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Travel information, Geography, History

Kartli is the largest and most populated province of Eastern Georgia. It includes the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and two other major cities, Gori and Rustavi. It is bordered by the mountain-range of the Greater Caucasus to the north, by the province of Kakheti to the east, by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the south, by Turkeyand theSamtskhe-Javakheti region to the south-west and by the province of Imereti to the west.

In the 3rd century BC the ancient Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli, also known as Iberia, was established here. Its king declared Christianity as the official religion of Kartli in 337 AD. In the early Middle Ages, Kartli lost its political importance because of the struggle between the King and strong feudal rulers, as well as the aggression of the strong Persian Kingdom. Even so, in a way, it remained Georgia’s leader because of the independence of its Church and culture from Byzantine influence.

Kartli region divides into two parts: Kvemo Kartli (which in Georgian means “Lower Kartli”) and Shida Kartli (which in Georgian means “Inner Kartli”).

Kvemo Kartli is a region in the south of Georgia. It shares a border with the Trialeti, Javakheti, and Bambak-Erevani Mountain ranges. The capital is Rustavi.

The landscape of Lower Kartli consists largely of steppes and forested steppes. The lowlands in the region are characteristic of semideserts. Some of the biggest rivers of the region include the Mtkvari, Khrami and Algeti. There are a number of volcanic lakes in Lower Kartli (in the areas of Ozormani, Sarkinet-Gomareti and Kamarlo). Kumisi Lake is an interesting area due to the fact that its mud is used for curative purposes in Georgian spas and resorts.


The lowlands of Lower Kartli have a moist and subtropical climate. In the Javakheti Mountain range, the climate enjoys moderate levels of precipitation and the average annual temperature is 3-12° C. In the Tsalka area, the climate is similar to dry, Asian mountainous sub-tropical. The average annual temperature here does not reach above 6°C.

Introducing Kvemo Kartli

The Algeti National Park in the Trialeti region is especially interesting, offering a large diversity of flora and fauna. It is often referred to as Floral Junction, since it supports such an array of flora, including plants native to Colchis, Persia, Iberia, Iran, the Middle East, and the Caucasus area.

The Bolnisis Sioni Church is one of the oldest in Georgia. It was built in the 5th century during the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. The church is an unusual building without traditional elements of Georgian architecture. Its outer appearance is simple and laconic. The walls are covered with smooth deep turquoise beveled sinter tiles. Bolnisi is interesting in its inscriptions, which are ancient samples of well-preserved Georgian writing. The church is adorned with uniquely shaped crosses that became called Bolnisi crosses. They are carved in stone on the abutments, apses, and columns of the church. A Bolnisi cross has arms with a special fluted shape and all of the same length. It is usually placed in a circle. It is believed that this cross goes back to the time of the rule of Constantine the Great (306-337), who, in 313, issued the Edict of Milan, permitting the free preaching of Christianity in Byzantium.

Lower Kartli is especially interesting in terms of its archeology. Significant archeological excavations have taken place in this region, especially in Dmanisi. The Dmanisi settlement dates back to the medieval ages but was internationally unknown until ancient human remains were discovered there a few years ago, capturing the world’s attention. Specialists believe that the human bone fragments found in Dmanisi belonged to a people which lived here 1.7 million years ago. Previously, scientists believed that the first prehistoric human beings lived in central Africa, and from there they settled in Eurasia about 600,000-1,000,000 years ago. Discoveries from Dmanisi forced them to reconsider some existing theories. Now it is thought that the human remains discovered in Dmanisi may be from the oldest known human being in Europe and Asia. The discovery at Dmanisi is of a global importance and is widely considered a major archeological discovery of the 20th century. The skulls found in Dmanisi are currently kept in the Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia.
Dmanisi is a town situated on the River Mashavera. It arose around the 6th century BC and was a large trade and craft center of Georgia. It was the largest fortified fortress-town of Lower Kartli and according to historical sources, the town of Dmanisi was the summer residence of Queen Tamar. A medieval tower and citadel, cellars, baths, halls, jails, and ruins of households and other buildings still exist. A tunnel dating back to the 12th century is of particular note.

The town was destroyed on multiple occasions as a result of several invasions by Tamerlane, a powerful central Asian conqueror of the 14th century. During the 17th century this fortress was ruled by the Aratashvili family. The area was once again revived and was used as a burial ground.

