AKHALTSIKHE
Akhaltsikhe is a small historical city in Georgia's southwestern region of Samtskhe–Javakheti
Akhaltsikhe is the administrative center of Samtskhe-Javakheti region, with a population of 20 thousand people. Akhaltsikhe means "New Fortress" in Georgian, reminding us of its military past.
The city was founded in the 12th century AD. It used to be called Lomsia and from about 900 it became the seat of the Dukes of Jakeli. Jaqeli princes were constantly at war with the central authority, until Queen Tamara subjugated them and gave the city to another line of Jaqeli, who later gave birth to the future famous Georgian military leader and saint Shalva Akhaltsikheli. In XIV-XV centuries Akhaltsikhe repeatedly exposed to destruction: in 1393 the troops of Tamerlane passed here, and in 1486 the city was completely burned by the army of the Mongol khan Yakub. Despite this, due to its strategic importance and major trade routes passing through these places, Akhaltsikhe was rebuilt every time. In 1578 it was conquered by the Turks and settled there for a long time. In 1828 the city was besieged and taken by the Russian army. Since then, Akhaltsikhe began to be settled by Armenians, Jews and Greeks.
In 2012 after 15 months of hard work the fortress was ceremonially reopened to the public and immediately got on the list of the most popular attractions of Georgia. The territory of the fortress is divided into lower modern part and upper historical part. In the lower part there are stores, cafes, a restaurant and a hotel. The upper part includes Akhmediye mosque (XVIII century), an Orthodox church (XIX century), ancestral castle Jakeli, and a historical museum. The museum exhibition highlights the ancient history of South Georgia: stone products of the Neolithic period, bronze axes found in this area, everyday objects of the primitive era, and other artifacts.
Not far from the fortress on a small hill there is a Catholic Armenian church of Surb Nshan built in the XV-XVI centuries. In one of the blocks you can see the domes of the abandoned sulfur baths. One cannot omit mentioning the monument to Queen Tamar, her image is very popular among the locals and the holiday of Tamaroba, in her honor, is celebrated annually on May 14 with particular reverence.
At 10 km from the center of Akhaltsikhe in a picturesque gorge is the ancient monastery of Sapara. A little further away you can find the Kokhta fortress and monastery Shoreti. At 30 km to the west are located Observatory Abastumani and the fortress Atskuri.
But a special place takes a famous cave town Vardzija, located 60 km. from Akhaltsikhe, which dates back to the 12th century, the time of Queen Tamar. On the territory of Vardzia now is a functioning monastery, in the temple where one can see the face of the saint queen Tamar's lifetime fresco.
We should also mention the medieval orthodox monastery Zarzma, which is located 30 minutes drive from Akhaltsikhe. Zarzma monastery was built between VIII-IX centuries. Its founder was St. Serapion Zarzmeli. Today it is a functioning monastery for men. The monks here are very hospitable and lovingly receive all pilgrims. The monastery choir is famous for its marvelous singing.


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