Among the majestic mountains, on the banks of the Potskhovi River, lies the compact, cozy town of Akhaltsikhe (Georgia).
This colorful city, the history of which dates back thousands of years, has played a strategic role since its founding, since it was located in the south-west of Georgia, not far from the border with Turkey, at the intersection of major routes.
About his past, it is clear even from the name: “Akhaltsikhe” – this is “New Fortress”. Although earlier, being the possession of a noble princely family Jakeli (900 g), this city was called differently – Lomisia. The name that exists now is first mentioned in the annals of 1204, dedicated to the military leaders Ivan and Shalva of Akhaltsikh.
Now Akhaltsikhe, whose population reaches almost 20,000 people, is the administrative center of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. Akhaltsikhe consists of the old city, spread out on a hill, and areas with new buildings erected on the plain.
It is impossible not to mention that people here are hospitable, always gladly make contact.
If you have a desire to learn the history of the ancient region of Samtskhe-Javakheti and get a lot of positive emotions, then the best solution is to see the sights in Akhaltsikhe. Here you can explore most of the most interesting historical sites for free, which allows you to save some money on your vacation. In 2-3 days it is quite possible to inspect everything: the city itself, its immediate surroundings.
Centuries old fortress of Rabat
The impregnable fortress of Rabat turned into a real city, occupying almost 7 hectares. From the center of Akhaltsikhe it is quite possible to walk to it – it will take 30 minutes at most.
The territory of this mighty fortification is a journey into various eras, here you can walk for hours, completely forgetting about life outside its walls. And if you come here in the evening, you can feel like in a fairy tale: strong spotlights illuminate the territory of the fortress, which creates the appearance that all structures are floating in the air!
The first mention of Rabat dates back to the 9th century, but then this building was not so grand. In the 12th century, representatives of the family of Princes Dzhakeli erected a castle and a citadel here, making it an impregnable outpost in southern Georgia. The fortification of Rabat has survived a lot over the entire period of its existence: in the fourteenth century, the soldiers of Tamerlane destroyed it, in the fifteenth century it was attacked by the Mongol Khan Yakub, and in the sixteenth century it was captured by the Ottoman army along with the city.
Over time, the citadel lost its tactical purpose. The tensions between the USSR and Turkey that developed in the twentieth century led to the fact that this area was closed to tourism, the Rabat fortress did not receive appropriate care and gradually collapsed.
Interest in Akhaltsikhe and Rabat resumed only after the collapse of the USSR, and in 2011 they began restoration of the ancient citadel. The Government of Georgia spent more than 34 million lari on restoration work (then it was almost $ 15 million). For reconstruction, we developed projects that allowed us to preserve the authenticity of existing structures, and also materials were selected that allowed us to “repeat” the construction techniques used in antiquity. By the end of summer 2012, the reconstruction was completed, and the “New Fortress” of Akhaltsikhe was opened for inspection and regular visits.
Now the territory of Rabat is divided into lower and upper, historical, parts.
So, first, about the lower part of the Akhaltsikhe fortress, which you can visit at any time of the day, and it’s completely free. Massive gates enclosed in powerful walls leading to the territory of the citadel, intended for walking: smooth paved paths, clean comfortable grounds, beautiful pools. There is also a young vineyard planted in an unusual step order.
At the bottom of the visitors, the Rabat Hotel awaits; against the background of its powerful walls of stone, balconies made of carved wood look unrealistically airy. Comfortable rooms cost from 50 GEL ($ 18.5). Delicious local cuisine is offered by the restaurant of the same name, located in the neighborhood.
The KTW liquor store, one of the best liquor stores in Samtskhe-Javakheti, offers an excellent range of drinks. It offers chacha, cognac, a variety of wines, including a very rare one made from rose petals. The store also impresses with its interior: there are a lot of exhibition windows, comfortable wooden furniture for guests, and magnificent domes from mirrors under the ceiling.
In the souvenir shop you can buy icons, luxurious silver jewelry with natural gems, as well as wine bowls and bottles made of pure wax.
At the entrance to the Rabat fortress in Akhaltsikhe, in its lower part, there is a tourist information center where you can immediately buy tickets for visiting the museum section of the complex.
Next, we will talk about the upper part of the Rabat Citadel – this is a museum territory, the entrance to which costs 7 lari, and for children under 12 years old – 1 lari. Having bought a ticket, you can walk along the fortification from 10:00 to 19:00, taking photographs and filming a video.
The upper part is separated from the lower part of the fortress by a powerful wall of stone, and the buildings here are made in a stepped structure, so you have to climb numerous steps all the time. In the museum part are the main attractions:
High observation towers (there are 4 of them), which can be climbed to the top by steep spiral steps. From the vast viewing platforms, the mountains are perfectly visible, amazing views of the city and the surrounding area open. The inner surface of the tower walls of the fortress is decorated with multi-colored stones, you can examine the premises that were used to store weapons.
The Akhmediye Mosque was built in the 18th century and was named in honor of Akhmed Pasha (Kimshiashvili). In 1828, when Rabat was captured by Russian soldiers, the Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Virgin was made from a mosque. During the restoration, the dome of the mosque was covered with gold, which causes associations with the Omar mosque in Jerusalem.
There is a gazebo with a fountain in Rabat, where you can always relax, drink clean water.
The History Museum (opening hours from 10:00 to 18:00) offers visitors an exposition telling about the history of ancient South Georgia. In this museum of Akhaltsikhe, taking photos is prohibited.
