By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, July 9
Georgia's mountainous regions, with their traditions, wonderful nature, special people and ancient customs, attract all who visit them.
One of the most amazing of such regions is Pshav-Khevsureti. The Khevsureti region consists of three deep gorges and four mountain ranges covered with ice and snow. The citadel-village of Shatili boasts a variety of towers which are centuries old and still inhabited. The suspension bridges connect the towers and allow the villagers to move from one dwelling to another. Even in the recent past a place called the Anatori Ossuary was used by mortally ill Khevsurs: to save their families they would set out for that place and meet their end there in seclusion, keeping their kinfolk safe from epidemic and disease.
The warlike character of Khevsurs has encouraged some historians to relate this tribe of Georgian highlanders to the Crusaders, but the decisive factor in this identification is the cross patterns which decorate the national attire of the Khevsurs. Along with their bellicose history and experience, they also have a very peaceful and ethical custom: if a young girl or woman throws her headscarf between fighting Khevsurs, they must stop fighting immediately.
Historically, Georgian highland communities enjoyed a degree of autonomy. Khevsurs never accepted local lords; they elected their leaders or khevisberi (elder) and councils of elders and submitted only to the monarch. They were exceptional warriors with the traditional Georgian qualities of courage, openness and honesty, fraternity, independence and love of freedom, who were often promoted to become royal bodyguards. Kings regarded them as reliable guardians of the Caucasus Mountains and the northern borders of the kingdom. In battle Khevsurs wore flags adorned with crosses and considered themselves permanent members of the Army of the Sacred Flags and guardians of Georgian Kings.
The architecture of Khevsureti is mostly characterised as fortress-style and numbers of towers are located in the mountains. Khevsurs are known for their wars with the peoples of the Northern Caucasus, including the Chechens, Kists, and Dagestanis. A Khevsur's aspirations are expressed in his style of dress, dances and attitudes. Khevsurian men, dressed in chain mail and armed with broadswords, wore garments full of decoration made up of crosses and icons, which served as a means of protection according to the Christianity which they adopted early in the 4th century. Greek historian Herodotus(c. 484 – c. 425 BC) notes that the Caucasian highlanders of that time were brilliant knitters and embroiders of their native dress, or Chokha, which wore out from frequent use but never faded. Young girls started knitting at the age of 6-7, but men concentrated on studying and military training, because according to their tradition women were excluded from education and higher social status. They had a strict system of physical training in martial arts, which is preserved in the Khridoli martial art, a part of the rich Georgian military tradition. Khevsur dances are also preserved in the national dance repertoire as the warrior dance Khevsuruli.
Khevsurian religion is a unique mixture of Georgian Orthodox Christianity and pre-Christian cults. They worship sacred places locally known as jvari (“cross’), khati (“icon”) or salotsavi (“sanctuary”). Aside from their religious character, these were sites where the locals discussed and decided common matters such as raids against enemies, peacemaking, appeals from various people, etc. Even in the Soviet period of harsh restrictions against any religious activity the Georgian highlanders, together with a group of priests, performed their traditional rituals each year.
Alongside the traditional architecture and ancient customs, we can find some modern buildings being built in Khevsureti, especially for holidaymakers, whose numbers are significantly increasing year on year. However, the owners try to preserve the ancient appearance of the hotels or other buildings for visitors, in order not to damage the wonderful sight of the mountainous region.