The ancient province of Svaneti in Georgia, is located on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountain range, on the north-western part of the country. Surrounded by the gigantic, snow-capped peaks of the high Caucasus and deep gorges, Svaneti is home to some of the highest and most isolated villages in the Caucasus. The region is so remote that it remained unconquered until the Russians exerted control in the mid-19th century. But marauding armies from foreign lands used to trouble the Svans during the Middle Ages leading to the construction of watchtowers and fortified homes. When powerful empires rampaged through Georgia, icons, jewels, religious artefacts and manuscripts were brought to the towers for safekeeping, turning Svaneti into a repository of early Georgian culture. Over the centuries the Svans preserved not only the priceless artefacts but their culture, tradition and language, that many scholars believe predates Georgian.
Built from the 9th century to the 13th, these towers are 20-25 metres tall and have four or five storeys. The thickness of the walls decreases as the tower rises, giving the towers a slender, tapering profile. The towers are also used as residential houses - the ground floor is a single hall with an open hearth and accommodation for both people and domestic animals, the latter being separated by a wooden partition, which is often lavishly decorated. The upper floor was used by the human occupants in the summer, and also served as a store for fodder and tools. A door at this level provided access to the tower, which was also connected with the corridor that protected the entrance.
Many of the towers have disappeared or are collapsing into ruins over time. However, the village of Chazhashi, part of a group of villages collectively called Ushguli, located at the head of the Enguri gorge in Upper Svaneti has been preserved as a museum-reserve. More than 200 towers are still standing today, and some of them continue to be occupied till this day. Other towers can be seen in Mestia and the frontier villages, such as Latali.
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