Since ancient times, the Caucasus has been a very important overland trade route of the Silk Road. To protect caravans, as well as to control the territory, powerful fortresses and palaces have been built here for thousands of years.

In this review on Geomerid online travel guide, you can read about ancient fortresses and palaces built in the Caucasus:

1.    Narikala Fortress (Tbilisi)
2.    Narynkala Fortress (Derbent)
3.    Shirvanshahs Palace (Baku)
4.    Khertvisi Fortress (Borjomi)
5.    Ananuri Fortress (Daryal)
6.    The Castle of Queen Tamara (Daryal)
7.    Atskuri Fortress (Borjomi)
8.    Darejan Palace (Tbilisi)
9.    Genib Fortress (Dagestan)

1.    Narikala Fortress (Tbilisi)

The ancient Fortress of Narikala towers over the Old City of Tbilisi and is one of the main attractions of the capital of Georgia. This fortress has existed since the 4th century, and the residents of the city call it the Heart of Tbilisi. You must visit this place to see the ruins of the fortress, as well as enjoy the beautiful views of the Old Town and the Botanical Garden.

The ancient capital of Georgia in the 4th century was Mtskheta, where in 326 Tsar Mirian III adopted Christianity as the state religion. As soon as King Vakhtang I Gorgasal was able to conquer the lands south of Mtskheta, in 458 he moved the capital of Georgia to Tbilisi. The key factor in this decision was a much more advantageous defensive location: on the left bank above the Kura rises the fortress of Narikala, and on the right rises the rock of Metekhi, where King Vakhtang built his palace, as well as the temple of Metekhi.

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2.    Narynkala Fortress (Derbent)

Naryn-Kala Fortress is the main attraction of Derbent. In 2003, the Naryn-Kala Fortress and the old city of Derbent, which is located at its foot, were included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. The first mention of Derbent can be found in the writings of the Greek geographer Hecateus of Miletus in the 6th century BC. Since its foundation, Derbent has been a fortified city. The fortress on the site of Naryn-Kala has existed since its foundation, but the citadel, erected in the 6th century AD, during the reign of the Persian Khan Khosrow I, has survived to this day.  

Naryn-Kala means "Solar fortress" in Persian. The area of the fortress is 4.5 hectares. Previously, it was a whole city, then the palace of the Khan of Derbent and a military garrison were located here. Powerful walls and convenient location on the hill made the fortress impregnable. The height of the stone walls is 6.5 meters, their thickness reaches 3.5 meters. In the Naryn-Kala fortress, you can see several buildings of the Middle Ages. 

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3.    Shirvanshahs Palace (Baku)

The Palace of Shirvanshahs was erected in Baku in 15 century, when the capital of the State of Shirvanshahs was moved there from Shemaha, which was 120 km to the east, in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. Closeness of Baku to the sea quickened the development of the state.

Shirvanshah`s Palace complex consists of the main building of the palace, now occupied by the Old Town Museum, and the Dervish Mausoleum dating back to 15 century. The burial complex of the Shirvanshah Palace was built at the lower level in 1445.

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4.    Khertvisi Fortress (Borjomi)

The Khertvisi Fortress is located in a convenient location, at the confluence of the Kura River and its small tributary Paravani. Above these two rivers rises a rock suitable for the construction of fortifications. The main route from Armenia to Georgia between the Trialeti mountain range and the Meskheti mountain range ran along the bed of the Kura River, so several fortresses were built on it in the Middle Ages. The fortress of Khertvisi was the most powerful of them.

Archaeological excavations indicate that the settlement on the site of the fortress of Khertvisi existed in ancient times. But the fortifications of those times have not survived to this day. Now, when visiting the fortress of Khertvisi, you can see only the fortress walls of the Lower Fortress, which surround an area of more than 3 hectares, as well as the Upper Fortress. 

