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Upper Svaneti

Upper Svaneti

Preserved by its long isolation, the Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval-type villages and tower-houses. The village of Chazhashi still has more than 200 of these very unusual houses, which were used both as dwellings and as defence posts against the invaders who plagued the region.

Haut Svaneti

Préservée par un long isolement, la région du Haut Svaneti, dans le Caucase, offre l'image exceptionnelle d'un paysage de montagne aux villages d'apparence médiévale, toujours dominés par leurs tours-maisons. Le village de Chazhashi compte encore plus de deux cents de ces constructions très originales destinées en même temps à l'habitation et à la défense contre les envahisseurs qui menaçaient la région.

منطقة سفانيتي العليا

تعكس منطقة سفانيتي العليا، في القوقاز، والتي تمّ الحفاظ عليها بفضل عزلة طويلة، صورةً استثنائية لصورة جبل لا تزال فيه القرى على أشكالها خلال القرون الوسطى، ولا تزال البيوت-الأبراج فيها تسيطر على هندستها. قرية شزهاشي مثلا، تضمّ أكثر من مائتين من هذه الإنشاءات التي تتّسم بغاية من الابتكار والمخصّصة في آن للسكن وللدفاع ضد الغزاة الذين كانوا يهددون المنطقة.

source: UNESCO/ERI

上斯瓦涅季

高加索的上斯瓦涅季是一处有典型中世纪村落和塔状房屋的山地景区,由于长期与世隔绝而得以保存。恰扎西村庄(village of Chazhashi)至今还有200处这种房屋保持原貌,这些房屋既是当时人们的住所,也是防御当时该地区入侵者的哨所。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Верхняя Сванетия

Этот район Кавказа, сохранившийся благодаря своему изолированному местоположению , демонстрирует уникальное сочетание высокогорного пейзажа и деревень, сберегших свой средневековый облик. В местных селениях сохранилось множество необычных строений – это каменные дома-башни, которые использовались одновременно как жилье и как сторожевые посты для защиты от частых вторжений.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Alto Svaneti

Preservada gracias a su prolongado aislamiento, la región caucasiana del Alto Svaneti posee un paisaje de montaña excepcional y numerosas aldeas características de la Edad Media con casas fuertes provistas de torres. La aldea de Chazhashi cuenta todavía con más de doscientas de estas edificaciones originales, destinadas a servir de viviendas y de fuertes para defenderse contra los invasores que amenazaban la región.

source: UNESCO/ERI

アッパー・スヴァネティ
コーカサス山脈に囲われて、中世風の村落や街並みを守ってきた見事な山岳景観。村落の中には今なお200戸以上の中世風民家を有するものもあり、住居や侵略者からの防衛拠点として用いられてきた。

source: NFUAJ

Boven-Svaneti

De Boven-Svaneti regio van de Kaukasus is intact gebleven door langdurige isolatie. Het is een uitzonderlijk voorbeeld van een berglandschap met middeleeuwse dorpen en torenhuizen. Het dorp Chazhashi heeft nog steeds meer dan 200 van deze ongewone huizen, die werden gebruikt als woningen en als verdedigingsposten tegen de indringers die de regio lastigvielen. Het karakteristieke landschap van Boven-Svaneti wordt gevormd door kleine dorpjes op berghellingen, in een natuurlijke omgeving van kloven en alpine valleien, tegen een achtergrond van met sneeuw bedekte bergen. Het meest opvallende kenmerk hierbij is de overvloed aan torens in het gebied.

Source: unesco.nl

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General view © National Commission of Georgia for UNESCO
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Preserved by its long-lasting geographical isolation, the mountain landscape of the Upper Svaneti region is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval villages and tower houses.

The property occupies the upper reaches of the lnguri River Basin between the Caucasus and Svaneti ranges. It consists of several small villages forming a community that are dominated by the towers and situated on the mountain slopes, with a natural environment of gorges and alpine valleys and a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. The most notable feature of the settlements is the abundance of towers.

The village of Chazhashi in Ushguli community, situated at the confluence of the lnguri and Black Rivers, has preserved more than 200 medieval tower houses, churches and castles. The land use and settlement structure reveal the continued dwelling and building traditions of local Svan people living in harmony with the surrounding natural environment. The origins of Svaneti tower houses go back to prehistory. Its features reflect the traditional economic mode and social organization of Svan communities. These towers usually have three to five floors, and the thickness of the walls decreases, giving the towers a slender, tapering profile. The houses themselves are usually two-storeyed; 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. A corridor annex helped the thermal insulation of the building. The upper floor was used by the human occupants during 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. The houses were used both as dwellings and as defence posts against the invaders who plagued the region.

