SVANETI AND MESTIA
Svaneti is a historical region located in a north-west
of Georgia, in south slopes of Greater Caucasus.
Main place of interest, which attracts tourists to Svaneti, is
not only nature, pure air, snow during summer, but also specific
Svan defensive towers of XI-XIX centuries.
Svaneti, Mestia it is a part of Caucasus, which is a unique
example of combination of highland view and medieval villages
with tower-like houses. Many original and very unusual buildings
preserved its original appearance in local villages tower-like
houses made from stone. They were used as houses and as defencive
towers to protect villagers from invasion of aggressors.
Enclosed with aiguilles 3000-5000 meters high, Svaneti is the
most high-located territory in Europe.
Four of ten highest aiguilles of Caucasus are located in this
The highest mount in Georgia Skhara (5201 m/17,059 ft)
high) is located in this region.
Also, other famous mountains are located in Svaneti: Tetnuldi
(4974 m/16,319 ft), Shota Rustavelli (4960 m/16,273 ft), Aylama
(4525 m/14,842 ft).
The most beautiful mountain in Caucasus - Ushba (4710 m/15,453
ft) is located south from Mestia, the main enter of upper
Svaneti, which also has some museums and architectural memorials.
Svan people, ethnic Georgian subgroup, inhabit Svaneti.
Upper Svaneti is in the List of World Heritage by UNESCO
According to the current administrative subdivision of Georgia,
Mestia is located in the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region (mkhare),
some 128 km northeast of the regional capital of Zugdidi. Mestia
and the adjoining 132 villages form Mestia District (raioni).
Its area is 3,044 square km; population 14,248 (2,600
in the town itself; 2002 Georgia census). The population is mostly
Svans, a cultural and linguistic subgroup of the Georgians.
Historically and ethnographically, Mestia has always been regarded
a chief community of Zemo, or Upper Svaneti province. It was formerly
known as Seti. Despite its small size, the townlet was an important
centre of Georgian culture for centuries and contains a number
of medieval monuments churches and forts included
in a list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In 1968, it was granted
a status of a townlet (Georgian: daba).
The Svans are a group of Georgians that mostly live in Svaneti,
a region of Georgia speaking the Svan language. The self designated
Svan is Mushüan, known to the ancient authors as Misimian.
The Svans are usually identified with the Soanes mentioned by
Greek geographer Strabo, who placed them more or less in the area
still occupied by the modern-day Svans.
Until the 1930s, Mingrelians and Svans had their own census grouping,
but were classified under the broader category of Georgian thereafter.
They are Georgian Orthodox Christians, and were Christianized
in the 4th-6th centuries. However, some remnants of old paganism
have been maintained. Saint George (known as Jgëræg
to the locals), a patron saint of Georgia, is the most respected
saint. The Svans have retained many of their old traditions, including
blood revenge (although this tradition has been declining over
time, as law enforcement takes hold). Their families are small,
and the husband is the head of his family. The Svan strongly respect
the older women in families.
Language. Typically bilingual, they use both Georgian and their
own, unwritten Svan language, which together with the Georgian,
Mingrelian, and Laz languages constitute the South Caucasian or
Kartvelian language family. The Svan language is being largely
replaced by Georgian.
Svan culture survives most wonderfully in its songs and dances.
Svaneti boasts the most complex form of Georgian polyphonic singing,
traditional to Georgian vocal music.
Famous Svans: Mikheil Khergiani alpinist, rock-climber,
Yaroslav Iosseliani seaman, captain of submarine 1942-1944,
Otar Iosseliani director of many films. Nana Iosseliani
Flora of Svaneti. Svaneti has a very uneven terrain. Glaciers,
mountain ranges and plateaus configure exotic landscapes covered
with variety of vegetation and herbs.
The Range of Greater Caucasus protects Georgia from the influence
of cold North climate, and the Black Sea provides favourable humidity
for a variety of plants. In terms of its geo-botanic diversity,
Georgia is one of the most distinguished places in the world.
We can easily observe vertical zones of plant distribution in
Svaneti. The alpine zone starts from 2450-2500 meters and continues
up to 3100-3200 meters above sea level; the upper boundary of
forests is set at 2400-2500 meters. Coniferous woods are spread
from 800-900 meters. In the lower forest zone there are relic
mixed deciduous forests with Georgian oaks, Eastern beeches, Caucasian
hornbeams, lime-trees, ash-trees, elms, maples, birches etc.
In the sub zone of mixed forests, we meet monodominant (beech,
oak and hornbeam) and bidominant (beech-hornbeam, oak-hornbeam
In higher zones, dominate dark coniferous forests: fir-groves,
silver-firs, pine groves and mixed forests: beech-fir, beech-silver-fir,
In sub forests, there are plenty of cornels, hazelnuts, different
kinds of berries, greengage, wild apple and pear trees and other
plants widely used in folk medicine.
Judging by the relic bio-environment still growing in Georgia,
we can assume that antique Colchis was rich of diverse flora.
Svaneti cuisine. Georgian cuisine is already well known and well
accepted even out of its formal borders. People living outside
Georgia admire Georgian dishes such as: chakhokhbili, tabaka,
kharcho, khachapuri, khinkali etc.
Georgian cuisine is rich of many dishes characteristic to Svaneti,
among them famous sulguni kind of cheese, kaarz
cheese with mint boiled in milk, khachapuri baked cheese
in wheat bread, Pishvdar cheese baked in corn bread, or
Tchkut baked cheese in millet bread, kubdari stewed
beef baked in wheat bread, sham corn flour porridge with
slices of sulguni cheese, tashmijab cream of potatoes and
cheese mixed with corn flour, chadi a cornbread etc. There
is also a wide range of pasties cooked with different stewed herbs
inside. Svans like barley soup seasoned with garlic and pepper
(Lutspek) and barley flour boiled in nettle soup (Kharshil). These
soups are also very healthy food, they say that if one eats them
at least ten times, he won't get sick during the whole year.
Almost all dishes are dressed with Svan salt a regular
table salt mixture with bits of ground red hot pepper and variety
of spices. The dishes dressed with Svan salt have a very characteristic
flavour and taste.
Another reason for specialty of Svaneti cuisine is that all dishes
are cooked with local, natural products giving a unique taste
and aroma to them.
It is impossible to grow grapes in Svaneti highland, that is why
Svans have to buy wine in the low-land regions or distil vodka
from local fruits or honey. An important attribute of Svans feast
is mineral water from natural sources, which can be found all
over the region.