Whenever anyone plans to visit Kazbegi, there are a few stops that have become a staple of the itinerary in recent years that can’t be neglected.
Among them, the most famous is probably Ananuri Fortress, a 13th-century complex situated halfway between Tbilisi and Kazbegi on the Zhinvali Reservoir.
Easy to reach and a quick but rewarding visit, Ananuri is always used as a stop to divide the beautiful journey to Kazbegi. The views of the typical orthodox architecture with the Zhinvali Reservoir and the surrounding mountains are just eye candy, and a perfect preview of what will await you going north toward the Greater Caucasus mountains.
Ananuri Fortress has a long and disrupted history. For centuries it served as the symbol of the power of the area, as a refuge for defeated kings, and as a center for trade, thanks to its favorable position.
Rulers frequently changed in Ananuri during the feudal era of Georgia, and the fortress often got damaged.
Thanks to the numerous restoration works, Ananuri Fortress is still able to convey a magical feeling. Most buildings have been restored to their peak conditions, though a part of the lower fortification consists of only ruins to this day.
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The History of Ananuri
Ananuri Fortress was built in the 13th century on the side of the Aragvi river, where multiple important trading routes and connections met. It was a strategic point, which prompted the Prince of the Aragvi Dynasty to establish the area as its residence.
During the 13th century, the Georgian empire began its decline, and like most of Asia, it was threatened by the Mongols. It was then that many villages and municipalities were born, as people were trying to unite in uncertain times.
Power attracts people, so eventually the inhabitants grew, and Ananuri became a substantial village able to defend its territory.
In the following centuries, Ananuri was the setting of many battles, and it went from becoming the residence of the King’s officials and one of the strongest fortresses in Georgia to being burned down by the Russian Empire in 1812.
Why you should visit Ananuri Fortress
Ever since the exponential growth of Georgia as a tourism destination, Ananuri has become the principal on-the-road stop of the country, serving as a perfect break halfway through Tbilisi and Kazbegi.
Residing on the side of the manmade Zhinvali Reservoir, Ananuri Fortress is an interesting visit that brings you into a different age in Georgian history.
The site comprehends two Churches, a bell tower, and three guard towers situated along the fortified wall that can be climbed through internal stairs. Steep, dark, and narrow, the stairs can be a tough climb for some people, especially those in the bigger tower, but if you power through and get to the top you’ll be rewarded with the best views of the area, with the Churches in the foreground and the Zhinvali reservoir surrounded by the mountains in the back.
The two Churches date back to the 17th century and have been restored throughout the years. Nowadays, the “Church of the Mother of God” and “Church of the Deity” match the typical Orthodox architecture, and have elegant carvings on the exterior.
The frescoes on the interior are slightly faded, but they are still stunning.
A Preview of Kazbegi
The fortress and its scenery are also a great introduction to what awaits you going toward Kazbegi.
Ananuri Fortress is situated at 900m in elevation, and from there forward you’ll enter the most beautiful patch of the Georgian Military Highway, as the road passes through wide valleys surrounded by tall peaks that glow with sunlight.
Much like Gergeti Trinity Church, Dariali Monastery, and Zakagori Fortress, Ananuri is a representation of what traveling to Georgia has to offer, from the culture imprinted in the religious buildings to the breathtaking mountains that complete the scenery.
Ananuri Fortress Entrance Fee and Parking
The entrance to Ananuri Fortress is free and it doesn’t need a ticket.
You can visit any day of the week from 10:00 to 18:00.
A free and numerous parking lot is situated right outside of the site, and though sometimes it can get quite busy, you shouldn’t have a problem finding some space if you’ve rented a car.
Dress Code for Ananuri Fortress
As with most religious sights, a dress code is enforced in Ananuri.
Both men and women should avoid shorts or anything revealing, instead opting for trousers, and you should also wear a shirt or jacket that covers the shoulders, chest, and belly.
