Written By Tinatin Bujiashvili

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”  G. Chesterton

Next day was sunny and we were happy as we were planning our visit to Ushguli. As stunningly beautiful, with breathtaking views of Shkhara was waiting for us. One should never leave Svaneti without the experience. I will never forget the journey to Ushguli. You should drive slow and remember each patch of the land…

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The roads to Ushguli from Mestia are pretty rough. The road goes along the river Inguri. You have to pass many stunningly beautiful spots. Once, we came across the gate on which there was written that the one, who leaves the gate open, will be cursed. So our driver Paata was so frightened that he didn’t trust us and always closed the gate himself.

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While driving, our Spanish tourists noticed wooden poles put in the river to grow strengthening the riverbank. They said the method was newly introduced in Spain. They strengthened river banks with stones and gabions.

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And…Finally 55km and at least three hours from Messtia and the road reaches Ushguli, the highest permanently inhabited settlement in Europe at an altitude of 2200m.

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Ushguli is home to remnants of one of the most ancient fortress of Svaneti, dating from the reign of Queen Tamar. It includes 37 towers thought to date back to medieval times. Ushguli itself is a historical settlement located in the very east of Svaneti and is one of the highest settlements in Europe (2000-2200 meters above the sea level). Ushguli’s ancient constructions, just like towers and churches of Svaneti, are under the protection of UNESCO. The Church of Saint Lamaria, Mother of God is located on one of the highest points in Ushguli, together with a building tradition­ally used as a meeting place for village elders.

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Yes, in the outskirts of Ushguli on a lonely hill there stands ancient Lamaria church with regular services. Local residents believe that it was under this church that Queen Tamara, who was a central figure in Svans history, was buried. They considered her to be a Christian benefactor who built all their temples, and gave generous gifts to churches.

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The Lamaria complex includes a large stone chair with quite some intrigue attached to it. Some centuries ago, Ushguli was at the top of “ubatono” (Free, or Lord-less) Svaneti, and liked to keep things that way. Lower down the province was ruled by the Dadeshkeliani family, based in Etseri. One day the head of this family travelled to Ushguli and suggested that it, too, come under Dadeshkeliani control and begin paying tribute. Bad news for Ushguli! The man must die! But… if anyone killed him, the family of the one dirtying his hands would then be targeted for revenge by the Dadeshkelianis in the infamous Svan manner, and a tit-for-tat situation would ensue, more killings in the two families continuing possibly for centuries. Ushguli was in a quandary. A plan eventually emerged.

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The Dadeshkeliani gentleman was seated in that stone chair and a preparation for a feast begun. At some point the entire village lined up on the other side of a wall from him, near a small hole. A rifle on a stand was positioned… a string to the trigger… and all of them, men, women and children, together pulled the trigger. The would-be Lord of Ushguli was done away with to keep the village free, and in doing so, the whole village made itself guilty of his murder.

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The name of Ushguli, by the way, seems to come from a contraction for the Georgian words “ushishari guli”. This translated means Fearless Heart – or Brave heart, if you prefer.

And the last..no words can express the beauty of Mount Shkara… Nine-peak mountain Shkara is located on the central range of the Caucasus. The height of the highest peak reaches 5210 m. According to its height it is the second peak in the whole Caucasus after Ialbuzi and is also considered the highest point in Georgia. The river Inguri takes origin from the glacier Shkara…

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We didn’t want to leave the place.  We walked around Ushguli in search of towers to explore, to get inside or to climb…

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While being there we notices Svans gathered near Inguri. Unfortunately a polish woman had fallen in the river and was impossible to find her. Her dead body was found three months later…

To be continued… 

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