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Fortress of Ananuri

The 17th century fortress of Ananuri is part of the Tentative List of Georgia. It was the castle and seat of the Dukes of Aragvi, a feudal dynasty which ruled the area from the 13th century. It lies some 70km north of the capital Tbilisi, along the Military Highway that leads up to Vladikavkaz in Russia. On the first day of my trip to Georgia I visited Ananuri as part of a full day tour along that 213km long historical road.

Ananuri as seen from the bridge

When we left Tbilisi we got caught in a small traffic jam, all because of scores of tourists wanting to go up that same way. Tourism is really booming in Georgia since a few years: people come mainly from the neighbouring countries such as Azerbaijan and Russia, but also from India and the Gulf States (or perhaps they are Indians who work in the Gulf). After an hour’s drive the fortress of Ananuri comes into sight. Seen from the bridge by which you approach it, it is really picture-perfect.

The fortified complex consists of a typical Georgian Orthodox church with a cone-shaped dome, surrounded by crenellated walls. There are a few other towers as well, including one with a stepped pyramidal roof of Svanetian type, and a smaller church. These spires and domes are all adding to the spectacle. To be able to enter the fortress we first have to go through the tourist market in the parking lot, where they sell stuff that we are about to encounter along the road all day: mainly knitted socks, sheep wool caps and honey.

Carved north entrance to the main church

The courtyard of the fort is almost completely filled by the large church. Later on this trip I will probably get enough of it, but on this first day I am still enthusiastic about entering a Georgian Orthodox church. As a female you have to wear a long skirt and a headscarf, which garments can be borrowed at the entrance. The church consists of only one space and is quite sober except for a number of 17th century murals including a Last Judgement.

We also climb the highest tower of the fort. The fortress was the scene of numerous battles, and this square one was the last tower to hold out against the enemies. It is a hot day and the stairs are steep, which finally makes me decide to skip the planned hike later in the day to the Gergeti monastery which would involve 7km of climbing.

Last Judgement mural

Ananuri is well worth visiting as a stop on your journey up the Georgian Military Highway. This is still the most important route between Georgia and Russia: it has the only border crossing between the two countries that is still open today. There’s a lot of traffic from trucks, and also roaming cows are a frequently recurring obstacle. It took us 5 hours from Tbilisi to end at the last major town on the Georgian side, Stepantsminda. From there we visited another splendidly located monument, the Gergeti monastery.

Els - 16 June 2018

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