The south Georgian region of Kemo Kartli is one of Georgia’s most overlooked treasures. Although much of the region is just a short drive from Tbilisi, and is full of natural beauty and ancient monuments, many travelers ignore it for more famous parts of Georgia. This is a mistake, as the area is a fascinating patchwork of nationalities, climates and topographies. The plains south of Tbilisi are rich agriculturally, and are home to many Azerbaijani communities. These villages contain great examples of vernacular Azeri architecture, as well as a smattering of newly built mosques. Climbing higher onto the plateau around the town of Tsalka, and the population is an intriguing mixture of Georgian, Armenian and Pontic Greek, the latter the last remnants of a community that inhabited the Black Sea littoral since classical times. The capital of the region is Rustavi, and industrial, Soviet town that has fallen on hard times. Once a massive metallurgical factory, the are is now economically depressed and looks like something out of Mad Max. in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the town is still worth visiting by those interested in Soviet architecture, as it has an ‘old’ centre completed in Stalinist style, and a later addition built under Brezhnev and wholly modernist. Most visitors, however, will want to head for the regions many ancient monuments, including Bolnisi Sioni, the oldest major church in Georgia. Built in 480, this hulking basilica made of distinctive blue-green tuff contains the oldest Georgian inscription so far discovered in the country (older ones have been found in Palestine), and it’s sheer size and austerity make it a remarkable monument from what are often described as the ‘dark ages’. Further to the south west, about a two hour drive from Tbilisi, is the fascinating Archaeological site of Dmanisi. As well as being notable as the oldest hominid site outside Africa, the medieval remains of Dmanisi city are also very impressive. The ruins of the royal palace, built – inevitably – on a cliff, still contain its original bathhouses, and ancient churches and escape tunnels complete the picture of a heavily defended medieval town. The complex is set on a natural rock spur, overlooking lush wooded valleys that cry out for picnicking. Visit during March or April and you won’t be able to sit down without finding stands of wild asparagus. Nature lovers, veteran hikers, canyoners and adventurers, meanwhile, should head to the natural labyrinth of the Birtvisi canyons. This massive complex of limestone crevasses and ravines are one of the most spectacular – and most fun – hiking destinations in Georgia. just an hor from Tbilisi, the hidden valleys of Birtvisi contain secret castles, springs and waterfalls, all set in the most amazing limestone massif. There is enough to explore here to keep you busy for weeks, but it might be worth taking a guide, and the place really is a maze.

Metekhi Temple

The historical heart of the city, Metekhi is the place from where King Vakhtang Gorgosali started to develop the new capital erecting the first church on top of the hill in the 5th century. Tradition holds that it was also a site where the martyr lady Saint Shushanik, the heroine of the oldest known Georgian piece of literature, was buried in the 5th c. Later kings chose the site to host their court, royal palace, fortress and a cathedral. It remained the royal residence right through Queen Tamara’s reign until Khwarezmid invasion leaded by Jalal ad-Din in 1226 left Tbilisi in ruins and its Isani district, including this gorgeous hill-top ensemble, in flames. 
The extant Metekhi Church of Assumption dates back to c.1278 – c.1284. It was later damaged and restored several times.

Sioni Cathedral

Sioni Cathedral is situated in historic Sionis Kucha (Sioni Street) in downtown Tbilisi, with its eastern facade fronting the right embankment of the Mtkvari River. It was initially built in the 6th-8th centuries and was restored multiple times. Sioni Cathedral was the main Orthodox Cathedral and the seat of Catholics Patriarch of All Georgia until the Holy Trinty (Sameba) Cathedral was consecrated in 2004. However, it still holds the venerated Grapevine Cross (exhibited at the left of the altar) forged by St. Nino, a woman from Cappadocia who preached Christianity in Georgia in the early 4th century. 
Sioni Cathedral was the place where the Russian Imperial manifesto on the annexation of Georgia was first published on April 12, 1802, when the Russian commander-in-chief in Georgia, General Karl von Knorring, assembled the Georgian nobles in the Cathedral surrounded by Russian troops. The nobles were forced to take an oath to the Russian Imperial crown and any who disagreed was taken into custody.

Sameba Cathedral

The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi commonly known as Sameba (Trinity in Georgian) is the main Cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church located in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Constructed between 1995 and 2004, it is the tallest in Georgia and the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in the World. Sameba is a synthesis of traditional styles dominating the Georgian church architecture at various stages in history and has some Byzantine undertones.

Tbilisi Mosque

The eight angled minaret of the brick mosque draws attention even from the far distance and is perceived in a different ways from the various sides. The originally Sunni mosque, located at the end of the Botanical garden is the only functioning mosque in Tbilisi at present, after Shiite mosque on the other bank of the Mtkvari River was destroyed by communist rulers. Now it serves Shia as well as Sunni Muslims what is extremely rare in any other country of the world.

