The Megalithic Heritage of Samtskhe-Javakheti

The Megalithic Heritage of Samtskhe-Javakheti

Deep in its full of contrasts landscape with volcanic plateaus, ravines, mountain steppes, canyons, alpine and sub-alpine vegetation Samtskhe-Javakheti hosts the remnants of megalithic culture, the seal that testimonies Georgia’s thousands of years of existence and associates the region with the cradle of Georgian culture. 

The word megalith is of Greek origin and derives from the word combination "μέγας" meaning great and "λίθος" meaning stone. Megalith is considered to be either a single massive stone or a monument of prehistoric civilization created by extra-large, rough stones or monoliths. Megaliths were used for a variety of purposes ranging from serving as religious/cult building to being part of the society's household. Primarily megaliths were erected between the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. The most widely known megaliths are: Dolmen, Menhir, Cromlechs (Stone Circles), and Cyclopean complexes. Remains of this vague culture have been found in various parts of the whole world, however despite many scientific studies, megalithic civilization still remains an undisclosed phenomenon, thus commonly is surrounded by abundant myths and legends.   The purpose of megaliths is often the subject of speculation: is Menhir associated with rituals or is simply a road sign? Is Cromlech made for the burial ceremonials or it is created for astrological purposes, and at last but not least: what is hidden under the philosophy of dry masonry technique of Cyclops fortresses?

In Samtskhe-Javakheti, there are survived almost all types of megalithic culture, prevalent in other parts of the world. But Georgian language has preserved quite diverse tradition of naming the megaliths. For example the Menhirs are often called “Stone-Man” Stone-Bride” or Breast-Stone”. Those labels indicate that the megalithic monuments were mainly associated with various mythical beliefs, such as bringing rain or clemency for the harvest, gain fertility or increase milk for nursing mothers (the famous Menhir of Murjakheti). Along the cult or ritual purposes, the many Menhirs dotted in Samtskhe-Javakheti might have had another, more applied and vital purpose - to indicate the way. As in most cases they are found at crossroads and on the roads that lead to cyclopean complexes.

The Ancient Greeks believed that mythical Cyclopes built those enormous fortresses, while Georgian tradition attributed creation of the ancient strongholds to “Devs” and “Heroes”, hence often these castles were referred to as “Carved by Heroes”.  

Built in the Bronze Age, the cyclopean fortresses became faithful storytellers of Georgia’s chronicles, as their construction period coincides with the beginning of the unification of the Kartvelian tribes. Positioned in a compact way cyclopean fortresses are constructed in surprisingly strategic areas, protected with natural barriers, such as ravines, rivers and mountain ridges. That should have made it possible to control all passing roads and therefore create a good deal of defensive system for the region as a whole. The ability to create this type of architectural complexes indicates a well-organized society of the era.

And whenever we mention the cyclopean relics scattered on the Samtskhe-Javakheti ridges, invariably emerge three names. On the tops of three mountains, three fortresses – carved by heroes, three ancient rings of Georgia:      

Saro - colossal fortress built directly on the cliff without a basis and distinguished by the absolute symmetry of stone set of the walls;

Abuli – An inaccessible fortress built on 2670 meters above sea level thousands of years ago. Surrounded by seven-meter walls, fortified with massive ramparts, Abuli fortress proudly resides on rocky terrain and captivates everyone who dares to approach it and invites to its primeval narrow, tiled streets that can still be walked today. 

Shaori - "On the crest of the mountain Shaori nestles a fortress erected of mammoth boulders" is written in Description of Kingdom of Georgia by Vakhushti Bagrationi, a Georgian royal prince, and a notable geographer and historian of 18th century. Through his words comes to life an ancient cult complex of castles connected to one other with a serpentine-like, wide tiled roads and remnants of many yet to be revealed details.

Those ‘carved by heroes’ fortresses, Menhirs or Cromlechs of Samtskhe-Javakheti that used to be megalithic cult centers today represent the identity of Georgia and narrates an uninterrupted, unified history of people and nature, dating back at least to the III millennium and continuing to this day. 

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