The picturesque, mountainous area to the south-east of Yusufeli is very culturally remarkable. It was once part of the medieval Georgian kingdom, as evidenced by the many churches and fortresses – rarely visited buildings in which the features of the Armenian, Seljuk and Persian styles are mixed. Villages in the mountains and valleys are pleasant to explore, and cherry and apricot orchards bear fruit in mid-June.
The Persians and Byzantines divided this region among themselves, starting in the IV century BC. Then in the VII century. it was conquered by the Arabs, who were then ousted by the Byzantines, after a while they were driven away by the next conquerors, etc. In the X century, it was part of the medieval Georgian kingdom, which was ruled by the Bagratid dynasty, descended from the same genealogical branch as the Armenian Bagratids who ruled in the Kars region. The isolation was a consequence of the remote mountainous region, the piety of the inhabitants and the support of Byzantium, which stimulated the flourishing of culture and the construction of churches.
In 1008, the ambitious tsar Bagrat III went beyond the protected valleys and united the warring Georgian kingdoms. Bagrat III shifted the emphasis in the newly created kingdom, transferring the capital from Tbilisi, nominally under Arab control, to Kutaisi, and gradually losing interest in the valleys in the southwest, which had been under Byzantine rule since 1001.
The Byzantines and Georgians coexisted quite harmoniously, but the appearance of the Seljuk Turks in 1064 destabilized the region, and the tense situation persisted until 1122, when King David IV the Builder defeated the Seljuks. David won where Bagrat lost, uniting Georgia with Tbilisi and the southwestern provinces. Thus began the golden age of Georgian culture, which reached its heyday under Queen Tamara.
After the invasion of the Mongols led by Tamerlane in 1386 and the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, the prosperous existence of Georgia under the conditional Byzantine protectorate ended. The kingdom went into decline, the Ottomans annexed the Georgian valleys, and later the Russian Empire took care of the rest. Today, many locals preserve the Georgian heritage.