Ananuri, a castle complex perched along the turquoise waters of the Aragvi River, is a prime example of Georgia’s unique blended architectural aesthetic. It was home to the Aragvi feudal dynasty during the 18th century, and was the staging grounds of numerous battles that Georgians both won and lost.
It’s a miracle the complex still stands today, given all the battles it hosted. The fortress, which dates to the 17th century, bore witness to centuries of battles, the massacre of the Aragvi clan, multiple peasant revolts, and fire. After surviving hundreds of years of turmoil, the complex eventually fell out of use in the 19th century.
Though it’s a shell of what it was when the Dukes of Aragvi occupied it, the fortress is still worth exploring. It holds two castles joined by a curtain wall once used for defense and three churches. The largest church bears a traditional Georgian Orthodox grapevine cross carved into its facade and frescoes that were largely destroyed in a fire. These design elements, among others, illustrate the stylistic blend that is Georgian architecture, calling to mind structures from the classical Greco-Roman, Byzantine, and Persian Empires.
There’s a reason the fortress is such a hodgepodge of architectural styles. Before Georgia gained its independence and reputation as a wellness hub due to its mineral springs loaded with naturally occurring sulfur, the capital city of Tbilisi was a point of contention, largely because of its proximity to the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West.
Unsurprisingly, the Silk Road attracted people from all over engaged in foreign commerce and invested in political expansion. As a result, a myriad of cultures and languages crossed through Tbilisi, which ultimately influenced Georgian architecture.
Aside from the country’s mineral springs, Georgia attracts visitors interested in its plentiful historical and cultural monuments, to the tune of over 12,000. While only four of them are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ananuri has been in the running to be the country’s fifth since 2007.
Know Before You Go
Many tour operators in Georgia offer packages that include a stop at the Ananuri Fortress complex. It's roughly 40 miles from Tbilisi, so it's easily doable as a day trip.