The only difference for women is that sometimes you are required to wear a scarf covering most of the hair, but you’ll most likely find it at the entrance of Churces, if necessary.
Why is it called Ananuri?
There is an interesting legend that surrounds the origin of the name given to the fortress, and despite there being a few variations that have been spread for centuries, they all share the same principles.
The legend is centered around a battle that was going on in Ananuri, where the enemy’s soldiers had surrounded the fortress and were waiting for the inhabitants to get weaker because of the lack of resources.
Time went by, and the people of Ananuri didn’t show any sign of surrendering, which made the invading army quite confused.
What the enemies didn’t know is that Ananuri Fortress had a tunnel that connected the interior of the fortification to the Aragvi river, which permitted them to get out and fish.
This went on for some time, and the invaders caught on to what was happening and started looking for the entrance to the tunnel, but with no success.
That was at least until they found one of the inhabitants outside of the fortress, a girl named Ana, which they took as prisoner to try and get the location of the connection.
Ana refused to give out the information, and for that she was tortured and killed. The battle was eventually won by the Ananuri people, which named the fortress in the girl’s honor.
Ana was from Nuri, a village not far from there, which makes the name a perfect match.
Another version of the legend slightly changes in the results. Ana is still the protagonist, but this time there was no active battle, and Ana fell in love with a guy from Dagestan, which she let inside the walls of the Fortress.
Betraying Ana, one night the man opened the entrance to Ananuri Fortress, allowing the attack from the Dagestan army, which conquered the fortress.
The name Ananuri in this case derives from the combination of “Anas Sinanuli”, which translates to “the repentance of Ana”.
Ananuri Fortress was built on the shore of the Aragvi river, which is the flowing body of water that’s generated from the glaciers on the Kelitsadi volcanic plateau (near Kazbegi) and follows the Georgian Military Highway almost in its entirety until it eventually merges with the Mtkvari river.
The river was free to flow all the way to Mtskheta until the 1980s, which is when the Soviet government built a dam to form the Zhinvali reservoir.
Tbilisi was growing quickly at the time, and the dam permitted it to have a more stable source of clean drinking water. To this day it still serves as the main source of water for over half of the capital’s population.
The blue water of the reservoir is a sight that’s hard to pass up, as a stop there gives you great views of the beautiful scenery all around you. Around the reservoir are some mountains filled with trees that explode with color in autumn.
Besides just admiring its beauty from above, it’s also possible to swim in the Zhinvali reservoir, something that most people visiting rarely do.
The Ananuri area is also an important cultural center, as it’s been inhabited since ancient times. Although almost no trace of ancient civilization remains, the villages and people living here transude with the remains of its history.
A large quantity of possible archeological sites was submerged by the Zhinvali Reservoir, a decision that caused many protests. Nowadays, numerous historical interest points are still buried in the depths of the body of water.
Rafting on the Aragvi River
If you want to do more than stop at Ananuri Fortress, you can enjoy a rafting session on the Aragvi river.
Along the Georgian Military Highway you’ll find numerous places that offer these experiences, but I recommend contacting one of them in advance to get all the info you need.
How to get to Ananuri from Tbilisi
Reaching Ananuri Fortress from Tbilisi is easy and quick, which is why virtually everyone in the area goes there, either as a day trip or as a stop on the way to Kazbegi.
There is no marshrutka that goes to Ananuri and goes back to Tbilisi, as the fortress is simply a stop along the road that leads to Kazbegi.
Marshrutkas for Kazbegi leave once per hour from Didube Bus Station in Tbilisi, but the drivers don’t always stop at Ananuri Fortress. If you want to make sure it stops there, you need to ask the driver.
The price of the marshrutka ride all the way to Kazbegi is 15 GEL, and the journey to Ananuri takes about 1.5 hours
If you plan to spend a longer time there you can try to get a seat on the next Marshrutka, but if you want complete freedom to explore Ananuri Fortress you can get a shared taxi, especially if you’re with a group.