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5.    Ananuri Fortress (Daryal)

The medieval fortress of Ananuri is located at the entrance to the Daryal Gorge on the southern slope of the Caucasian ridge. Ananuri Fortress is located at the place where the small Vetzathevi River flows into the White Aragvi. On the western side, a rock protrudes into the valley of the Aragvi River. Here the road makes a bend. The creation of a citadel in this place made it possible to control a very important trade road, so the Georgian princes (Eristavs) in the 16th century decided to erect a fortress tower here.

The first documentary mention of the Ananuri fortress dates back to the 1720s, however, the structure of some towers indicates that they were built about two centuries earlier. Ananuri Fortress began with a single square battle tower, which is now located inside the citadel. Some historians suggest that it could have appeared here in the 13th century.

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6.    Castle of Queen Tamara (Daryal)

The castle of Queen Tamara towers over the southern exit from the Daryal gorge. This place is referred to in ancient chronicles as the Alan Gate or the Sarmatian Gate. The military fortification made it possible to control a very important trade road between the north and south Caucasus. From a geographical point of view, the Daryal Gorge is called only a narrow canyon of 12 kilometers, where the rocks close over the Terek River, leaving a passage about a hundred meters wide.

Thus, the control of the Daryal Gorge was very important, and the rulers of the local lands built fortresses here. The first mention of the fortress in the Darial gorge was made by the Greek historian Strabo in the 1st century BC. The Roman historian Pliny also mentions it in the 1st century AD. Those ancient fortifications did not survive, but in the 5th century the Georgian king Vakhtang Gorgasal built a fortress in this place, which was expanded by the Georgian king David the Builder in the 12th century. The ruins of these fortifications have survived to this day. The name "Castle of Queen Tamara" appeared much later. In 1841, the poet Mikhail Lermontov visited the Daryal Gorge and wrote a poem "Tamara". 

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7.    Atskuri Fortress (Borjomi)

Atskuri Fortress rises above the Kura River on a high cliff. Archaeological excavations indicate that a settlement at this place existed in the Bronze Age. Atskuri fortifications began to be built in the 9th century. The fortress was destroyed many times, but rebuilt on ancient foundations. The fortress walls that have survived to this day date back to the 14th-18th century.

The ruins of an ancient Christian temple have been preserved in the fortress. In the ancient chronicles there is evidence that the Atskuri Fortress was visited by the Apostle Andrew the First-Called during one of his missionary trips. He left an icon here, which is now called the Icon of Our Lady of Atskuri.  

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8.    Darejan Palace (Tbilisi)

The Darejan Palace is located on a hill above the Metekhi Temple. The powerful walls of the palace are similar to the medieval fortress of Narikala, although the palace was built in 1776. In other countries, the luxurious royal palaces in the Baroque style were already replaced by strict classicism, but Tsar Irakli II decided to build a palace in the style of an impregnable fortress for his wife Darejan Dadiani.

Powerful fortress walls were necessary, as the second half of the 18th century was very difficult for the existence of Georgia. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the possessions of Christian Georgia were squeezed between Turkey and Iran, where they professed Islam. In addition, attacks by mountaineers from the mountainous regions of the Caucasus were regular. 

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9. Gunib Fortress (Dagestan)

The Gunib Fortress is the main historical attraction of the Village of Gunib. Its construction began immediately after the capture of Imam Shamil in Gunib in 1859 and the end of the 40-year Caucasian war. The Russian governor decided to make Gunib a main military base in mountainous Dagestan. The local Avar population was evicted, and a powerful fortress was built in Gunib. 

The Gunib fortress did not look like a medieval castle. This was not necessary, since the mountaineers called Gunib a "Natural fortress". You can get to the vast Gunib plateau only by a narrow road through Gunib. At the entrance to the Lower Gunib, the Baryatinsky Gate was built, which could be easily defended in case of danger. If the enemies broke through the Baryatinsky Gate, the soldiers could retreat up to the Shamil Gate. They blocked the entrance to the Gunib Plateau. 

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