Tbilisi Ethnographical Open Air Museum

Founded in 1966 on the slope leading to the Turtle Lake, Giorgi Chitaia Georgian Folk Architecture and Ethnography occupies 52 hectares of land and houses more than 8 thousand exhibits brought from all over Georgia. The Open Air Museum exposes 14 ethnographic zones: Kartli, Samegrelo, Adjara, Abkhazia, Svaneti, Khevsureti, Kakheti, Meskheti, Javakheti, Guria, Imereti, Racha, Lechkhumi and Osetia. Each of them presents the particular historic-ethnographic area of Georgia. Together with the architectural monuments the museum exposes ethnographic materials – different kinds of tools, textile and ceramics. The museum also exposes the V-VI c. basilica of Sioni, as well as a rich collection of the grave stones in relief.

Narikala Fortress and St. Nicolas Church

Narikala is the ancient citadel overlooking the capital of Georgia and the Mtkvari River. The fortress already existed by the 4th century as Shuris-tsikhe (“invidious fort) and considerably expanded by the Arab Caliphate Umayyad in the 7th century and later, by King David the Builder. The Mongols renamed it “Narin Qala”, what means “Little Fortress” in Persian. Most of extant fortifications date from the 16 and 17th centuries. Unfortunately in 1827, the fortress was significantly damaged by an earthquake and partially demolished. Nowadays we can witness the past from ruins which came to our days – two wall sections on a steep hill between the sulphur baths and the Botanical Garden of Tbilisi – and recently restored St. Nicolas Church which is located on the lower court of Narikala Fortress.

Armenian Church of St. George

The Cathedral of Saint George is a 13th century Armenian church in Old Tbilisi, and is the seat of the Armenian archbishop. It is located in the south-western corner of Vakhtang Gorgasali Square (Meidani) and is overlooked by the ruins of Narikala fortress. In front of the church is the tomb of the famous Armenian poet and singer Sayat Nova, who was killed by the invading army of Agha Mohammed Khan, a Persian Knight, for refusing to denounce Christianity and convert to Islam.

Abanotubani – Bathhouses District

The sulphur baths, known for their tranquillizing effect, are located in Old Tbilisi on the bank of the Mtkvari River.  The bathhouses have existed here for more than a thousand years while the extant baths were mainly built in the 17-18th centuries and bear a strong resemblance to Islamic architecture.

Jewish Synagogue

Georgian Jews are one of the oldest communities in Georgia, tracing their migration into the country during the Babylonian captivity in 6th century BC. In Tbilisi Jewish Diaspora was mainly concentrated in Lower Kala and operated several synagogues in the city. The synagogue in Leselidze Street was built in 1910 and is still functioning.

Tsughrughasheni

Tsughrughasheni – Georgian Orthodox church in the Bolnisi municipality. The church is situated approximately 2 km away from Bolnisi Sioni basilica, on the right bank of the Bolnisistskali river. The church was built in 1212–1222 supposedly by the king of Georgia Giorgi IV Lasha.
The Tsughrughasheni church resembles stylistically the other Georgian churches from the 12th–13th centuries – Betania, Kvatakhevi, Pitare

Samshvilde’s Nakalakari

Samshvilde – one of the oldest historical fortress in Tetritskaro municipality, close to Samshvilde village, between Chivchava and Khrami rivers, surrounded by two precipices. According to Georgian traditions fortress was founded by eponym Kartlos. In the 12th century the fortress was occupied by Turkey, but King Davit Aghmashenebeli regained it back in 1100 who knew well its strategical and economical importance.

Pitareti Monastery

The Monastery of Pitareti is located close to Pitareti village. One of the most significant examples of Georgian architecture is the Church of the Mother of God, located within the monastery. There is a script inside the gates stating that the temple was constructed in the period of 1213-1222. Pitareti Church contains paintings dating back to the 13th century. There are very diverse pieces of high quality art work in the church as well, including intricate engravings, and decorative depictions of humans and animals.

Manglisi Cathedral (Manglisi Sioni Cathedral)

Manglisi Cathedral of Virgin Mary, located in Tetritskaro municipality, Manglisi village, was founded in 6-7th centuries and is a significant architecture of Georgian antiquity. During the reign of Giorgi I, in 1014-1027, the church of the Virgin was expanded and remodeled. In 1850 remodeled again. In result many frescoes were damaged or disappeared. On the cathedral there are ancient inscriptions, but hardly recognized. The engraved dome is noteworthy, along with the 11th century gates depicting a starry sky. The church has fragments of wall paintings dating back to the beginning of the 11th century. There is also a medieval belfry, but the date of its construction in unknown. In Manglisi cathedral were written and translated worthy books, for example Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of John.

