Halfway to Gudauri, along the Georgian Military Highway, we stop by the Ananuri Fortress, one of Georgia’s most iconic sights. The Ananuri is a religious complex overlooking the Zhinvali Reservoir of the Aragvi River. This scenic location and the intricate traditional Georgian architecture of the church make it one of the most popular day trips from Tbilisi. Though most of the complex is now in ruins, it still makes for an interesting exploration.
Rains have begun to pour, so most of the group stays in the van. The rest brave the chilly air and the wet grounds to explore the complex. The gray sky actually lends a mysterious vibe to a place that has already seen a fair share of violence in the past.
The fortress was built in the 16th and 17th centuries as the seat of the dukes of Aragvi, which ruled the region from the 13th century. Within the compound is a castle, a bell tower, and two churches. The castle has been the site of numerous battles, including one in 1743 when the ruling clan was murdered. The fortress remained in use until early 19th century.
The larger of the two churches in the compound is the Assumption Church, an Orthodox church that features a central dome-style structure and elaborate frescoes created in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most of these were destroyed in a fire, but those that remain provide a glimpse of of Georgian art – a hodgepodge of styles influenced by the Greco-Roman, Byzantine, and Persian empires.
After a few minutes looking at the interiors of the church, we make our way to the watchtower. The structure contains two levels, with the lower level mostly in ruins. The upper level is surrounded by high walls, but with holes large enough to view the roofs of the churches overlooking the river.