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Kolagiri Fortress

A stone fortification with the roof of a church behind it
Kolagiri Fortress and Monastery, Kolagiri, Georgia

The Kolagiri Fortress appears before you expect to see it.

To get there from the main highway, one turns off onto a small side street populated with farmers moving their wares in donkey-powered carts.

Corie was in the back seat, relaying directions to our driver Arman from her phone. If you’re wondering why she was playing navigator and not me, it all goes back to a family curse.

At some point in the Weaver family history, one of my relatives must have rocked the boat. Literally. The boat spirits rose up and took their revenge, dooming my ancestor and all of his offspring for generations to motion sickness in all of its varied forms.

I can look at a map, book, or phone for ten seconds in a moving car before my world starts spinning around me.

But we’re not here on this Sunday morning to discuss my woes, so on with our travels.

By the time Corie told Arman to turn left from the narrow road, we were facing the fortress that had been previously hidden from view by a row of simple houses and fences.

Arman loves to drive and has been all over his native country, but this was the first time he had been to the Kolagiri Fortress. In fact, he didn’t know it existed until I asked if we could stop on our drive to Dmanisi, another hour away.

I hadn’t heard about it until I traced our map to Dmanisi, looking for churches and other places to photograph along the way.

There is no obvious sign for the fortress on the highway, and most of the Georgia travel websites only devote a paragraph or two on the site.

The 18th-century fortress is roughly 30 miles south of Tbilisi, past a landscape that at first reminded us of central New Mexico, dry and brown, then through a wide valley filled with small farms.

Georgia’s Queen Darejan had the fortress built in the late 1700s to protect the area's Christian population from Ottoman and Persian raids.

A small metal doorway to the fortress faced the road, but it didn’t look like the main entrance. We drove around the perimeter of the 2,000 square meter site in search of an entrance that looked more entrancey. There was one on the opposite side of the structure, but it was locked.

I would have been content just to wander the exterior perimeter of the fortress. The thick stone walls had a personality that changed with each angle.

When we returned to the first door, we did the logical thing and checked to see if it was unlocked.

It was.

The interior was sparse. Aside from the 20-foot walls, the only other structure on the grounds was the Church and Nunnery of Queen Ketevan the Martyr.

Any terrified person who sought refuge in the fortress five centuries ago would have been amazed to feel the serenity and peacefulness of today’s site. Gravel walkways cross the grounds, passing Cyprus trees, flowering bushes, and a little black kitten who was eager to say hello.

The rooms in the walls that had once stored ammunition, weapons, and food now store firewood, building materials and other items that might commonly be found in a backyard shed.

But the fortress refuses to be forgotten. Even though its function has long been relegated to history books, it stands with its imposing walls, a silent testament to another time.

To me, there’s a difference between traveling and wandering. In my mind, travel is intentional discovery, often outlined with some sort of itinerary.

Wandering? That’s when one is open to the unexpected, turning right on an interesting road just because.

Often in a journey the two overlap. One can start off intentional then, on a whim, go full random. That combination is frequently rewarded with long-remembered surprises. We did a little willful wandering on our trip to Dmanisi, and next week, I’ll share some of our discoveries.

A stone doorway in the wall of a fortification
Door, Kolagiri Fortress, Kolagiri, Georgia


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