The area of Tusheti is believed to have long been inhabited by the Tush people, an ethnic subgroup of Georgians. The Tush are divided into 2 groups: the Chagma-Tush (who speak the Old Georgian dialect) and the Tsova-Tush (also Bats, who speak the Nakh dialect). Archeological findings suggest that the region of Tusheti was already inhabited in the Bronze Age (12th – 9th century BC). The earliest written mentions of Tusheti come from Greek Geographer and historian Ptolemy in the 2nd century BC. He is placing Tushs next to the Didos tribe of Dagestanian.
In the 4th century due to the Christianization of the Iberian Kingdom, many highlanders, including ancestors of the Tush people, sought refuge in uninhabited mountains to preserve their pagan religions. Only from the 10th century, the Tushetian region becomes formally under the control of Kakheti bishops with their pastoral administration based in Alaverdi. Nevertheless, no church as such was built there during the entire period of the Middle Ages.
At the turn of the 14th century, Tamerlane’s military campaigns brought the most severe disaster for medieval Tusheti. It was probably the only time in its history when the Keselo castle in today’s Omalo was conquered and completely burnt down. Due to the raids, the region got partly depopulated.
Following the collapse of the unified Georgian Kingdom in the 1460s, the Kakhetian kings took control of Tusheti. In exchange for their military service and promise to pay taxes, King Levan of Kakheti (1520-1574) granted the Tush the right to use winter pastures within the Caucasian foothills, specifically in the Alazani Valley. As a reward for their support of the Bakhtrioni Uprising in 1669, the Tush people were granted ownership of the Alazani Valley lands.
From the 16th-17th century, Tusheti was facing raids from Dagestan and Chechnya. However, during the mid-19th century Great Caucasian war, Tush supported the Russian empire, which defeated the Persians and effectively ended the raids from Dagestan.
However, during the first half of the 19th century, many Tush families started moving into the lowland fields of Alazani Valley. This migration process continued till the middle of 20 century. In the 1970s the Soviet government decided to resettle Tusheti and allowed the people to return. They installed electricity, built roads, a library a school, and a health center. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tusheti faced socio-economic hardships that led to further migration.
The massive depopulation of Tusheti over the centuries ultimately helps preserve the region’s unique cultural identity. Recent decades have seen government-led initiatives to restore the architectural and cultural heritage of Tusheti and develop it as a tourist destination. Today, Tusheti’s amazing landscape and stunning medieval architecture make the region a tourist’s haven in modern Georgia.