The major indiginous inhabitants of Svaneti region are Svans, they speak
their own original non-written language (dialect) - Svanuri that belongs to the
group of Georgian languages (dialects). Svaneti is one of the charming pieces of
the multy-ethnic and cultural mozaic of Georgia.
Svans, as well as all Georgian highlanders are well acustomed to the mountain
life-style. The increased risk factor, frequent avalanches, mudflows and
torrents, landslides, rapidly changing climate conditions, severe winters and
etc. require great endurance, shrewdness and skills from the local population.
The skills and tools used by highlanders in their daily work are primitive but
surprisingly rational. It's an impressive picture watching highlanders sliding
huge logs or haystacks down through the curved steep slopes or accompanying a
hunter up in the mountains. No wonder that Svaneti raised many high class
mountaineers and alpine guides. The best proof for the abovementioned is Mikheil
Mikheil (Misha) Khergiani (1932-1969), a Georgian alpinist, Honoured Master
of Sports of the Soviet Union (1963), USSR Master of Sports of International
Class (1967), thrice USSR Champion in Alpinism and seven times USSR Champion in
wall climbing, a perfect master of mountain and rock climbing. He was the most
popular sportsman in the former Soviet Union and beyond its borders. Since 1976
the Khergiani memorial tournament in wall climbing has been established. In 1969
one of the nameless peaks in Turkestan Range was named after Mikheil Khergiani.
In 1971 a special Khergiani prise for USSR wall climbing tournament was
introduced. In 1978 a small planet N3234 discovered in the solar system was
named in Mikheil Khergiani's honour.
Mikheil Khergiani's home-museum is opened in the town of Mestia, where the
whole picture of his life is displayed.
Georgian highlanders have been using the Caucasus passes for traveling and
transportation since ancient times. They communicated with domestic and
neigbouring regions. The most remarkable example of massive movement through the
Caucasus passes is the emmigration of the Georgian King Vakhtang VI and his
suite, consisting of approximately 1200 nobles, to Russia (in 1724). Their route
led from Notsaruli gorge through Gurdzi-Vtseki mountain pass (3400) and Pastagi
glacier to the Digoria. The mentioned route still belongs to the most difficult
itineraries of mountaineering tours.
It is also noteworthy, that 4100 meters above sea level on the slopes of
Mkinvartsveri there is the cave of Bethlehem - the oldest monument of
Christianity, the hermits abode.
Georgian folk legends and tales tell about the people who climbed up the
mountains in ancient times. According to the legends in XVII century a priest
Yoseb Mokheve had even climbed up Mkinvartsveri (5033 meters).