The Great Wall of Abkhazia
While I was in Abkhazia I learned about the Great Wall or Kelasuri Wall. I was very intrigued, we’ve all heard of the Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall but a wall in Abkhazia, “never”! What is truly incredible is the fact that this wall was 160 kilometers long (99 miles). The construction of this wall must have taken years to erect – and why was it built? From what I found even the date it was built is in question. I found several ranging from antiquity to the seventeenth century were possible, although more recent investigations have have revealed that the construction more than likely took place during the 6th century AD. Along the 99 mile route 300 towers stood, now most of them are entirely gone or largely ruined. I didn’t get to see the wall but I did find one of the fortresses.
Map of Fortresses, Castles, and Palaces
I wasn’t able to find a map in English that showed the location of the wall, what I did find was in Russian which I will interpret. The three big red circles show:
крепости = Fortresses, замки и дворцы = castles and palaces, мосты = bridges
The wall itself starts near the delta of Kelasuri River where ruins of a large tower still remain. It then goes east crossing the Kodori River near Tsebelda, then passes near Tkvarcheli and finishes near the village of Lekukhona on the right bank of Inguri.
Most of the fortifications were located along western part of the wall between Kelasuri and Mokva rivers. Kelasuri’s left bank and mountain passes were the most heavily fortified. Curiously only four towers were found between Tkvarcheli and Inguri. See more here.
The Bzyb Fortress
This whole venture started when we were traveling up the Bzyb river I just happened to notice a structure standing atop a hill on the opposite side of the river. This got me to asking questions which led to hearing about the wall. It was surprising to me that even our guide knew very little about these fortifications and the same about the wall. As can be seen on the map: бзыбская крепость = Bzyb fortress. The date the fortress was built was probably in the 9th century.
So why was the wall built?
So why was the wall built? Some historians and archaeologists claim the great Abkhazian wall was built as a defensive line along the river as early as the reign of Egrissi in the 4th century. It has also been speculated that the Kelasuri or Great Abkhazian Wall was constructed in the 6th century during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justian, , the wall was supposed to protect the country from intrusion of barbarians from the Northern Caucasus.
Yury Voronov (ru), a well-known Abkhazian historian and archaeologist, examined the Abkhazian wall in 1966-1971 and proposed a new date of its construction. According to Voronov, Levan II Dadiani of Megrelia built it between 1628 and 1653 to protect his fiefdom from the Abkhaz (though at that time Principality of Abkhazia was a nominal vassal of Megrelia). Per Voronov’s work the embrasures in the wall were made for firearms; he also quoted Georgian historian Vakhushti and Italian missionary Arcangelo Lamberti who both wrote about the wall built by Megrelian princes for protection from the Abkhaz.
To Add Further to the Mystery
To add further to the mystery I found a YouTube video that shares that the wall was to keep the Apsuan and North Caucasian tribes out of Abkhazia. It backs up Voronov’s theory that Levan II Dadiani built the wall. It also shows several maps from antiquity of the Kelasuri wall. It translates text found on the map to explain why the wall was built. It also goes on to explain that the wall of this time was 60 miles long, how about the other 39 miles? The one cool thing is that it translates some other text that says: Country steeped in the Black Sea Sunset. I shared a couple of other posts about this, see here and here. It’s just my opinion but maybe part of this wall was built in an earlier time, who knows.