The Atskuri settlement itself is very ancient. Archaeologists believe that people settled here in the Bronze Age, around 1700 B.C. In the first centuries of our era, there was already a city here that was visited by the Apostle Andrew the First-Called.
Something like a fortress appeared around the 9th century. The modern fortress is the result of the construction activity of the XIV - XVIII centuries. The wall looking towards the Atskur temple is the earliest, and the wall looking towards the bridge is the latest, Turkish.
Evliya elebi in the middle of the 17th century wrote about the fortress as follows:
It is called "Alexander's Pit". According to "Sheref-name", this is the first fortress that was built in Gyurjistan. It was built by Alexander the Great, as indicated by its size, rectangular shape and granite stones. This quadrangular old fortress is the governorship on the land of Gyurjistan, within the borders of Akhaltsikhe. The fortress has a gate facing south. The aga [fortress] rules here, having two hundred soldiers. There is a cathedral mosque, an inn and a bathhouse, about forty to fifty shops. Many lovely vineyards and orchards. Since these places are located within the Shavsheti people, the population speaks Georgian.
In 1672, the French traveler Jean Chardin drove past the fortress. He mentions the fortress under the name Usker and writes that there was a customs office in it. The Turkish-Iranian border ran to the north, in two leagues (that is, 8 kilometers, somewhere near Dvir). He was afraid that the customs officers would spoil his life, but his guide was from Gori and they were allowed in without any problems, because the “Georgian Khan” has good relations with the Akhaltsikhe Pasha, so they treat Georgians well.
When the Georgian kingdom was liquidated and incorporated into the Russian Empire (1802), the Turkish-Iranian border turned into a Russian-Turkish border for 26 years. The fortress was a large and serious fortification, despite the fact that the Borjomi Gorge itself was very difficult to pass at that time. From time to time the Turks made sorties from here. For example, even during the siege of Akhaltsikhe, they raided Borjomi. The Russian command decided to seize this fortress in order to more reliably control the Borjomi Gorge.
It is only twenty-nine miles from Akhaltsikhe to Atskhur, and Prince Vadbolsky approached him on the same day, August 17. The garrison of the castle, consisting of five hundred Laz and a thousand armed residents, was already ready for defense. True, it was difficult for the relatively small Atskhur to hold on after the fall of Akhaltsikhe, but storming the citadel, built on a granite rock in several tiers, was nevertheless risky. A single narrow path led to the walls, and fourteen cannons and fifteen hundred guns could completely sweep away the assault column. The garrison refused to surrender. Then several Akhaltsikhe elders accompanying the Russian detachment volunteered to go to the castle and persuade the Atskhurians. The head captain of the Georgian militia, Prince Mamuka Orbeliani, went with them. They unfolded before the eyes of the blinded inhabitants a bloody picture of the Akhaltsikhe assault and managed to shake their courage. Lazy, even during the negotiations, retreated into the mountains, and the Atskhurians opened the gates. The fortress with fourteen guns and six banners was taken without a shot.
This is where the centuries-old history of Atskuri actually ended. The artist Nesterov, passing here 70 years later, saw it already in ruins: “In the distance you can see the old castle covered with yellow moss. For many years these ruins. They seemed to have grown together with the rock that sheltered them. , then the Turks. They remember the feasts and battles of their Atskhur rulers-princes. They also remember the Russian soldier who attacked the Terrible Trench and the gray-haired Atskhur.
This was around 1893, and already in 1897 a photograph of the fortress appeared
State of the art
Having climbed this fortress, I did not understand where the main entrance was. The southern gate mentioned by Chelebi is now absent. There are no roads leading from nowhere. Now you can get there by climbing a rock, or through a water tunnel.
The tunnel used to lead to the river, but appears to have been partially destroyed during the construction of the road. Now he leads directly onto the road. Before the road appeared, the rock went straight into the water.
What is seen from above
The entire Atskuri village and its surroundings are now visible from the fortress. The gorges of the Borjomi National Park are visible. In the north you can see Mount Lomi (2100 m.). In the southeast - Mount Oshora (2607 m.). The entire Borjomi gorge is well visible, if the weather is not wet and dusty. A little to the north there is the Moktsevis fortress, but it is poorly preserved and I did not see it from Atskuri.
Icon of the Atskur Mother of God
In the history of the fortress, there are some intersections with the history of the Atskur Mother of God. It is believed that the icon was brought with him by the Apostle Andrew the First-Called, who preached Christianity in Iberia. Atskuri was then a kind of capital of the region, and a chapel for the icon was built in the city. In the 15th century, she was hidden in the fortress. In 1486, the Persian commander Yakub-bek laid siege to Atskuri, but could not take the fortress, and offered the residents to surrender