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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Stone Towers of Mount Svaneti, Georgia - Page 2

Written by Obiagbor Fortune
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To reach this mountainous community, we took a lonely, narrow road that clings to the mountain and is bounded by steep precipices that drop off to the river below. On finally reaching Ushguli, we were rewarded with an unforgettable sight; clusters of houses huddled around Medieval stone towers. The backdrop was the immense Mount Shkhara. Its dazzling white snowy mantle contrasted beautifully with the deep blue of the alpine sky.

 

At 5,201 meters, Mount Shkhara, Georgia’s tallest mountain, is part of what is called Benzegi Wall, a 12-kilometer line of peaks that reach almost the same height. These are part of the some 1,207-kilometer-long Greater Caucasus range. Everywhere we looked we saw lush valleys with outstanding scenery. Yet, these valleys are inaccessible, except to the most adventuresome or to those who call Svaneti their home.

The Svans who live in upper Svaneti, are an ancient people who have their own language. They have long been known as people who refuse to be dominated by any lord. In the 18th century, an explorer observed that the Svans had “realized the new idea of a society where the free-will of the individual overrides all other considerations.”

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The unique freedom of Svaneti can be attributed to two factors. First, the barrier of extremely tall mountain ranges isolate the people from the outside world and protect them from invaders. Second, the stone towers serve to safeguard the independence of each family. It protects them against enemies and neighboring villagers, who at times become hostile, as well as from avalanches that inundate smaller structures with snow. One visitor in the 19th century reported that since there was “no local authority of any kind able to enforce decision, arms were constantly resorted to.” So each family was prepared to fight to defend itself.

 

On our return home with a time well spent without regrets and knowledge of this ancient place, feelings of inspiration and gratitude welled up in our hearts as we reflected on the beauty we had seen in Mount Svaneti. “Those who lived in the stone towers there in bygone ages have the prospect of life in a new world,” we concluded.

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©Obiagbor Fortune

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