This is the first article in our series “Kazbegi Experience”, in which I will describe the most interesting places that you should visit when traveling to Kazbegi region.
Ananuri Fortress is the first stop on your way to Kazbegi. Driving time from Tbilisi is around 1 hour, so be sure to eat breakfast. Or at least grab something to eat on the go.
Driving from the city center you might realize how big (area-wise) Tbilisi is. Half of the time you need to get to Ananuri is actually getting out of town. Hundreds of thousands of cars don’t make this easy. Statistics say that between 30 and 40 percent of Georgia’s population live in the capital. The city is overcrowded not only by people but also by cars.
Georgian Military Highway
After studying your guidebook, you are probably already excited, thinking that here you are – following the famous Georgian Military Highway. But the first part of it is not that exciting.
The first interesting point after getting out of town is the sight of the Jvari Monastery on the hill overlooking the ancient capital of Georgia – Mtskheta. Look on the other side of the river – on your left – you will notice the spectacular, proud silhouette of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Both Jvari and Mtskheta are convenient to reach from Tbilisi, so most probably you will not stop here – the ride to Kazbegi is long, so save your time and energy and leave Mtskheta for a separate tour.
About thirty minutes more and you can spot the Aragvi River. Soon after that, a beautiful lake will be visible. This is the Zhinvali (or Jinvali) Reservoir. Artificial water reservoir created by the dam in the Aragvi River. The dam serves also as a hydro plant. Interestingly, around 80 percent of the electric energy in Georgia comes from hydro plants.
For me personally, the Zhinvali Reservoir marks the spot where Georgian Military Highway starts to be exciting. And it will only get better. Soon after the emerald waters spread before your eyes (the color comes mostly from the limestone at the bottom of the lake) a spectacular fortress appears at the edge of the lake. The Ananuri Castle present itself from the distance, so it’s best to stop a few hundred meters before you reach it (there is a place to park a car). From there, it’s best to continue to the fortress by foot, taking in the views.
Built in the 16-17th century it used to be a castle of the eristavis (local dukes or lords) of Aragvi family. It was a feudal dynasty which ruled the area from the 13th century. The castle was the scene of numerous battles. The fortress remained in use until the beginning of the 19th century.
The castle complex consists of two churches, bell tower, several watchtowers and beautifully carved, high walls. It is its photogenic location on the edge of Zhinvali Reservoir that brings most of the tourists though.
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