Unique, mysterious, fabulous, extraordinary. Just some of the words that come to mind when visiting the heritage village of Dartlo in Georgia’s high mountainous region of Tusheti
Dartlo village is situated 2,000 meters above sea level by the Alazani River, on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. It is distinguished by its vernacular architecture with dry masonry and stone-slated roofs, where residents have sustained their ancestors’ culture and pattern of life.
Dartlo is a part of the Regional Development Project (RDP) focusing on the Kakheti region, east Georgia. It is financed by the World Bank (US$ 60 million) and the Government of Georgia (US$ 15 million), and is implemented by the Municipal Development Fund of Georgia (MDF).
Sustaining vernacular architecture - fortress-houses, usually attached to fortified towers - was very important, as this is what attracts visitors and improves livability and hospitality of the place and its residents.
Beso Elanidze is the owner of a pioneer guest house in the village, which can accommodate up to 40 guests at a time. Despite the fact that the tourism season in Dartlo is rather short, (four months - from early June to mid-October) he already sees increasing number of guests, owing to the project activities.
“Tourists come from different parts of the world. Mostly from the Baltic countries, Czech Republic, but also Italy, Germany, Poland and Greece. Last year almost 50 percent of our guests came from Israel. But this year, I’m happy to see more locals travelling to Dartlo. Many Georgians haven’t yet been to this beautiful place having missed a truly unique experience,” says village resident Beso Elanidze.
The benefits from Beso’s business to Tusheti residents go beyond his guest-house. Local women who produce traditional handicrafts, like woolen hats, socks, ceramic vessels, and thick felt decorations, have the opportunity to sell their products at a souvenir corner in the hotel. This way, the guests carry tangible memories from Tusheti, but also support locals with some additional earnings.
To generate further income, Beso opened a small café this year, where his visitors can enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the village while tasting local cuisine.
21 year old Tamar Idoidze is a student who lives in the capital city Tbilisi, but visits her uncle’s house in Dartlo with her friends every summer. “My sister is a ranger at the Tusheti National Park. Every year we take beautiful photos. When other friends see them, they decide at once to visit Dartlo. During holidays, you can see lots of young people here,” says Tamar, who proudly tells us that she would never leave her country and go someplace else to live. She sees positive changes and is hopeful for the future of her village.
This house with a roofed balcony and additional storage space (for non-perishable food items or life-stock) is another type of dwelling in the village. Many of these houses have recently been transformed into guest-houses. There are currently about 10 of such tourism accommodations in the village.
Tusheti's protected area is perfectly suitable for both - soft (hiking, birding, trekking, skiing, kayaking) and extreme (mountaineering, paragliding, heli-skiing) experiences. Project activities include developing the physical areas, marketing, and training.
Tusheti region has several other heritage villages. Some of them are challenged by changing morphology and traditional architecture patterns. To address such challenges, the World Bank leveraged financial resources from the Italian Cultural Heritage Trust Fund to prepare special plans and architecture standards of 3 other villages: Omalo, Shenako and Diklo.
World Bank representatives recently visited Dartlo, together with the Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, the Head of the Municipal Development Fund, and other regional and local officials. They discussed and supervised ongoing works, together with the local community, and formally launched the second phase of the village rehabilitation.
The formal part of the visit was complemented by charity on behalf of the World Bank Office in Tbilisi, which included such essential food items as sugar, flour, pasta, olive oil, etc. to help the local families during severe weather in the mountains.
Photos: Ahmed Eiweida and Tamar Kobakhidze, World Bank