Akhaltsikhe, Rabat district

Akhaltsikhe, Rabat district

The history of the centuries-old city of Akhaltsikhe is perfectly told by its diverse architecture on its hilly, impressive terrain, against the background of a large fortress. The Georgian Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian Gregorian churches, as well as a former mosque and synagogues, showcasing its multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism. Buildings that have survived to this day are found in districts formed in different periods, the oldest of which is Rabati district.


Akhaltsikhe is divided into two parts by the Potskhovi River: one side’s construction began in the 1830s, while the other older part of the city, includes Rabati district.

District’s History

The original name of the fortress at Akhaltsikhe is Lomsia and its establishment is connected with a famous representative of the Tao region ruling branch of Bagrations of the 9th century, Guaram.

The contours of an urban-type settlement near the castle have been traced here since the 11th century. Moreover, in historical documents of the 13th century, Lomsia is already referred to by the name of Akhaltsikhe.

From the 14th century onwards, it became the ancestral residence of the Jakeli noble family and the central city of Samtskhe Saatabago (Principality of Samtskhe). In 1578, Akhaltsikhe was conquered by the Ottomans and in 1628 it became the center of one of its administrative units, Sapasho.

According to the Turkish traveler Evlia Cheleb (1611-1683), in the middle of the 17th century, Akhaltsikhe consisted of Rabati castle and a residential area built around it. The castle and the district were connected by a small bridge over a moat, and there were 300 small shops in Rabati.

Obviously, the district had a commercial function as well as a residential one. Its name also confirms this: in ancient Hebrew, the word "rabat" literally means "discount for merchants", implying this was a trading place with wholesale or preferential taxes in the modern sense.

According to French traveler Jean Chardin, Georgians, Turks, Armenians, Greeks, and Jews all lived in Akhaltsikhe in the 17th century. The development of Rabati included micro-neighborhoods of the populations of different faiths located in the vicinity of iconic buildings. Georgians and Greeks lived near the St. Marine Church in the western part of the district.

There was also a Georgian and Armenian Catholic district with three churches: two Armenian-Catholic, and the third belonging to the Latin-Catholic parish. Near the latter, there was a residence of Capuchins and a hotel.

The Catholic district was next to the Armenian Monophysite district, in the center of which was St. Stephen's Church.

On the northeastern side of Rabat, there was a large Jewish quarter – Daramala - where, according to Marie-Frédéric Dubois de Montperre (1798-1850), the congregation had a community administration building in addition to the synagogue.

The development of Rabati was quite dense and consisted of terraced, hall-type banyan residential houses on a slope. Halls, with a crown-shaped wooden roof supported by pillars, were equally acceptable to all ethnic groups in Rabati, as this architecture was similar to the ancient dwellings of both the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia.

The famous market of Akhaltsikhe was located in the southern part of Rabati, and it was considered the central place for trade of Christian captives.

During the Soviet period, the border with Turkey was closed. Thus, it was possible to enter Akhaltsikhe only with a special permit. This somewhat hindered the development of the town. However, after Georgia regained its independence, the border with Turkey reopened and Akhaltsikhe underwent a revival

Large-scale rehabilitation works in the Rabati district were carried out in 2011-2012. The world-famous singer Charles Aznavour, whose father was born in Akhaltsikhe, and whose old house still stands near the river, sang at the opening ceremony.

What Can You See Here?

Most of the current residential buildings in Rabati are from the 20th century, although the street network has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages. In the residential houses, attention is drawn to artistically-processed metal details such as railings of balconies and stairs, openwork fronts of entrance doors, and roof water pipes.

In addition to the Christian temples, baths of the Ottoman period and a few halls still preserved in the neigbourhood, and also there are two synagogues in Rabati, built in 1863 and 1902. The interior of the older synagogue is completely furnished including a traditional Georgian wooden mezzanine with railings.

Important memorial monuments are located in the Jewish cemetery in the north of the protected area, which is spread over a wide space surrounded by a low fence.

Today, Akhaltsikhe is one of the most popular tourist spots in Georgia, because beside the wonderful historical monuments, it has all of the necessary infrastructure such as large and small hotels, cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops.

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