Here is another installment of the Small Town series. Today's country is Georgia. All of these small towns have 50,000 inhabitants or less. I will be covering 7 different towns in today's post. I have included as much as I can about each small town.
According to archaeological findings, Telavi has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and was developed into a significant political and administrative town in the centre of the Kakheti region. Telavi is a fascinating place for architecture and design nerds. Since its existence, Kaktetian Kings, Russian Tsars, Romans and Georgian monarchs have all left their architectural marks. Among its more famous attractions are the old fortress walls (Dzveli Galavani), the fortress of the lord (Batonis Tsikhe) and a 900-year old sycamore tree.
The largest town in Kakheti, Telavi is set in the vineyard-strewn Alazani valley, between the Gombori Mountains and the Great Caucasus (visible to the northeast). It’s the perfect base for exploring the region's viticultural, historical and architectural riches, and has a number of good guesthouses, hotels and restaurants, as well as a fascinating castle and museum complex.
Kaspi Municipality is located in Shida Kartli. Traces of human life in the area date back to the Stone Age, as evidenced by ancient remains and archaeological material. Kaspi was prominent from an early period and had significant military and cultural significance due to its geographical and strategic location. It was a fortress-town with its own spasalar. In the V century, during the reign of Vakhtang Gorgasali, Kaspi was at a high stage of development, with a great emphasis on education and upbringing. The chronicler says that the nobles and kings sent their children there for education. Sister of Vakhtang Gorgasali, Mirandukht, grew up in Kaspi. In the VIII century, the Arab commander Marwan the Deaf completely destroyed Kaspi and life has stopped there. In the XV century it belonged to the feudal ancestor of Amilakhvari, administratively it was part of Kartli Saeristavo. In the second half of the XV century King Simon I of Kartli expropriated Kaspi from Amilakhvars and sacrificed it to Svetitskhoveli.
It was a village-type settlement in the XIX century. Kaspi has been a separate district since 1930. Nowadays, there are educational institutions, museum of local lore, cultural and leisure areas in the region. It is also a building materials production center in Georgia. There are cement, alcohol, canning and confectionery factories on the territory of the municipality. The Central Railway runs through Kaspi territory, which increases its economic potential. Agriculture is also developed and the main fields are: viticulture, fruit-growing, horticulture, breeding. The region is distinguished by the beauty of nature, and there are many important cultural and historical monuments. The ancient fortresses and temples of Kaspi, such as the Rkoni Monastery, Rkoni Fortress, Samtavisi and many others, are very popular and attract many tourists.
Borjomi is famous for its resorts and mineral water. The original water is a bit warm with a salty and sulfuric taste. The manufactured and bottled spring water tastes very different and is a lot more carbonated compared to European spring waters. The drink is still popular in former Soviet countries, and for Georgian men it’s the best drink to cure hangovers. Besides sampling the water, you can visit the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. Or if culture is more your thing, head to the neighbouring village, Likani to explore the Romanov summer palace. Another great option is to take the Borjomi-Bakuriani railway Georgians call ‘Kukushka’ for magnificent views of lush forests. On the way, you might come across the masterpiece, Gustav Eiffel, the bridge that connects Tsagveri to Tsemi. In 1902, Romanov, part of the Russian royal family,ordered the bridge to be built in France and brought Georgia.
Famous throughout the former Soviet Union for its salty-sour, love-it-or-hate-it fizzy mineral water, Borjomi is a tranquil resort town surrounded by thickly forested hills in all directions. The 19th-century Russian governor of Georgia, Count Vorontsov, developed Borjomi as a resort after his soldiers discovered a health-giving mineral spring here in 1810, and it became a particularly fashionable one when Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov (brother to Tsar Alexander II) built a palace at nearby Likani in the 1890s.
