Akhaltsikhe is the capital and biggest town of the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, founded in the Middle Ages. Akhaltsikhe is a beautiful town with a rich and ancient history. Several roads leading to Tbilisi, Batumi, Borjomi, Gori, Kutaisi pass through the town. It is an administrative center of Akhaltsikhe Municipality and also the whole region of Samtskhe-Javakheti.
It is situated on the south-west of Georgia, not far from the border of Turkey, and has had a strategic significance lately as it was on the crossroad of highways. Its name means “a new fortress”, because the town’s fortress used to be the most important landmark of the region.
The history of Akhaltsikhe is more than a thousand years old. According to the written sources, the city was founded in the 12th century, though it is believed that the first large settlement already appeared here in the 10th century. It was then called Lomsiya, and was the residence of Jakeli princes who were having intestine strives and were even infringing on the central power of Georgia. It was this Prince family who erected this new fortress here that had given the name to the city. In the 14-15th centuries Akhaltsikhe was subject to destruction several times: in 1393 Tamerlane had passed this land with his army, and in 1486 it was burned by the army of a Mongol khan Jakub. Despite this, due to strategic significance and big trading routes, Akhaltsikhe would rise from ashes every time.
In 1579 it was a center of a region of the Ottoman Empire, then, during the Russian – Turkish war in 1828 – 1829, it was brought back to Georgia, which used to be a part of Russian Empire.
Five years ago Akhaltsikhe Castle (located in the ancient district of the town called Rabati), a huge fortress located on a small hill in the middle of the city was totally reconstructed and turned into a huge cultural and historical complex with an area of 7 hectares. It now remains the main landmark of Akhaltsikhe. This old medieval fortress was founded in the XIII century and since then it has been destroyed and restored several times after major military battles. Its upper part includes the castle of the Jakeli family, where the Museum of Samtskhe-Javakheti region is situated; there is also an Akhmediye Mosque, an orthodox church, an amphitheater and a citadel. The other part of Rabati includes touristic objects such as hotels, cafes, restaurants, an information center, and even a marriage hall. It is a very beautiful place for a wedding ceremony and a romantic photo shooting, indeed!
Until the 19th century the Rabati area around the castle was all there was of Akhaltsikhe. It was celebrated for its ethnic and religious diversity and tolerance, in a frontier area where different empires, kingdoms and peoples met. Rabati today still has Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches, a synagogue and a mosque, and the town still has a large Armenian population.
Besides Rabati, Akhaltsikhe also offers other interesting places, like a palace from the 13th/14th century, two synagogues, a Jewish cemetery and several mosques, most of them destroyed. As more than a quarter of the population in Akhaltsikhe is Armenian, there are also several Armenian churches in the city. There is an Armenian Catholic Church Surb Nshan on the small hill not far from the fortress built in the 15-16th centuries. You may find domes of abandoned sulfur baths in one of the quarters.