The property is also notable for the monumental and minor arts. The mural paintings are outstanding examples of Renaissance painting in Georgia. 

Criterion (iv): The region of Upper Svaneti is an outstanding example of an exceptional mountain landscape composed of highly preserved villages with unique defensive tower houses, examples of ecclesiastical architecture and arts of medieval origin. 

Criterion (v): The region of Upper Svaneti is an outstanding landscape that has preserved to a remarkable degree its original medieval appearance notable for its fragile traditional human settlements and land-use patterns. 

Integrity

The elements conveying the Outstanding Universal Value of Upper Svaneti are included within the boundaries of the property and its buffer zone. The exceptional medieval landscape, with its traditional settlement patterns, architecture and land use forms, ensures the representation of the property's significance and has retained its original appearance and substance to a great extent.

The architectural elements of the property have maintained the medieval material and most of them have retained their original use and function as well as the relationship with the surrounding environment. 

Authenticity

All elements credibly express the Outstanding Universal Value of the property as they retain their authentic medieval form and distribution of traditional settlement and land use patterns, landscape setting, design of architectural typology, and they preserve to a high degree original material as well as the functions of dwelling and ecclesiastical structures. The interaction between humans and nature in the landscape is completely authentic and of high importance.

The geographical location and setting of this exceptional medieval landscape highly contribute to preservation of the forms of local intangible heritage, such as traditions, customs, beliefs, rituals of everyday life, language and folklore of the Svan community.

The harsh environmental conditions, lack of access during long winter periods, and inappropriate repair techniques applied to maintain the traditional structures often challenge the authenticity of material and the state of conservation of the components of the property. 

Protection and management requirements

The property has been designated as Ushguli-Chazhashi Museum Reserve since 1971. In the Soviet period the boundaries of the Strict Protection and Protection Zones were also defined. Due to several changes of cultural heritage legislation in the last 20 years, the boundaries of the protected landscape have changed. Currently the landscape is protected within 1 km radius around Chazhashi village, the component of the World Heritage property, as well as within 500 m around national monuments. This zone represents the legally protected buffer zone of the property with strict limitations for development activities. The individual architectural elements as well as entire villages of the Ushguli community (Chazhashi, Jibiani, Chvibiani and Murk’meli) remain listed as national monuments under the National Law on Cultural Heritage. The law prohibits any interventions on monuments without a prior permit from relevant state authorities and at the same time provides the highest level of protection zoning for these structures as to the elements of the World Heritage property. Other national laws in specific circumstances also apply.

The overall management and monitoring is implemented by the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia and its division - Parmen Zakaraia Nokalakevi Architectural-Archaeological Museum-Reserve. Due to the severe weather conditions that isolate the region in winter and the lack of financial resources it is difficult to implement regular monitoring missions at the site. The severe climatic conditions as well as insufficient conservation and management capacities remain among the risks to the property.

There is no Management Plan enforced. The local population and its traditional system of community management remain the key factors in the property management.

ICOMOS Georgia has actively worked on the different issues of Upper Svaneti cultural heritage and particularly on the site of Chazhashi village. In 2000-2001 a multidisciplinary research was implemented to study the different features of the site, including the community and social issues. Based on this research the Conservation Plan and a Site Development Strategy were prepared. These were followed by the rehabilitation-restoration projects for the historical buildings of the Chazhashi village.

Long Description

Upper Svaneti is an exceptional landscape that has preserved to a remarkable degree its original medieval appearance, notable for the distribution, form, and architecture of its human settlements.

The earliest references to Svaneti occur in the works of Strabo (66 BC-AD 24), when it had already been settled for many generations and had achieved a high level of culture. From the 4th century AD it was a vassal-state of the Kingdom of Lazika. In the 8th century the Abkhaz Kingdom was established in western Georgia, to be in its turn absorbed into the united Kingdom of Georgia that was finally consolidated by David the Builder (reigned 1089-1125). A strong movement for Svan independence developed, and its feudal lords often chose the side of forces opposed to the Georgian state. This did not hinder the political and economic growth of Georgia, which spread to cover much of the region between the Black and Caspian Seas under George II and his daughter Tamar in the succeeding centuries. This was accompanied by a cultural flowering, of which Svaneti was one of the main centres, famous for its schools of metalwork, painting, wood carving, and architecture. These skills were employed by the Church, which was also rich and powerful in this period; most of the churches in Upper Svaneti date from this period. Although not affected by the catastrophic Mongol invasion, Svaneti found itself increasingly isolated, and as a result its economy and culture declined in the 15th-18th centuries. Part of Svaneti was eventually overrun by Princess Dadeshkeliani in the 15th century, but further inland, on the upper reaches of the Inguri River, the people of Upper Svaneti preserved their independence, with Mestia as their capital, until the coming of the Russians in the 19th century.

