Recognized as the Upper Svaneti UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ushguli (უშგული) is a community of four villages (Murqmeli, Chashashi, Chvibiani and Shibiani) located in Svaneti, Georgia. At the altitude of 6.9K feet (2,100 meters), Ushguli is one of the highest inhabited village settlements in Europe. Unlike Mestia, the urban center of the Svaneti region, Ushguli isn't an easily accessible location. Many of the villages’ original qualities have been preserved, making Ushguli a must-see destination and a stop in our Hidden Gems of Georgia tour on Day 10.
Approximately 250 people live in Ushguli. Everything is covered in snow for half of the year, closing off the only road to the nearest city, Mestia. Still, the villagers’ lives carry on and their school remains open according to schedule. These villages and villagers are also referred to as Svans. The Svans are indigenous Georgians and speak their own, unwritten language - Svanuri. Svanuri belongs to the Southern Caucasian language group Kartvelian.
The mountainous landscape and harsh climate are the biggest influences in the Svanetian character and way of life. Svans are a proud people. Hunters and alpinists are the most respected members of their communities. Ushguli Svans have been described as stern, stoic, and succinct but they are no exception to the tradition of welcoming Georgian hospitality toward visitors.
Over twenty medieval classic Svanetian protective towers are found throughout the Ushguli villages with goats, pigs and cows mingling with the local population on the narrow cobbled paths.
The Ushguli Chapel, located in the center of the settlement, dates back to the 12th century. Inside, you’ll find the Ethnographic Museum which contains examples of medieval repousse work (ancient art of embossing or pressing shapes into metal), icons, and processional crosses from Georgian churches of the region.
The nearby Lamaria Chapel also dates back to the 12th century and is full of magnificent frescoes. The locals believe that Queen Tamar is buried there. Read up on the Queen Tamar in our previous blog post. These chapels are just a few examples of how Svanetian religious and cultural traditions have remained virtually intact.
Despite its isolation, the (2.5-3.hrs) trip to Ushguli is easy with Explore Eurasia. Half of the road from Mestia is paved with asphalt and half of it is an off-road adventure with beautiful views of mountainous landscapes. On the way to Ushguli you can pass or stop at several villages, like Ipari and Kala, where you can find small churches with old murals and frescoes inside.