Ananuri Fortress, Georgia

Ananuri Fortress, Georgia

Located just 65 kilometers from the historic part of Tbilisi, by the shores of the Jinvali Reservoir, stands the medieval Ananuri Fortress. This fortress, often called a castle, shines as a prime example of Georgian citadel design during the feudal era's peak. While some think its oldest tower dates back to the 13th century, official records place the complex in the 16th to 17th centuries, with written accounts starting around 1720.

Built as a defense for the lands of the Aragvi Eristavi, Ananuri has seen its share of history. The title "eristavi" initially referred to governor roles but later became associated with hereditary feudal lords. Notably, the famous writer Alexander Pushkin made a visit to the fortress in 1829.

In its prime, the area now under the picturesque Jinvali Reservoir was home to the bustling, affluent city of Jinvali, complete with palaces, arch bridges, and basilicas. However, following the decision to construct the Jinvali Hydroelectric Power Station in the 1970s, the ancient city was submerged. The Holy Cross Church from the 12th century occasionally reemerges during the reservoir's biannual water drawdown.

The fortress complex features a few towers and three churches from various construction periods. The main tower, known as Sheupovari, stood as the tallest with seven levels, the top one used for keeping watch. Its stairways are so narrow that they allow for only one person to pass at a time, making it quite a squeeze if you meet someone coming the other way.

The Assumption Church is a key architectural feature of Ananuri, built in 1689. Its designers were inspired by earlier Georgian church architecture, decorating its walls, especially on the south side, with intricate stone carvings of crosses and grapevines. Some of the frescoes inside, depicting Assyrian fathers and the Last Judgment, have survived to this day.

Another gem is the Savior's Church, constructed in the 17th century, though its precise building date remains a mystery. Made of stone at the base and brick for the dome, the church's interior has yet to be renovated and remains closed to visitors.

Ananuri has been the backdrop for numerous battles, leading to the extensive damage of its lower town, which you can still see today. Among the ruins, the small Mkurnali Church from the 17th century stands preserved.

The fortress has also made appearances in several films. For instance, the Assumption Church doubled as the Metekhi Church in a trilogy about the Bolshevik revolutionary Kamo, while the fortress itself was featured as Saakadze's Castle in "Giorgi Saakadze."

Reaching Ananuri is easy; it's a landmark you can't miss on your way from Tbilisi towards Kazbegi, Gudauri, and Pasanauri. The fortress, against the breathtaking backdrop of the Jinvali Reservoir, is a standout sight you'll want to pull over for.