Mountainous provinces: Svaneti, Tusheti and Khevsureti
Svaneti province Since antiquity, the great minds like Strabo, Apollonius of Rhodes, Apian and other geographers, historians and poets marveled at this name. Strabo wrote in the 1st century: “rivers and springs in Svaneti carry gold sand”. Half of the 540 peaks of the southern Caucasus are in Svaneti. This region is “crowned” by the village of Ushguli, at the altitude of 2200 m. above sea level, which makes the settlement the highest place of habitation in Europe. Tall and majestic stone six-storey towers are the trade-mark of the region; about 270 of them, each one thousand years of age, are still inhabited and “acting”. The pagan traditions, fortified villages, oasis of wild nature, elaborate icons, old manuscripts, archaic social traditions and historical items are still well preserved in this region.
Tusheti province is another mountainous province of Georgia with its centre in the village of Omalo. Its patrimonial society structure maintains ancient customs and chapels of old religious cults. The local residential structures – along with the primitive fortified buildings of military purpose, maintain the same functions; alpine meadows and pine forests are the background of pagan cults celebrations, with the entire community of villagers taking active part in festivities. Paradoxically, the pagan monuments prevail over the Christian ones in this region. Archaic traditions of carpet knitting and clothing styles make the preserved customs of folk handicraft particularly interesting.
Khevsureti province is situated between three deep gorges and four mountain ranges, which are covered with ice and snow. The citadel-village of Shatili boasts a variety of towers that are centuries old and still inhabited. The suspension bridges are used to connect towers and let the villagers move from one dwelling to the other. Even in recent past a place called Anatori ossuary was used by gravely sick Khevsurs: to save their families they used to set out to that place and meet their end in seclusion, keeping their kinfolk safe from the calamities of sweeping epidemic and mortal disease. The warlike character of Khevsurs influenced some historians to the point that they were inclined to relate this tribe of the Georgian highlanders to the Crusaders; but the decisive point, of course, was the presence of the images of the cross in the national attire of the Khevsurs. Along with their bellicose history and experience, they have also a custom of the opposite peaceful nature and ethics: if a young girl or a woman throws her kerchief between the fighting Khevsurs, it signals her order to stop the combat and the men always obey the lady’s interference.