Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Guria: From the Mountains to the Sea

Guria (გურია) is a region in western Georgia with landscapes running from the Meskheti Mountains at 2800 meters (9128 feet) all the way down to the beaches of the Black Sea. Its subtropical climate makes it home to tea, citrus, tobacco, hazelnut and silk production.

Nearly half of Guria is covered in forests, many of which are home to health resorts and or springs used to produce the widely-exported Nabeghlavi mineral water (which was recently banned from Russia, along with Georgian wine, as an act of political intimidation).

Guria's flora is exceedingly rich and distinctive, encompassing bogs and sub-alpine forests and open fields. Cultural sites include the Likhauri church (15th century), the Shemokmedi monastery complex (16-18th centuries; pictured), the Gurieli palace (18th century), the Djumati monastery (16th century), the Askana fortress and church complex (16th century) and Petra (I millennium, BC, later called Justinianopolis or today Tsikhisdziri).

The region was governed by local rulers until the creation of the unified Kingdom of Georgia in the 10th century. When the Kingdom disintegrated in 1466, Guria became an independent principality. Throughout the eighteenth century, Gurian princes were involved in anti-Ottoman liberation wars, though eventually Lower Guria fell to the Ottomans. In 1810 Prince Mamia V Gurieli accepted Russian sovereignty though Russian resulted in an uprising in 1819 and 1820. A subsequent uprising in 1841 was brutally suppressed. The region (mkhare) of Guria re-emerged as part of an independent Georgia in 1995.

Famous Georgians include historian and archaeologist Ekvtime Takaishvili, journalist and politician Noe Zhordania and historian and philologist Pavle Ingorokva.

There is some debate about where the name “Guria” comes from. Some argue it is named after the Gurieli noble family, which governed western Georgia as vassals of the crown, beginning in the 13th century. Others contend that when Georgia’s boundaries stretched from Nikopsia to Daruband, Guria was in the center of Georgia, taking its name from the Megrelian word for heart: “guri.”

Medallion from an icon frame, Djumati Monestary, c. 1100

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