The mountainous region of Upper Svaneti occupies the upper reaches of the lnguri river basin, between the Caucasus and Svaneti ranges. The characteristic landscape of Upper Svaneti is formed by small villages, dominated by their church towers and situated on the mountain slopes, with a natural environment of gorges and alpine valleys and a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. The most notable feature of the settlements is the abundance of towers, especially in Mestia and the frontier villages, such as Ushguli and Latali. These towers usually have from three to five storeys and the thickness of the walls decreases, giving the towers a slender, tapering profile. The houses themselves are usually two-storeyed; 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. A corridor annex helped the thermal insulation of the building. 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 tower-houses have disappeared or are collapsing into ruins. The village of Chazhashi has, however, been preserved as a museum-reserve. Here more than 200 towers and 400 houses have survived. The village is situated at the confluence of the Black and lnguri rivers, an easily defensible location. It is protected by two castles above and below the village; the lower castle has a small hall church known as Lashkdash; another church known as Matskhvar in which medieval wall paintings are preserved stands on a nearby hill. The houses are built from irregularly sized stone blocks and sometimes local slate set in lime mortar. The churches of Upper Svaneti are generally very small and not ornamented with carved external decoration. Internally, however, they are noteworthy for their wealth of wall paintings, carved doors, processional and altar crosses, and illuminated manuscripts. They range in date of construction from the early 9th to the 17th centuries, with a creative peak in the 10th-12th centuries.

The excellent natural conditions and the unity of architecture and landscape give this region an original quality of its own. The wealth of monumental and minor art (metal work, manuscript illustrations, textiles and embroidery, wood-carving, icon painting, ancient forms of musical and oral folklore, vernacular architecture) are of paramount importance for the study of Georgia and the Caucasus. The monumental mural painting of Svaneti is of great importance in the study of the origins and development of Georgian and eastern Christian art.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description
[in French only]

Les premières références au Svaneti se trouvent dans les oeuvres de Strabon (66 avant J.C. - 24 après J.C.) alors que cette région existait depuis plusieurs générations et qu'elle avait déjà acquis un niveau de culture élevé. A partir du 4ème siècle après J.C., elle était vassale du royaume de Lazika. Quand Lazika devint chrétienne en 523, les Svans firent de même mais les croyances et les rites païens subsistèrent.

Au Sème siècle, le royaume d'Abkhazie s'installa en Géorgie occidentale et fixa sa capitale à Kutaïssi ; il sera absorbé par le royaume de Géorgie unifiée, consolidé par David II le Constructeur (1089-1125). Un très fon mouvement en faveur de l'indépendance des Svans se développa et ses seigneurs féodaux choisirent souvent le camp des forces opposées à l'Etat Géorgien. Tout ceci ne ralentit pas la croissance politique et économique de la Géorgie qui, sous le règne de Georges II et plus tard de sa fille Thamar, s'étendit bientôt de la mer Noire à la mer Caspienne. Cette expansion territoriale s'accompagna d'un épanouissement culturel dont le Svaneti fut l'un des centres les plus actifs avec de très célèbres écoles de ferronnerie, de peinture, de sculpture en bois et d'architecture. Ces talents furent utilisés par l'Eglise qui était à cette époque riche et puissante. La majorité des églises du Svaneti datent de cette époque.

Bien que le Svaneti ne fut pas affecté par la terrible invasion des Mongols, la région se trouva de plus en plus isolée et de ce fait, son économie et sa culture déclinèrent entre le 15ème et le 18ème siècles. Une partie du Svaneti fut écrasée par la princesse Dadeshkeliani au 15ème siècle mais plus vers l'intérieur, vers l'amont de la rivière Inguri, les peuples du Haut Svaneti préservèrent leur indépendance avec Mestia comme capitale jusqu'à l'arrivée des Russes au 19ème siècle.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation