Surrounded by peaks of up to 5,000 meters, Svaneti is the highest area inhabited year round in the Caucasus Mountains. The area is inhabited for more than 2,000 years. At around the end of the ninth century, the Svan found themselves in conflict with the northern Caucasian tribes on the other side of the mountains and with the Ossetians to the east.

The Svan built themselves towers to protect them from neighboring political and family’s enemies. Although their relationship with the surrounding tribes was often peaceful, when times were hard all truces and trading agreements were subject to violation by people desperate for food and other materials.  Yet rather than create complete circles of fortifications around their villages, the Svan opted to create an almost impregnable chain of towers on a family by family basis – and a family could often consist of up to a hundred people.

This architectural form lasted for almost five centuries (9th-12th century). At the beginning of the thirteenth century, no new tower-houses were built.  The development of offensive technology may have had something to do with the cessation of building. The towers were usually between three and five stories high.  The ground floor had the thickest walls which decreased in width at the higher levels. The base of the tower was built without windows or doors, and the entrance was usually around twelve feet off the ground. When the family community felt threatened they could retreat up a wooden ladder to the entrance and then either pull it up or destroy it.

Since the 13th century, many of the towers were dismantled, their huge bricks removed for new uses, or they simply collapsed. However, there are still over two hundred which stand around a group of villages collectively known as Ushguli and have been protected under Georgian law and are part of the UNESCO Heritage site of Upper Svaneti.

Before, releasing this post I would like to make a quick remark about the artist/painter Fridon Nizharadze I have photographed in Ushguli. Fridon  studied fine arts in Tbilisi.  During the communist era his family was expelled  from their Tower house in the lower village of Ushguli.  He was sent to a labor camp and was prescribed psychiatric drugs, which he can not stop using due to the addiction and dependencies developed after years of forced use. Unfortunately, due to my inability to communicate with Fridon, the information I gathered is meager and of poor quality.  The links below may give further details about the life of this very colorful artist who lives a “priest” like life, in a very modest home he got in exchange for the one he and his family lost early under the communist regime. As you can see from the images I have taken of his art, it is full of messages which one interpret in “million” ways. sorry, you need to understand Georgian? Russian?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dG4do-317UA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp3dTm5cN-Y

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