Svaneti (also known as Svanetia or Svania in Russian and Western languages) is a historic province in Georgia, in the northwestern part of the country. Its inhabited by the Svans (Svanebi in Georgian), ethnographic group of the Georgian people.



Surrounded by 3,000-5,000 m peaks (the Lahil, the Tetnuldi, the Ushba, the Shkhara, the Ayalam, and the Rustaveli Peak), Svaneti is the highest inhabited area in Europe.

Situated on the southern slopes of the central Greater Caucasus, the province extends over the upper valleys of the Rioni, Enguri and Tskhenistskali. The province consists of two parts, Zemo Svaneti (Upper Svaneti; the present day Mestia Raioni) and Kvemo Svaneti (Lower Svaneti; the present day Lentekhi Raioni) incorporated into the present day regions of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti and Racha-Lechkhumi & 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 in North Caucasus, the present day Russian Federation.


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Flag of the Principality of Svaneti

Known as Suaneti in ancient times, the province had been a dependency of Colchis, and of its successor kingdom of Lazika (Egrisi) until AD 552, when the Suanians took advantage of the Lazic War, repudiated this connexion and went over to the Persians. The Byzantines wanted the region, for if they secured its passes, they could prevent Persian raids on the border areas of Lazica. With the end of the war (562), Suaneti again became part of Lazica. Then, the province joined Abkhazia to form a unified monarchy which was incorporated into the Kingdom of Georgia in the early 11th century. Svaneti became a searistavo (duchy) within it, governed by an eristavi (duke). The provinces Orthodox culture flourished particularly during the Georgian golden age under Queen Tamar (r. 1184-1213), who was respected almost as goddess by the Svanetians. The legend has it that the duchy was annually visited by Tamar. The Svans had been known as fierce warriors for centuries. Their inflatable war banner was named Lemi (Lion) because of its shape.

The marauding Mongols never reached here and for a time Svaneti became a cultural safe house. Following the final disintegration of the Kingdom of Georgia in the 1460s, fighting broke out for controlling the province. Part of Upper Svaneti formed an independent principality, while Lower Svaneti was gradually subdued by the Mingrelian princes. Facing serious internal conflict, Prince Tsioq Dadeshkeliani of Svaneti signed a treaty of protectorate with the Imperial Russia on November 26 1833. Difficult to access, the region retained significant autonomy until 1857, when [Russia]] took advantage of the dynasty feud in Svaneti and effectively abolished the principalitys autonomy. In 1875, the Russians toughened their rule by imposing additional taxes. Protests ensued, and Russia deployed troops against the province. Despite having suffered heavy losses, the Russian army units eventually crushed the rebels burning their stronghold Khalde to the ground in 1876.

Part of the Russian governance of Kutais, Svaneti was divided into two districts (raions) Mestia and Lentekhi under the Soviet rule. Scattered guerilla actions against the Bolsheviks occurred in the province in 1922-1924.

In 1987 avalanches destroyed several homes and killed seventy, mostly school children. Collapse of the Soviet Union, and subsequent civil war created severe socioeconomic problems in the region. While the Svan population resisted the unpleasant conditions of the high mountain environment they lived in for centuries, the increasing economic difficulties of the last two decades and frequent natural disasters floods and landsides as of April 2005 ([1] ( have brought about a strong tendency towards migration. The province became a safe haven for criminals threatening local residents and tourists. Large-scale anti-criminal operations carried out by the Georgian Special Forces as of March 2004 ([2] ( resulted in significant improvement of the situation.


The Svans, indigenous population of the area, are ethnographic group of the Georgian people. Until the 1930s Megrelians and Svans had their own census grouping, but were classified under the broader category of Georgian thereafter. They are Georgian Orthodox Christians, and were Christianized in the 4th-6th centuries. However, some remnants of old paganism have been maintained. Saint George (known as Jgrg to the locals), a patron saint of Georgia, is the most respected saint. The Svans have retained many of their old traditions, including blood revenge. Their families are small, and the husband is the head of his family. The Svan really respect the older women in families.

Typically bilingual, they use both Georgian and their own, unwritten Svan language, which together with the Georgian, Megrelian, and Laz languages constitute the Kartvelian, or South Caucasian language family. The Svan language is being largely replaced by the Georgian proper.

Culture and tourism

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Administrative Divisions

Svaneti 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 regions villages more attractive. In the province are dozens of Georgian Orthodox churches and various fortification buildings. Architectural monuments of Upper Svaneti are included in a list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Song and dance are the most wonderful places the Svanish culture survives. Svaneti has the most complex form of polyphony, traditional to the Georgian vocal music.

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