I went to Samegrelo and there I saw the true Georgia
SAMEGRELO, GEORGIA - That's what the famous 19th century Georgian writer Ilya Chavchavadze (1837-1907) said about the West Georgian region of Samegrelo (Megrelia). And surely, it is a special place.
The name Samegrelo or Samargalo(სამეგრელო, სამარგალო) means "Land of the Megrelians". The Megrelians are part of the Georgian ethnic group. Historically the Megrelians have inhabited the central areas of ancient Colchis, near the mountains of the Caucasus. Today they live in and around the valleys of the Rioni, Khobi and Enguri rivers in northwestern Georgia. A part of their territory is in Apkhazeti (Abkhazia) and is difficult to access since the Russian occupation in 1993. Groups of Megrelians live in and around the cities of Gali, Ochamchira and Sokhumi.
The Megrelians are considered to be the descendants of the Georigan Kingdom of Lazica or Egrisi. There is a people called the Laz living in Northeast Turkey today speak almost the same language as the Megrelians. Centuries ago they were one people, living along the East Coast of the Black Sea.
Thanks to the works of Georgian historian and geographer prince Vakhushti Bagrationi (1696-1757), we know a lot about the regions and ethnic sub groups in Georgia. Bagrationi has left us a vivid description of the characteristics of the different ethnic groups in Georgia in his time. About the Megrelians he writes: "..The Megrelians are a Georgian people. They are not much different from the Gurians and Imeretians. Kartlians and Kakhetians [East Georians] often have trouble telling the three apart. The Megrelians do have a different language, but it is related to the Georgian language. Almost all Megrelians also speak Georgian and they care about that language. It is the language of their religion, all church services are in Georgian. They also love Georgian literature and have enriched it with some great works of their own. They are smart and brave, more so than other Georgians. They can travel to Kakheti, work on a farm and then return to open a shop and trade. That kind of work is no problem for them. I have not often seen such nimble and inquisitive people. They do have one bad habit that they seem unable to break: they steal horses. Also, they are braver at sea than on land.."
Samegrelo is beautiful. The biggest city is Zugdidi. Most parts of Samegrelo have a subtropical climate and it has access to the Black Sea resort Anaklia. There are marshlands that are protected nature reserves where you can spot rare birds and animals not even found in other parts of Georgia.
An important archeological site showing the ancient history of Samegrelo is Tsikhegoji or Nokalakevi (Ancient Archeopolis). By visiting the churches, fortresses and museums, you will experience how the Dadiani familiy of noblemen lived in and ruled Samegrelo for centuries. And you will see what orthodox Christianity meant and means for the region.
Finally, given the famous Georgian hospitality, you are likely to meet some Megrelians and get invited to their homes. You will typically be served some ghomi (a corn wheat dish) with Sulguni (Georgian cheese) and satsivi (chicken in walnut-saffron sauce)