Mtskheta is one of Georgia’s most famous towns. The former capital is just a 20-minute drive from Tbilisi and is the one place every Georgian takes their visitors to see. Founded 3,000 years ago, Mtskheta’s main attraction is the marvellous Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. This architectural masterpiece of the early middle-ages is also known as the burial place of Christ’s mantle and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mtskheta has been Georgia’s spiritual heart since Christianity was established here in about 327, and holds a near-mystical significance in Georgian culture. It had already been capital of most of eastern Georgia from about the 3rd century BC, and remained so to the 5th century AD, when King Vakhtang Gorgasali switched his base to nearby Tbilisi. Mtskheta has always kept its status as Georgia's spiritual capital, and its Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is still the setting for important ceremonies of the Georgian Orthodox Church. With an alluring setting where the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers meet, Mtskheta makes an easy and enjoyable day trip from Tbilisi.
Mestia is a central city of Svaneti region. Located 128 kilometers from the capital, it’s a good idea to make a stop here if you’re already heading to Zugdidi. Even though flights operate from Natakhtari to Mestia’s Queen Tamar Airport, your trip might be canceled last minute due to weather conditions.
One of the most remote regions of Georgia, Svaneti has managed to retain its medieval defensive towers, traditions, and treasury. For adventure lovers and hikers, Mestia is an excellent base town. Svaneti offers one of the most beautiful lakes and hiking opportunities in the whole country.
The 'capital' of Upper Svaneti, Mestia is a sprawling conglomeration of at least 10 hamlets, dotted with picturesque Svan towers. The oldest of the hamlets, with most of the towers, are above the river on the northern side of town: Lekhtagi in the northwest, and Lanchvali and Lagami to the northeast. Government-sponsored tourism development has seen Mestia's central square Setis moedani rebuilt, a rush of new hotels, and the construction of ski resorts and a small airport. While you'll no longer really feel you're exploring the remote Svaneti of legend here, it's a great base for hiking and other activities that do take you into the rest of the region, where in so many places time really has stood still.
With its long history, archaeological treasury, beautiful town centre and breathtaking views of the Alazani Valley, Sighnaghi never leaves its visitors unsatisfied. Once here, another must-see destination is Bodbe Monastery. Located just two kilometres from Sighnaghi, the area is a prominent religious place as it houses the remains of St. Nino, the saint who brought Christianity to Georgia.
Sighnaghi is perhaps Georgia's single most attractive town, with an amazing position perched on a lofty hilltop facing the snowcapped Caucasus looming in the distance across the vast Alazani valley. Full of 18th- and 19th-century architecture and with a vaguely Tuscan feel, Sighnaghi has seen a comprehensive renovation program in recent years that has seen scores of hotels open as the local population reorients itself towards the tourist dollar. The good news is that despite the tour groups and quad bikes, the town has retained its easy charm and is still a lovely place to spend a couple of days.
Located 157 km from Tbilisi at 1,740 meters above the sea level, this small town was founded by a monk called Stephan, who built a hermitage here. This town’s name, Stepanstsminda is a portmanteau of the two words, ‘Stephan’ and ‘Saint.’ Situated in the Greater Caucasus, the only road that leads to the town offers magnificent views. The town itself is not designed for tourists, but the reason it’s quite popular is because of the Gergeti Trinity Church, which sits at the base of Mount Kazbegi.
This is most people’s destination on the Georgian Military Hwy: a valley town with the famous hilltop silhouette of Tsminda Sameba Church and the towering snowy cone of Mt Kazbek looking down from the west. Now officially named Stepantsminda, but still commonly known as Kazbegi, it's a base for some wonderful walking and mountain biking. What 20 years ago was just a big village has now grown into a sprawling town, with guesthouses and hotels everywhere and tourists arriving by the busload in the summer months. While this may not have added to Stepantsminda's charm, the town's location remains absolutely stunning and it's still very easy to escape the crowds and explore the surrounding mountains and valleys in peace.
This post was so much fun to research. I personally never knew much about Georgia and this gave me a chance to really look into it. Georgia has now been added to my Bucket List and I can't wait to be able to visit it.