Adishi: holy city

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Adishi is a small village, 6,000 feet above sea level, in the Svaneti region of Georgia. Nine families live in this village in the Greater Caucasus Mountains throughout the year, and another six families live in the village during the summer. Other families have moved away. In 1987, avalanches destroyed several homes in the area and killed seventy people, mostly school children. In the aftermath, the Soviet Union resettled some 2,500 families, including almost all the families in Adishi, to valleys of eastern Georgia.

People in Adishi milk their cows and make cheese daily. They trade their cheese for grain, which they use to bake bread in wood-burning stoves. They also grow potatoes, the only crop suitable for its terrain. Most cash comes from backpacking tourists. People in Adishi don’t have extravagant desires; they want a better road, which will enable them to have a supply of food during winters, and a more reliable supply of electricity.

Their best hope for economic growth may be to expand tourism, especially eco-tourism. Ecotourism is responsible travel that respects the environment and improves the conditions of local communities. It’s a broad term that comprises various activities – from sports (rafting) to culture (studying the traditions of Svaneti’s towers). According to the Deputy Chairman of the Department for Tourism and Resorts, ecotourism can make living in mountain areas sustainable. He said that house renting, guide services and horse riding are revitalizing local economies.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

It helps that UNESCO designated the Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus as a World Heritage site. UNESCO bestowed this honor because the area has exceptional mountain scenery and it has preserved to a remarkable degree its medieval-type villages and tower-houses. UNESCO World Heritage Centre

When tourists saw my video team at work, they asked, “Why Adishi?” I respond that it is a small village, with defense towers dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries, beautiful scenery, and that it maintains old Svaneti traditions. Then the tourists might say that Svaneti has several such towns, which is true. So I asked some residents what makes Adishi special.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

They explained that Adishi is a holy place. It has seven churches, and in one church you can view an icon dating back to the 10th Century, but I need to check on this fact. No fact checking is required, however, when stating that the Adysh Bibles were preserved there for centuries. This important early medieval (897) book is the oldest dated extant manuscript of the Georgian version of the Gospels. It was created in a monastery in what is now northeastern Turkey and it was later brought to Adishi.