Samegrelo – a small region with an eventful history and strong traditions
The famous Georgian writer and public figure, Ilia Chavchavadze, once said, “I came to Samegrelo and saw Georgia”
Let’s discuss what makes Samegrelo so unique.
Samegrelo, also known as Odishi, is an historic province located in western Georgia. Samegrelo was one of the first kingdoms formed in the southern Caucasian mountains. In ancient times it was a major part of the kingdom of Colchis and its successor, Egrisi.
The climate, which is heavily influenced by the black sea, is mostly subtropical. The unique climate of the area creates a rare environment for flora and fauna that is not seen elsewhere in Georgia. You will find plenty of exotic fruit here, and I strongly recommend tasting the local mandarins and kiwis.
The Samegrelo region has a rich culture and traditions dating back centuries, it even has its own dialect called ‘Mingrelian’. Megrelians, a subgroup of Georgians, call Samegrelo their ancestral home and they are one of the largest Georgian subgroups, making up around 23% of the population. The region is famous for tea plantations, chili’s, unique tasting wine, and the food which is much spicier than the cuisine from other parts of Georgia. I strongly recommend not leaving Samegrelo without tasting traditional ‘megruli’ food such as ghomi (cornmeal) and kharcho (meat in a creamy walnut sauce). If you are lucky enough, you might even taste them for free in the home of a local family. Megrelians love guests and they are very hospitable, they even have a proverb; “a guest is a messenger from God”.
Samegrelo also amazes visitors because of its natural beauty and unique local folklore, especially the traditional songs of the region. I suggest that you listen to a song called “Didou Nana” sung by the Turkish singer Kazim Koyuncu to get a real feel for the music of this incredible region.
The best reason for visiting Zugdidi, the capital city of Samegrelo, is to take a trip to the Dadiani Palace Museum. The Palace itself used to belong to the ex-dukes of the Samegrelo region.
The Dadiani Palace Museum exhibits the collection of the Dadiani family with an astonishing forty-one thousand items on display including paintings, textiles and weapons. One of the most fascinating items in the collection is the death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte! The mask came to Georgia with Napoleon’s nephew when he married into the Dadiani family. In fact, there is a delicious cake named ‘Napoleon’ that is a local favourite in Samegrelo.
Castles, a temple, and a decorative garden, which belonged to Princess Ekaterine Chavchavadze and her son, Niko Dadiani are all included within the walls of the museum complex. The gardens are filled with extraordinary trees, bushes, and plants from various parts of the world and really are an incredible sight to behold. A beautiful stone balcony and a huge ballroom keep the spirit of the Dadiani family alive. When you set foot in the ballroom, you feel like you are a guest at a royal party.
Zugdidi is 335 km away from Tbilisi by train. Once you are in Georgia, you can rest assured that the Georgian railway provides departures from Tbilisi to Zugdidi every day. Schedules are available on the Georgian Railway’s official website. Minibuses also leave from the Tbilisi bus terminal every 2-3 hours and take around 6 hours to get to Zugdidi.
Nokalakevi, which literally means “the place where the town was”, is surrounded by wonderful countryside, and is a site of archaeological interest. There is a fortress located 15 km from the town of Senaki on the Martvili road. If you are interested in archeology and history, it is well worth a visit. During archaeological excavations, evidence of civilizations dating back centuries were discovered around Nokalakevi. The most ancient layers date from the 7th and 8th centuries BC.
In the middle ages, the Martvili Monastery was the epicenter of culture and education for the entire western Georgia. Important philosophers and educators who played a major role in the development of Georgian culture worked and lived at Martvili Monastery. Among them was Giorgi Chkondideli, a teacher who taught King David Aghmashenebeli (1073-1125). After the annexation of Georgia by the Soviet Union, Martvili monastery was no longer active. In 1998, the Patriarch of Georgia, Ilia II, reopened Martvili and in 2007 it became a functioning monastery once again. For many centuries, the Monastery has continued to surprise visitors with its amazing architecture and green surroundings.