The Svaneti Towers of Northern Georgia

The Svaneti Towers of Northern Georgia

Svaneti Towers near Mestia, Georgia

The Svaneti Towers of Northern Georgia.

In the rugged mountain passes of northern Georgia, you will find these interesting defensive towers sprinkled through the villages and farms.

Because of the steep valley walls, it was difficult to build one fortress to encompass each village, so individual defense towers (called koshki by locals) were built instead.

Most Svaneti towers were built 800 and 1200 AD and were usually used to defend the villages from invaders (Persians, Mongols, and Turks being just a few of the people who came through wanting a piece of this Caucasus pie.) In the villages of Ushguli and Chazhashi there are as many as 200 Svaneti towers in various states of repair. Until recently, inter-familial blood feuds among the Svans were not uncommon and sometimes families had to barricade themselves inside until a settlement could be reached.

Village of Murkmeli, near Ushguli.
Village of Murkmeli, near Ushguli.

Today, many families still use them for storage, and some charge a modest fee for visitors to climb to the top.

Nev Chamberlain (who I met in Kyrgyzstan in 2018) were traveling companions to Mestia. He and I decided to see what these towers looked like from the inside. The entrance to this home is on the ground floor, but the tower entrance is actually a couple floors up. That made it more difficult for enemies to even begin to get inside once the ladder was hauled up.

Svaneti tower connected to a home.
This home’s second floor spans the road. The entrance to the tower is on the left side. Notice the lookout over the road. Maybe it was a toll road at some point?
Pile of animal bones on the floor of a Svaneti Tower
In one corner of the third floor I found a pile of animal bones. ??? Maybe they ground them for fertilizer. That is just a guess.

I banged my head twice climbing up ladders. Then I got smart and took off my hat so I could see overhead better. The last step at the top was always a long one. This made me nervous about how I would fare getting down. I only went up a few floors. As I went up, the ladders seemed to get ricketier, so I quit. 

Cathy Climbing up a rickety ladder inside one of the Svaneti Towers
Photo by Nev Chamberlain

Nev bravely continued up to the top floor where he just stuck his head up through the hole. He said that the last step was very high, and he too did not want to have to figure out how to maneuver it going down. He also reported that there was yet another ladder on the top floor leading to the rooftop!

Nev climbing up one more floor.

I wondered how challenging it must have been to deal with toddlers during a siege. They would not be able to resist climbing these ladders.

The Svaneti towers are now protected as a UNESCO world heritage site. You can learn more here.  

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