In the mountains, just 10 km from the center of Akhaltsikhe, there is another historical attraction – Sapara Monastery (Safara). Under Soviet rule, it was abolished, and since the 1980s it has been a functioning male monastery – 20 monks live there.
On the monastery territory is located:
- The oldest structure of the complex is the Church of the Assumption, built in the X century. It is known for its iconostasis, which is crowned with luxurious relief sculptures.
- Nearby is a solid domed church, the construction time of which dates back to the 13th century, and the bell tower. The bell tower has a dome made of solid stone slabs.
- A little further and higher on the slope are the fortifications, among which there are 3 well-preserved towers, a stone wall of small height, as well as cells (they are carved into the rock and built of stone).
- The main cathedral of the monastery – the temple of St. Saba, was built in the XIII century. This is the most powerful structure lined with carved stone on the monastery territory. Its architecture is dominated by flat surfaces and reduced proportions. Near the main temple there are 2 very small ones. All these monastery buildings have roofs made of stone slabs.
- The entrance to the southern part of the complex is closed. There are cells of monks and premises for economic purposes.
Sapara is a unique and most interesting place in Georgia near the city of Akhaltsikhe, but getting there is not so easy. There are no direct flights from the city bus station, but sometimes tourists here arrange a trip with the minibus driver – this will cost about 3 GEL per person. You can take a taxi, which will cost about 25 GEL.
It can also be reached on foot. From the central part of Akhaltsikhe, you need to go east on Rustaveli Street for about 2 km, then turn onto the road to the village of Khreli – the difficulty is that this turn is not marked. The village begins almost immediately, and the dirt road goes steeply up. After 2.4 km from the outskirts of the village, the road will lead to the pass of a small ridge, from where a panoramic view of Akhaltsikhe will open. Immediately behind the pass, on the left side, there is a house and a bunch of ruins – this is the village of Verkhny Khreli. On the right side there will be a clean pine forest, which is considered the best place for a wild night out near Akhaltsikhe. It is about 3 km to the monastery from the village of Verkhnye Khreli along a quite good road, from which you can see the city outskirts, the Kura Valley, the village of Minadze.
Entrance to the monastery is free. It should be noted that on weekends in Sapar it is very crowded, as excursions for schoolchildren come from all over Georgia.
Church of Queen Tamara
Throughout the history of Georgia, in this state was the only woman who ascended the throne and independently ruled the country. This is Queen Tamara.
The reign of Tamara (XII century) became the Golden Age for Georgia. It was thanks to Queen Tamara that Christianity spread in Georgia and became its religion. Beginning in 1917, on May 14, it was customary in Georgia to celebrate Tamarob’s holiday.
With special triumph and spectacularity, this national holiday is held in Akhaltsikhe, where in 2009-2010 the temple of Queen Tamara was erected. This modest-sized building is decorated in bright colors. Inside, the attraction looks modest enough, however, the whole altar shines with gold, and the walls are decorated with traditional paintings, on which there are many images of the queen.
In front of the temple there is a huge monument depicting Tamara, who sits on the throne, holding a symbol of power.
The monument and temple of Queen Tamara are located almost in the center of Akhaltsikhe, on Kostava Street, it is convenient to get to it from anywhere in the city.
How to get to Akhaltsikhe?
From Tbilisi to Akhaltsikhe
Finding out how to get from Tbilisi to Akhaltsikhe, it becomes clear that although there is a railway station in these cities, there are no direct flights, however, as with one change. What to do 2-3 transfers, it is better to forget about the train and use the bus.
Buses following in Akhaltsikhe depart from the metro bus station Didube. In Akhaltsikhe they come to Tamarashvili street, where the local bus station is located. Flights are available every 40-50 minutes, from 7:00 to 19:00, and a ticket costs 15 GEL. From Akhaltsikhe to Tbilisi, the distance is approximately 206 km, travel time is almost 3 hours.
From Batumi to Akhaltsikhe
You can also get from Batumi to Akhaltsikhe by shuttle bus, which leaves from the old bus station located on the street. Mayakovsky, 1. There are only 2 direct flights per day: at 8:00 and at 10:30. The journey costs 20-25 GEL, the journey lasts about 6 hours. By the way, these buses go through Borjomi, so there is an opportunity to visit the world famous source.
You can also get from Batumi to Akhaltsikhe by taxi, but is there any sense in such a trip? Taxis, as is usually understood, are not here – private cab drivers work who offer their services for too high a fee. A trip in the same minibus as a regular one, except with fewer passengers, will cost about €70.
When deciding how to get Batumi to Akhaltsikhe, it becomes clear that the most convenient option with such poor transport links is to drive your own car. It is desirable that this was an SUV, since although the roads were repaired not so long ago, there are a lot of unpaved areas.
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When is the best time to come to Akhaltsikhe
You can come to the city of Akhaltsikhe to admire its grandiose sights at any time of the year. But the best time to travel will be July-September: in May the temperature rises to +17 ° C, but quite often it rains for a short time.
In summer, usually there is no strong heat: the temperature can reach + 30 ° C, but on average the thermometer column is kept at +23 .. + 25 ° C. In early autumn, weather conditions are still comfortable, the temperature drops to + 18 … + 19 ° C. In such weather, it is pleasant to walk around the city, and it is not cold to climb the mountains.
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In autumn, in Akhaltsikhe (Georgia), magnificent pictures are revealed! Thanks to the trees, the mountains take on shades of yellow and purple, complemented by green spruce. The ridges are shrouded in a light haze, the air is filled with wonderful forest smells.
Video in good quality – Akhaltsikhe city and Rabat fortress, aerial shot.