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Ananuri Fortress

wo Orthodox Church domes overlooking a river
Ananuri Fortress

The first time I passed Ananuri Fortress almost a year and a half ago, I didn’t see it. Corie and I, along with four friends were on our way to the mountain town of Stepantsminda aboard a marshrutka, a small van that provides an affordable way to travel in the country.

As our driver overtook traffic on blind corners and speeding way to fast along the winding highway, I was far to busy wondering if that day was going to be my last on this earthly realm and looked out my window, enjoying the scenery because I knew it might be my last chance to do so. Travel by marshrutka does tend to inspire thoughts of the afterlife.  

I would have seen Ananuri Fortress if I were sitting on the other side of the bus. It’s hard to miss. The highway turns around a steep hill before descending into a wide, scenic river valley.

View of Ananuri Fortress and surrounding valley

Our trip to Ananuri a few weeks ago was considerably less worrisome. Corie and I hired a driver, Georgi, who exercised a considerably higher degree of caution than the marshrutka driver on our previous trip.

While hiring a driver is quite a bit more expensive than riding a marshrutka, it does free one up from having to ponder the question “am I going to die?” leaving more time to take in the scenery and enjoy taking to the driver.

Georgi is a classically trained pianist and enjoys talking about the interesting people he’s had the chance to meet as a driver. He enthusiastically told us that he will soon be taking his first trip to the United States, staying with several people along the way whom he has driven around the country. His longtime dream of deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico will be fulfilled thanks to a couple he met a couple years ago.

The winter scenery on the drive to the Ananuri Fortress is quite a bit different. While many parts of Tbilisi are still very green (at least by my New Mexico standards), the verdant hills north of Tiblisi have taken on the gray-brown cast of winter, contrasting the brilliant white-capped mountain peaks in the distance.

As we descended into the river valley, Ananuri Fortress appeared suddenly. The morning light shone on the sand-colored fortification, making it look like a fairy tale castle.

 As we neared the fortress, the different architectural styles in the site’s two churches, three guard towers and bell tower reminded me of a toy castle haphazardly assembled with children’s blocks, a result that derives from function over aesthetics.

 The fortress was constructed in the 13th century on a strategic point along several trading routes. Taking in the landscape, it becomes obvious why this location was important. It would be difficult to approach the fortress undetected. Today’s tourist has the luxury of enjoying the stunning scenery surrounding the fortress without worrying about approaching invaders.

 Like many historic sites in Georgia, one can experience what it must have been like to navigate during the Middle Ages. That’s a polite way of saying there are no handrails, no ramps, and no protective fencing. The walkways along the fortified walls and steep, narrow stairs in the guard tower were designed to impede the movement of anyone who might have breached the fortress, something that became very clear while I was trying to balance a heavy camera bag dangling from my shoulder.

 But an amazing view awaits anyone with young enough knees who ascends to the top of the tallest guard tower.

View of two orthodox church domes viewed from a stone window


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