Kartli is the central, the biggest, and the most important region of Georgia. It is a historical region in central-to-eastern Georgia traversed by the river Mtkvari on which Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, is situated. Known to the Classical authors as Iberia, Kartli played a crucial role in the ethnic and political consolidation of the Georgians in the Middle Ages. Kartli had no strictly defined boundaries and they significantly fluctuated in the course of history. After the partition of the kingdom of Georgia in the 15th century, Kartli became a separate kingdom with its capital at Tbilisi. The historical lands of Kartli are currently divided among several administrative regions of Georgia.
Dmanisi archaeological site proves that even 1.7 million years ago, Georgia was the favorite destination for travelers! At about that time, human beings migrated from Africa to Europe and settled the region around Dmanisi. The skull of one of these first Europeans is now kept at the State Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi, while at Dmanisi itself you can see the site of the on-going excavations as well as the churches, the remains of the palace and baths enclosed in the walls of this medieval town.
The earliest known inscription in the Georgian language is to be found on the façade of this late 5th century church. Pagan sculptural elements such as animals and birds merge with the ‘new' Christian motifs to give a fascinating insight into a period of great change.
The small town of Gori is located in the very heart of Georgia. The name comes from the Georgian word for "hill". Gori is known to have been besieged by the Roman general Pompey in 65 BC. The 7th-century fortress of Goris-Tsikhe still dominates the town. But probably Gori is best famous (or perhaps infamous?) as the birthplace of one of the 20th century's most controversial leaders - Joseph Jughashvili, better known as Stalin, the "Man of Steel". Today he is still revered in his hometown as the greatest leader the USSR ever had, yet elsewhere his reign is regarded as an evil nightmare. In Gori you can visit the Stalin Museum, the tiny house where he was born, his private railway carriage and then walk to the city center still dominated by Stalin's huge statue.
Uplistsikhe (which means "the lord's fortress") is the oldest cave town in Georgia. Back in the first millennium BC it was a flourishing city situated on the great east-west trade route, the Silk Road. Visitors can still walk among the ancient streets, rock-carved theater, royal halls, pharmacy, pagan temples and Christian churches, while the remains of granaries and large clay wine vessels give us some clue as to the daily life of the inhabitants.
Ateni Sioni Church
The first thing to strike the visitor is the setting - the church built in the 7th century is located in a gorge at the top of a cliff. Then you will be captivated by the magnificent frescoes. Inscriptions carved into the walls are also an invaluable source of information on the history of Georgia.
Kintsvisi Church (13th century) is set in the depths of a forest and is best known for its superb frescoes. The dominating blue color gives a heavenly touch to the monastery. Among the beautiful mural paintings of the main church is the fresco of Queen Tamar - the most beloved queen of Georgia.
Samtavisi Church (11th century) represents the pinnacle of early Georgian stone carving. Many of the ornamentations developed here were used as models for later and grandeur churches. Note that the Tree of Life on the eastern façade is represented as a vine - yet another proof of the importance of viticulture in Georgia!