Kolagiri Fortress

Kolagiri Fortress (Fortress of Queen) situated in Kolagiri village, Bolnisi municipality, on the left side Khrami river. 45 km away from Tbilisi. The period of foundation of the fortress is 18th century by Queen Darejan wife of King Erekle II. The function of the fortress was to defense nearby villages. When enemies found out the importance of this place, attempted to interrupt. Nowadays here is a monastery of Queen St. Ketevan.

Gudarekhi

The village of Gudarekhi in Tetritskaro district contains an architectural monument, monastery complex, and the ruins of an ancient settlement. The monastery complex is surrounded by a high wall and includes a church and a belfry constructed during the reign of Queen Rusudan. The church dates back to 1222. One of the most interesting structures in the complex is the belfry that was constructed in 1278. This is the earliest belfry in Georgia. Its lower floor is open, as is the top floor which contains eight pillars. There have been founded coins from the reigns of George III, Rusudan and Lasha-Giorgi, as well as Mongolian coins.

Dmanisi

Dmanisi was the largest fortified fortress-town of Lower Kartli. As well it was one of the most defended towns in Georgia during the middle ages, after Tbilisi. According to historical sources, the town of Dmanisi was the summer residence of Queen Tamara. A medieval tower and part of 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. There is also so called three-church basilica, which was built in the 6th century.
The fortress contains a citadel that was built in the 11th century bus was later destroyed during the invasion of Turks. King David the Builder reclaimed the fortress for Georgia and after 1123 it was referred to as the “town of kings”. 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 Baratashvili family. The area was once again revived and was used as a burial ground.
Early human fossils, dubbed Homo georgicus, were found at Dmanisi archeological site during the excavations between 1991 and 2005. At 1.8 million years old, H. georgicus may have been a separate species of Homo, predating Homo erectus, and represent the earliest stage of human presence in the Caucasus.

Bolnisi Sioni Church

The Bolnisi Sioni church is the only remaining three aisled basilicas in Georgia. It was constructed using carved stones, with its primary layer being different from the layer of bricks and river stones. The temple is decorated with clear green-turquoise hued stones. Decorations of the bases and heads of the pillars are of particular interest; one of them is known as the Bolnisi Cross. This is also the first known monument of Georgian architecture that utilizes relief sculptures related to the pre-Christian period, but adopted by the Christian era as well (ex: the head of a bull, various birds and animals).
In 1936-39 wide-scale architectural and restoration works were conducted in Bolnisi. The monument was fully cleaned, fixed and fortified. During this period architects discovered a stone with scripts at one of the entrances. All three scripts of Bolnisi Sioni are ancient examples of Georgian writing and language. One of the scripts, belonging to the 5th century, is located on the eastern wall above the window of the altar. This script is now preserved in the State Museum, while the temple has a replica of the original. King Peroz of Iran ruled over the region containing Bolnisi Sioni in 459-484, meanwhile the construction of the church started in 479 and was finished in 493. Frescos of the Mother of God and Jesus Christ are above the window. Both of these icons have been damaged. According to local legend, during the Soviet period, people were taken to the church and tested their belief of God: they had to shoot the icons as proof of their atheism. The icon of the Mother of God, which has been said to perform miracles, is located on the right side of the altar. There are violets that blossom behind the chamber of monks all year round, where 500 inhabitants of Bolnisi were tortured in the 17th century. Currently Sioni is an active church.

Birtvisi Fortress

Birtvisi is a ruined medieval fortress in Kvemo Kartli, nested within limestone cliffs in the Algeti river gorge. It is now within the boundaries of the Tetri-Tskaro municipality, adjacent to the Algeti National Park.
Birtvisi is essentially a natural rocky fortress of 1 km², secured by walls and towers, the most prominent of which – known as Sheupovari (Obstinate)–tops the tallest rock in the area.
In written sources, Birtvisi is first mentioned as a possession of the Arab amir of Tiflis of which he was divested by the Georgian nobles Liparit, Duke of Kldekari and Ivane Abazasdze in 1038. In medieval Georgia, Birtvisi entertained a reputation of an impregnable stronghold whose master could control the entire strategic Algeti gorge. The Turco-Mongol amir Timur notably reduced the fortress during one of his invasions of Georgia in 1403. After the partition of the Kingdom of Georgia later in the 15th century, Birtvisi was within the borders of the Kingdom of Kartli and in possession of the princes Baratashvili.

Betania

Betania is Georgian Orthodox monastery founded in 12-13th centuries. The church is situated in Didgori municipality, right side of Vere river, 16 km away from Tbilisi. It is a remarkable piece of architecture of the “Golden Age” of the Kingdom of Georgia and is notable for its wall paintings which include a group portrait of the contemporary Georgian monarchs.
The place was a familial abbey of the House of Orbeli. The donor image of Sumbat and Liparit Orbeli before the Mother of God appears on the south transept of the monastery. The Orbeli were temporarily dispossessed of their estates by the royal crown at the end of the 12th century, but their later offshoot, the Gostashabishvili family, appear to have been the monastery’s owners in early modern Georgia.