Excavations of Dmanisi began in the mid-20th century. Town gates, cobbled streets, bathhouses, a tunnel to the river, residential houses, a pottery, dairy, trade stalls, barns, wine cellars, a mosque with minaret, and a madrasah were found there. A large variety of pottery of the 9th-13th centuries was discovered, as well as work tools, weapons, and a treasure trove of 25 gold and silver ornaments of the 12th-13th centuries.
During excavations in 1991, the remains of the oldest species of man to become extinct in Europe—Homo georgicus—were found in Dmanisi. Georgicus was presumably the intermediate stage in evolution between Homo habilis and Homo erectus. He is 1,770,000 years old, which is confirmed by stratigraphic and paleomagnetic studies, as well as by studies of the surrounding fossil fauna. So Homo georgicus is the oldest species of man that lived in Europe. Homo georgicus was 145-166 cm tall and weighed 40-50 kg.

Introducing Shida Kartli

The Shida Kartli Region is situated in the central part of Georgia. The capital is Gori. Gori is one of Georgia’s oldest towns. The chronicles say that it has existed since the beginning of the 12th century, but archeological finds indicate that urban-type settlements appeared there as early as the 3rd century BC.

Shida Kartli (must see) sights:

  • The Gori Fortress (12th century) stands in the center of the town on a high hill. It is a powerful multi-level fortification. In the mid-20th century, a stratum dating back to antiquity was uncovered at its foot. The fortress was obviously built at the site of fortifications dating back to the first century BC.
  • Uplistsikhe is a cave town 12 km from Gori that arose on the banks of the River Mtkvari at the end of the 2nd century BC. The town was entirely hewed into the volcanic cliff. It has streets, squares, palaces, churches, residential buildings, a theater, shops, an apothecary, wine cellar, prison, and a plumbing system. In its heyday, it included more than 700 cave structures. Around 150 of them, as well as part of the fortress walls, have been preserved. There is a secret underground passage to the Kura. In the pre-Christian period, Uplistsikhe was a pagan worship center. After Georgia converted to Christianity, Christian churches began appearing in the town. In the 13th century, after Genghis Khan invaded Georgia, Uplistsikhe fell and ceased to exist. Now the cave town is one of the properties on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
  • The Joseph Stalin Museum still functions in Gori. The museum’s exhibits include the house where Stalin was born and spent the first years of his life. The museum has many of Stalin’s personal belongings, including some of the furniture from his work offices, and gifts. It also displays a large number of historical documents and photographs.
    The Ateni Sioni domed church is an early 7th century monument. It stands on the bank of the Ateni River, on the hilltop, like Jvari monastery. Its facade is furnished with carved quadrangle greenish-gray stones and is richly decorated with ornaments. The walls of the church contain inscriptions of the early Georgian alphabet dating back from IX-XI centuries.These inscriptions contain precious historic information.
    The cross-domed monastery of Kintsvisi is a XII century monument about 10 kilometers from the town of Kareli. It is dedicated to St. Nicholas.The monastery is famous for its frescoes. Particularly remarkable is the fresco of Archangel from the Resurrection composition.
    Urbnisi is a village in the district of Kareli. Archeological studies have demonstrated that the place was inhabited in the 3rd millennium B.C and it was an important city in ancient and early medieval times. Later it grew larger.The town was surrounded by thick wall with 20 towers. The densely populated town was full of houses and buildings constructed with different building materials. In the V-VI centuries it was home to the largest three nave basilica construct¬ed in Urbnisi. It was restored first by the Bishop Theodore in IX-X centuries and later by Queen Mariam in the XVII century. One of the most significant events in the history of the Georgian church is connected to Urbnisi: Ruisi-Urbnisi ecclesiastic council was convened here by David the Builder to cope with the problems within the church hierarchy.
    The Rkoni monastic complex is located in the Kaspi district, near the village of Rkoni.The complex is divided into several layers:The Church of the Virgin Mary- dating back to the VII century; the gate of the complex – dating back to the XIII-XIV centuries; and the chapel, the single nave church of John the Baptist a bell tower dating to the XVI-XVIII centuries and housing for the monks. Rkoni fortress is near the church. It was supposed to be a residence for Georgian feudal lords. The fortress is surrounded by a wall.There is a palace, a one nave church and ruins of buildings inside the wall. Near the Rkoni monastery there is a bridge over the riverTedzami.This bridge connected Inner Kartli toTrialeti. On the other side of the river, on the mountain slope, there is another small church and cave carved in the rocks that was once used by monks.
    Surami fortress overlooks the town of Surami. The exact date of its construction is not known, though the town itself existed from the XII century. During his fight against Iran, Giorgi Saakadze fortified the stronghold. Later the castle was conquered by Osman conquerors and during the latter part of the XVIII c. Georgian and Russian soldiers held it. Besides the castle, there are nine Christian churches and one synagogue in Surami.
    The mountain resort of Surami is located on the southern slopes of the Likhi range, 760 meters above sea level. It has been operating since 1928. Besides its healthy lower alpine climate, Surami has mineral springs. Treatment is received by patients, especially children, afflicted with diseases of respiratory organs.