History & Legends
Svaneti was a part of the Colchian and later the Egrisian kingdom which existed from the sixth century BC to the seventh century AD and with its location in today’s West Georgia was an important forerunner for the making of the Georgian state. In some periods Svaneti was independent and governed by local councils.
According to Greek mythology the argonauts followed Jason to Colchis (present West-Georgia) to find the Golden Fleece. Allegedly, the search for Caucasian gold brought the Argonauts to the areas today known as Svaneti and Georgia.
Christianity is considered to have reached Svaneti between 523 and 530.
It is significant and rather thought-provoking that Svaneti, contrary to most other parts of the world, has never really been destroyed by external enemies. Undoubtedly the landscape, impassable high mountains is nature’s best protection. In times of trouble throughout history great Georgian art treasures have thus repeatedly been transported up in the mountains of Svaneti, as it was considered that here would be the safest place for the national treasures.
The fascinating tower houses for which Svaneti is so well known, mostly originate form the early Middle Ages. Some were built during the era of the legendary Georgian queen Tamar, who supposedly stayed in Svaneti for longer periods towards the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century. It was under her leadership that the Georgian kingdom experienced its greatest expansion.
The Svans have developed a unique type of wheat, special musical instruments and their own school for Christian wall paintings.
Different from the rest of Georgia, Svaneti was never destroyed by the Mongols. The region came under Russian rule in 1833. There was a major uprising against the czarist regime in 1875-76 when the state wanted to increase taxes and the last Russian governor was thrown out in 1905. It is said that Svaneti almost escaped the Russian revolution, the area was independent until 1924 when it came under soviet control.
The well-known Italian photographer and mountain climber Vittorio Sella visited Svaneti in 1889, 1890 and 1896 and made a series of valuable photos and time proofs of the mountains and landscape as well as people and cattle. Moreover, he documented people’s daily life.
The first car road that united Zugdidi in the lowland with Svaneti was built in 1934. Before that Svaneti was assessable only by cart, horse or on foot.
It is frequently said that Svaneti is the most Georgian part of Georgia. Here the old-Georgian language is best preserved, here the Persians did not come, and the Soviet system took even less root that elsewhere in Georgia. Here many people still have blond hair and green or blue eyes.