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Great Wall of Abkhazia

About 2-1/2 miles southeastward of Sukhum Kale lies the Valley of Kelasur, through which a rapid stream runs. A bazaar, backed by a hill on which stands the remains of an ancient fortress, draws a number of coasters here for the purpose of petty trade. On a spur at the beginning of the Drand highway lie the ruins of a fortress of Bagrat, the Georgian czar of the beginning of the 11th century. In the environs of the city are the Kelasuri Wall. A few kilometers from the city begins the Kelasuri Wall, 160 km long. It is a chain of ancient fortifications. Some 6km from Sukhumi a rough road leads another 6km up the west/right bank of the Kelasuri River to Kelasuri, where the Great Wall of Abkhazia begins. The Great Abkhazian Wall is one of the town's architectural and historical tourist attractions. Running parallel with the River Kelasuri, it extends from the seashore into the interior of Abkhazia.

Some accounts 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. Other accounts report the Kelasuri or Great Abkhazian Wall was built was constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Justian, a Byzantine emperor, and was supposed to protect the country from intrusion of barbarians from the Northern Caucasus. Most report that the Great Wall of Abkhazia was completed in the 17th century by the order of Levan II Dadiani, the tsar of Mingrelia.

In the 16th century the territory of contemporary Abkhazia witnessed dramatic changes: it gradually turned from a highly developed feudal region with a Christian culture and literacy into a backward country with a primitive patriarchal economy and revived pagan beliefs. The changes that took place during the 16th and 17th centuries were brought about by the onslaught of North Caucasian ethnically close Jiko-Abkhazian tribes that first invaded the Abkhazian Eristavstvo and later spread across the rest of contemporary Abkhazian territory.

Throughout the 16th century, a large part of what today is Abkhazia as far as Sukhum remained the land of the Dadianis. Early in the 17th century members of the House of Sharvashidze, aware of the weakened Odishi-Megrelia rulers, moved against the Dadiani House. It is commonly believed that this was when an Abkhazian principality independent from Odishi-Megrelia appeared. The Odishi potentate still owned his residence in Merkula (contemporary Ochamchire District) where Levan II Dadiani signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1615.

In the 1630s Levan II Dadiani (1611-1637) moved into Abkhazia; his troops reached the River Kapoetistskali (the Bzyb) and remained for some time in control of the Sharvashidze House. Later, the Abkhazians resumed their devastating inroads into the Odishi domains, thus forcing Levan II Dadiani to build fortifications along the Kelasuri, the so-called Kelasuri Wall, sixty thousand steps long. According to Italian missionary Archangelo Lamberti who lived for a long time in Megrelia, the wall was built in the middle of the 17th century to put a halt to the Abkhaz raids. In the latter half of the 17th century the Abkhazians penetrated beyond the Kelasuri Wall and pushed their border with Odishi to the Kodori River; later they conquered the territory between the Kodori and Inguri rivers. By the early 18th century the Abkhazians acquired their contemporary territory.

According to the map of Christoporo Castelli (1654), the wall (mentioned also by A. Lamberti), carries an old French inscription: "Wall of sixty thousand [steps] for stopping of the incursions of Abbassas". Castelli put the "Abaschi hodie Abbassa " in the Caucasian hills. Nevertheless, "the mountains of the Caucasus are protected by the strong mingrelian king" (N473). Castelli also says that the Abkhaz prince Beslacus Cirvasia (Sharashia // Sharvashidze) lives in the mountains of Circassians ("Beslacus Ciruasia, Princeps Abasgorum. Monti di Cherchasi "N466).

The wall stretched from the river Kelasur on the gorges and mountains of Abkhazia up to the Inguri estuary for 160 km. It had hundreds of towers each of which was an impregnable fortress of 8-12 m height with three rows of loopholes. Formerly impressive medieval stronghold surrounding Sukhum is lying in ruins now. One of the surviving towers is called Kelasuri. It was the first one in the Great Wall of Abkhazia (also named the Kelasuri Wall). The impressive ruins of the huge rectangular tower made from huge boulders bound with lime mortar remained standing right behind the eastern frontier of Sukhum at the Kelasuri estuary. The biggest concentration of the fortifications is in the wall's beginning from the Kelasuri to the Mokva river. The 60 km part includes more than 200 towers with 100 of them in good condition; the others are severely destroyed. The distance between the towers is 40- 120 meters, in cross-country terrain 300 meters and more. There are only 4 separately standing towers on the remaining distance to the Inguri.



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