Alex Harford Photography & Travel


Akhaltsikhe and Rabati Castle

I didn't know much about Akhaltsikhe before I came to Georgia and originally planned on passing through to get to Vardzia's cave monastery. As the bus from Kutaisi approached I was glad I decided to stop - the castle looked very impressive looming over the town.

Akhaltsikhe's Castle, Rabati

Impressive from the outside, at least. Inside the 800-year-old castle walls there's been a modern renovation - a curious one - with wads of concrete and a mix of different styles that don't seem to fit together. It was interesting to wander around but the castle grounds didn't have much mystique - it felt like a tacky tourist attraction without any respect for the castle's history. This view was partly confirmed when I read about Georgia's president at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, attending an opening ceremony of the castle in 2012 and calling it the "crown of the rehabilitation of Georgia", saying it would attract a lot of tourists to Akhaltsikhe. It may have all been rushed as local residents were surprised it only took a year to restore at a cost of under £10 million.

Rabati Castle from Kostava StreetKostava Street buildings and cars with Akhaltsikhe Castle in the background

I can see why they were surprised at the speed of the restoration after seeing the state of the castle before. It looked a complete ruin in 2011 - the photo below is taken from Kostava Street at a similar angle to the photo above. The dome of the mosque can just about be seen in the centre (a browny-copper colour) but there's not much else, with the keep to the left completely absent.

Rabati Castle from Kostava Street (pre-restoration)Ruins of Akhaltsikhe Castle Rabati Castle restoration beginsRestoration of Akhaltsikhe Castle begins

Two photos above from

Rabati Castle's Keep and Mosque

The mosque originally dates from 1752 and there's also a synagogue, Armenian church and Catholic church within the grounds. The mosque is one of the few (if not the only) buildings that was almost completely intact before the restoration began.

Rabati Castle's keep and mosqueHot sun beams down on the mosque and keep The gate out of the castle's keepTwo Mercedes Marshrutka The keep Looking over the mosqueTwo Mercedes Marshrutka Castle keep and mosque The castle keep through an archway

Views from Rabati Castle

A brown desert-like landscape and castle turret View from Akhaltsikhe's castle; 3 turrets and distant brown hills A church outside the castle walls

Rabati Castle at Sunset

The castle grounds were still open after dark, which was cool.

Castle and grounds lit up at sunset Castle grounds at sunset Rabati castle grounds through an arch at night

Rabati Castle Gardens and Other Bits

Here are some of the more random parts within the castle grounds. Reading comments on social networks and Internet forums, most feedback seemed to be positive after the castle's restoration, though there were some mixed views:

I call that vandalism, not restoration. Transparent glass elevators and a bridge are missing. (Nice bit of sarcasm there)

A unique place, if you ever imagined. It is of shocking beauty.

And even worse, there are bar-restaurants, cafes and shops. I'm not certain, but I think that it might lose its cultural value.

Rabati Castle gardensRabati Castle gardens

A carved little wooden room containing a bed (a bedroom?) was a nice surprise after all the concrete outside - but what was its significance? Is it restored from an original or randomly stuck here?

A carved wooden roomWooden carved bedroom Garden structure reflection in circle pool Lion heads

So an initially impressive castle that turned out to be a strange, disappointing muddle on the inside, but still interesting and worth a stop on the way to or as a base for Vardzia. There was no evidence when I visited Gori but after Rabati Castle's restoration there were plans to restore Gori Castle. One of the great things about Georgia is the history so I hope if Gori Castle is restored it comes across as more authentic, rather than having a sole value to attract tourists.

Akhaltsikhe Bus Station

I'm not great at orientating myself when I arrive in a new place so it's always good to see a big obvious landmark like a castle on a hill.

You can't miss the castle from the bus stationRabati Castle seen from the bus station Marshrutka (minibus) at the bus stationTwo Mercedes Marshrutka Wares on cars was a common sight in GeorgiaChainsaws, car parts and household wares on car

"Akhaltsikhe" (ახალციხე in Georgian) translates to "New Castle" - I'm from a town called Newcastle-under-Lyme so it was cool to visit another "Newcastle" for the first time - it might have been what convinced me to stop here...

Photos taken with the Canon Powershot G1 X compact camera.


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