trialeti Range, part of the Lesser Caucasus.

Built in the early 1990s, it glorifies King David IV, The Builder, whose army of 56,000 soldiers beat an army of 500,000 from the Great Seljuk Empire on August 12, 1121. The dzlevaysakvirveli (miraculous victory) paved the way for the re-conquest of Tbilisi in 1122, so that the city could become, according to a Georgian chronicle, "forever an arsenal and capital for his sons." It was the beginning of the Georgian medieval golden age.

The battlefield extends for several kilometers and is covered by subalpine meadows, making a great place for hiking and camping. Didgoroba, an annual festival held every September, still celebrates the victory.

Dmanisi Archeological Site

Skull 5 is like an old relative -about 1.8 million years old, in fact. It is one of five early human skulls unearthed by anthropologists in Dmanisi, a medieval hilltop village overlooking the confluence of two rivers about 93 km southwest of Tbilisi.

Despite the uninspiring name of the Homo Georgicus' skulls, researchers claim that the discovery forced a rethink of the story of early human evolution. Although not all scientists agree, the so-called Dmanisi collection represents the earliest evidence of primitive humans outside Africa and is the biggest collection of well-preserved early human remains anywhere in the world.

Nearby stands the Bolnisi Sioni Church, a square stone basilica with three naves dating from the fifth century, built with green tuff stone. The wall scripts are regarded as the oldest in Georgian.