Svaneti or Svanetia (Suania in ancient sources) is a
historic province in Georgia, in the northwestern part of the country.
It is inhabited by the Svans, an ethnic subgroup of the Georgians.
Surrounded by 3,000–5,000 meter peaks, Svaneti is the highest inhabited
area in the Caucasus. Four of the 10 highest peaks of the Caucasus are
located in the region. The highest mountain in Georgia, Mount Shkhara
at 5,201 meters (17,059 feet), is located in the province. Prominent peaks
include Tetnuldi (4,974m./16,319ft.), Shota Rustaveli (4,960m./16,273ft.),
Mt. Ushba (4,710m./15,453ft.), Ailama (4,525m./14,842ft.), as well as
Lalveri, Latsga and others.
Situated on the southern slopes of the central Greater Caucasus, Svaneti
extends over the upper valleys of the Rioni, Enguri and Tskhenistskali.
Geographically and historically, the province has been divided into two
parts—Upper Svaneti (Zemo Svaneti; the present day Mestia Raioni)
and Lower Svaneti (Kvemo Svaneti; the present day Lentekhi Raioni)—centering
on the valleys of the upper reaches of the two rivers Enguri and Cxenis-c’q’ali,
respectively. They are distributed between the present-day regions of
Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti and Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti respectively.
Historical Svaneti also included the Kodori Gorge in the adjoining rebel
province of Abkhazia, and part of the adjacent river valleys of Kuban
and Baksan of Russia.
The landscape of Svaneti is dominated by mountains that are separated
by deep gorges. Most of the region which lies below 1,800 meters (5,904ft.)
above sea level is covered by mixed and coniferous forests. The forest
zone is made up of tree species such as spruce, fir, beech, oak, and hornbeam.
Other species that are less common but may still be found in some areas
include chestnut, birch, maple, pine and box. The zone which extends from
1,800 meters to roughly about 3,000 meters (5,904–9,840ft.) above
sea level consists of alpine meadows and grasslands. Eternal snows and
glaciers take over in areas that are over 3,000 meters above sea level.
The region is notable for its glaciers and picturesque summits. Svaneti's
signature peak is probably Mt. Ushba which towers over the Inguri Gorge
and can be seen from many parts of the region...
The climate of Svaneti is humid and is influenced by the air masses coming
in from the Black Sea throughout the year. Average temperatures and precipitation
vary considerably with elevation. Annual precipitation ranges between
1000 and 3200mm (39 and 126 inches). The highest amount of precipitation
falls on the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The region is characterized by
very heavy snowfall in the winter and avalanches are a frequent occurrence.
Snow cover may reach 5 meters (16.4 feet) in some areas. In general, the
lowest regions of Svaneti (800–1200 meters/2624–3936 feet
above sea level) are characterized by long, warm summers and relatively
cold and snowy winters. Middle altitudes (1200-1800 meters above sea level)
experience relatively warm summers and cold winters. Areas above 2000
meters above sea level lie within a zone that experiences short, cool
summers (less than 3 months) and long and cold winters. Large parts of
Svaneti lie above 3000 meters (9840 feet) above sea level, a zone which
does not have a real summer. Due to Svaneti's close proximity to the Black
Sea, the region is spared from the extremely cold winter temperatures
that are characteristic of high mountains.
Culture and tourism
Svanetia is known for their architectural treasures and picturesque landscapes.
The Botany of Svanetia is legendary among travelers. The famous Svanetian
towers erected mainly in the 9th-12th centuries, make the region’s
villages more attractive. In the province are dozens of Georgian Orthodox
churches and various fortified buildings. Architectural monuments of Upper
Svanetia are included in a list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Svan culture survives most wonderfully in its songs and dances. Svanetia
boasts the most complex form of Georgian polyphonic singing, traditional
to Georgian vocal music.