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Racha - Lechkhumi

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Racha - Lechkhumi

Racha is a wonderful highland region of western Georgia, situated in the upper Rioni river valley and surrounded by the Greater Caucasus mountains. Georgians like to joke about the Rachvelis, the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Racha in the North-West. They like to make fun of them for being slow, a bit simple and so on, but when you go to Racha, you’ll understand that maybe it’s all out of envy.

Racha is a special place, high in the mountains and absolutely unspoiled, but only 210 kilometers away from Tbilisi. With rushing rivers bursting with trout, the region is famous with anglers and rafters, as well as mountain bikers and paraplanes. The headwaters of the powerful Rioni River are a haven for fishing, whitewater rafting and kayaking. For many travelers to the region, Racha is a giant outdoor playground. No visitor to Racha can fail to be won over by the food. The smoked ham of the region – lori – is famous throughout Georgia. One of the country’s favorite meals, the garlic and chicken fiesta called Shkmeruli, hails from the small village of Shkmeri in the mountains here. Not forgetting Racha’s most precious export, Khvanchkara – reportedly Stalin’s favorite wine. This fruity red grows in only one small village, making it highly precious, and as it does not travel well, it really has to be tasted close to home. Just one more cause to come to Racha.


Despite the rich nature, Racha also contains some remarkable cultural treasures. The church of Nikortsminda is outside Racha’s main town of Ambrolauri and features some of the finest stone carving around, with scenes depicting King Bagrat III who sponsored its building, as well as Christ striking down the pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian. Dating from 1010, the church is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Oni, the region’s other town, is distinguished by a richly decorated 19th century synagogue, the third largest in Georgia, which demonstrates the long presence of this mountain region’s local Jewish population. Another significant attraction is Khotevi Church. During the 13th century, the Church of Archangel and temple were built in the village of Khotevi. The first mention of the village was in writings dating back to the 11th century. It was a major trade center, and served as a link for Imereti and Kvemo Racha.

And the last important attraction, Barakoni Church of the Mother of God is located near the town of Ambrolauri, in the Tsesi village, in mountainous Racha region. Barakoni is one of the last significant monuments in the tradition of medieval Georgian architecture. Barakoni was built in 1753, by the order of local lord the Ruler of Racha Principality – Rostom. The church was designed by the architect Avtandil Shulavreli who is commemorated in the inscription of the eastern facade. Located on a top of a steep cliff, it overlooks Rioni River which joins the Lukhuni River just below the mountain.


Racha had been part of Colchis and Caucasian Iberia since ancient times and its main town Oni was said to have been founded by King Parnajom of Iberia in the 2nd century BC. Upon creation of the unified Georgian kingdom in the 11th century, Racha became one of the duchies within it. Rati of the Baghvashi family was the first duke appointed by King Bagrat III. Descendants of Rati and his son Kakhaber, eponymous father of Racha’s ruling dynasty of Kakhaberisdze, governed the province until 1278. In 1278 King David VI Narin annuled the dukedom during his war against the Mongols. In the mid-14th century, the dukedom was restored under the rule of the Charelidze family.

The next dynasty of Chkhetidze governed Racha from 1465 to 1769. Vassals of the King of Imereti, they rebelled several times against the royal power. The 1678-1679 civil war resulted in the most serious consequences. In this war, Duke Shoshita II of Racha (1661-1684) supported Prince Archil, a rival of the pro-Ottoman Imeretian king Bagrat IV. On the defeat of Archil, Racha was overrun and plundered by an Ottoman punitive force. Under Rostom (1749-1769), the duchy became virtually independent from Imereti. However, in the end of 1769, King Solomon I of Imereti arrested Rostom and to annul the duchy. In 1784, King David of Imereti revived the duchy and gave it to his nephew Anton. Local opposition tried to use an Ottoman force to take control of Racha, but the victory of King David at Skhvava (January 26, 1786) temporarily secured his dominance in the area. In 1789, the next Imeretian king Solomon II finally abolished the duchy and subordinated the province directly to the royal administration.

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