Kartli is the largest and most populated province of Eastern Georgia. It includes the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and two other major cities, Gori and Rustavi. It is bordered by the mountain-range of the Greater Caucasus to the north, by the province of Kakheti to the east, by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the south, by Turkeyand theSamtskhe-Javakheti region to the south-west and by the province of Imereti to the west.
In the 3rd century BC the ancient Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli, also known as Iberia, was established here. Its king declared Christianity as the official religion of Kartli in 337 AD. In the early Middle Ages, Kartli lost its political importance because of the struggle between the King and strong feudal rulers, as well as the aggression of the strong Persian Kingdom. Even so, in a way, it remained Georgia’s leader because of the independence of its Church and culture from Byzantine influence.
Kartli region divides into two parts: Kvemo Kartli (which in Georgian means “Lower Kartli”) and Shida Kartli (which in Georgian means “Inner Kartli”).
Kvemo Kartli is a region in the south of Georgia. It shares a border with the Trialeti, Javakheti, and Bambak-Erevani Mountain ranges. The capital is Rustavi.
The landscape of Lower Kartli consists largely of steppes and forested steppes. The lowlands in the region are characteristic of semideserts. Some of the biggest rivers of the region include the Mtkvari, Khrami and Algeti. There are a number of volcanic lakes in Lower Kartli (in the areas of Ozormani, Sarkinet-Gomareti and Kamarlo). Kumisi Lake is an interesting area due to the fact that its mud is used for curative purposes in Georgian spas and resorts.
The lowlands of Lower Kartli have a moist and subtropical climate. In the Javakheti Mountain range, the climate enjoys moderate levels of precipitation and the average annual temperature is 3-12° C. In the Tsalka area, the climate is similar to dry, Asian mountainous sub-tropical. The average annual temperature here does not reach above 6°C.
The Algeti National Park in the Trialeti region is especially interesting, offering a large diversity of flora and fauna. It is often referred to as Floral Junction, since it supports such an array of flora, including plants native to Colchis, Persia, Iberia, Iran, the Middle East, and the Caucasus area.
The Bolnisis Sioni Church is one of the oldest in Georgia. It was built in the 5th century during the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. The church is an unusual building without traditional elements of Georgian architecture. Its outer appearance is simple and laconic. The walls are covered with smooth deep turquoise beveled sinter tiles. Bolnisi is interesting in its inscriptions, which are ancient samples of well-preserved Georgian writing. The church is adorned with uniquely shaped crosses that became called Bolnisi crosses. They are carved in stone on the abutments, apses, and columns of the church. A Bolnisi cross has arms with a special fluted shape and all of the same length. It is usually placed in a circle. It is believed that this cross goes back to the time of the rule of Constantine the Great (306-337), who, in 313, issued the Edict of Milan, permitting the free preaching of Christianity in Byzantium.
Lower Kartli is especially interesting in terms of its archeology. Significant archeological excavations have taken place in this region, especially in Dmanisi. The Dmanisi settlement dates back to the medieval ages but was internationally unknown until ancient human remains were discovered there a few years ago, capturing the world’s attention. Specialists believe that the human bone fragments found in Dmanisi belonged to a people which lived here 1.7 million years ago. Previously, scientists believed that the first prehistoric human beings lived in central Africa, and from there they settled in Eurasia about 600,000-1,000,000 years ago. Discoveries from Dmanisi forced them to reconsider some existing theories. Now it is thought that the human remains discovered in Dmanisi may be from the oldest known human being in Europe and Asia. The discovery at Dmanisi is of a global importance and is widely considered a major archeological discovery of the 20th century. The skulls found in Dmanisi are currently kept in the Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia.
Dmanisi is a town situated on the River Mashavera. It arose around the 6th century BC and was a large trade and craft center of Georgia. It was the largest fortified fortress-town of Lower Kartli and according to historical sources, the town of Dmanisi was the summer residence of Queen Tamar. A medieval tower and citadel, cellars, baths, halls, jails, and ruins of households and other buildings still exist. A tunnel dating back to the 12th century is of particular note.
The town was destroyed on multiple occasions as a result of several invasions by Tamerlane, a powerful central Asian conqueror of the 14th century. During the 17th century this fortress was ruled by the Aratashvili family. The area was once again revived and was used as a burial ground.
Excavations of Dmanisi began in the mid-20th century. Town gates, cobbled streets, bathhouses, a tunnel to the river, residential houses, a pottery, dairy, trade stalls, barns, wine cellars, a mosque with minaret, and a madrasah were found there. A large variety of pottery of the 9th-13th centuries was discovered, as well as work tools, weapons, and a treasure trove of 25 gold and silver ornaments of the 12th-13th centuries.
During excavations in 1991, the remains of the oldest species of man to become extinct in Europe—Homo georgicus—were found in Dmanisi. Georgicus was presumably the intermediate stage in evolution between Homo habilis and Homo erectus. He is 1,770,000 years old, which is confirmed by stratigraphic and paleomagnetic studies, as well as by studies of the surrounding fossil fauna. So Homo georgicus is the oldest species of man that lived in Europe. Homo georgicus was 145-166 cm tall and weighed 40-50 kg.
The Shida Kartli Region is situated in the central part of Georgia. The capital is Gori. Gori is one of Georgia’s oldest towns. The chronicles say that it has existed since the beginning of the 12th century, but archeological finds indicate that urban-type settlements appeared there as early as the 3rd century BC.