On a clifftop overlooking the Köprüler Deresi gorge, not far from the little town of Ardanuç (about 30km/19mi east of Artvin), are walls and stumps of towers belonging to a once mighty 12th century fortress. Within the fort lie the ruins of an Armenian-Georgian church, a reminder that this was once the capital of the principality of Tao Georgia. Ashot Bagrationi the Great (780-826), founder of the ruling dynasty, skillfully preserved his relative independence by maintaining good relations simultaneously with Byzantium, the Emirs of Tiflis and the Caliphate. He styled himself Kuropalat (Guardian of palaces) and built numerous churches in his small realm.
West of the mining town of Borçka there is an Ottoman bridge spanning a tributary of the Çoruh Nehri. Above the town, which in earlier times was also known as Yeniyol (New Way), stands a completely ruined fortress. In autumn the narrow gorge of the Çoruh Nehri between Artvin and the Turkish-Armenian border is visited by vast numbers of migrating birds.
Dort Kilise, Turkey
In Dört Kilise, a village overlooking the Çoruh about 5km/3mi south of Yusefeli (the district town), are a ruined fortress and chapel. About 8km/5mi further on, in a side valley, stands the Ohta Eklesia, a three-aisle Georgian basilica, rectangular in plan, dating from the 10th century The ornate exterior and part of the stone-tiled roof have survived. Fragments of paintings can be seen inside the choir and a medallion portrait of the church's patron adorns the vaulting of the east window. The ruin north of the basilica was a chapel. These two are all that remain of the four churches which once stood here (Dört Kilise meaning "four churches").
31km/20mi east of Artvin in the valley of the Okçular Deresi is a ruined monastery, one of the most important of all those in the Imerhevi valley. The chief point of interest today is a well preserved domed church, cruciform in plan, originally endowed by Smbat (923-85). Part of the church is now used as stabling, another part as a mosque. Note the south window, with figures of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, also the relief of the founder on the drum.
About 12km/8mi southeast of Artvin, the Okçular Çayi flowing into the Çoruh Nehri from the northeast marks the entrance to a valley known locally as the Imerhevi Deresi. Because of its numerous churches and monasteries it used to be called the Sinai or Mt Athos of Georgia. A road runs the length of the valley, first to Savsat and then past the 2,640m/8,664ft-high Çam Gecidi to Ardahan. Along the route, particularly around Savsat and Ardanuç, are several architecturally extremely interesting ruined churches (though some can only be reached on foot).
70km/43mi south of Artvin, shortly before Kinaliçam, a turning off the main Erzurum road heads east along the Oltu Çayi valley towards Oltu. Not far along it, on the left, a dirt track leads north to Ishan, well worth visiting on account of its former cathedral, now a church. Several different phases of construction are easily recognisable. The horseshoe-shaped east apse, carved with rosettes and floral ornamentation, belonged to the original seventh century building which had four conchas and multi-tiered blind arcading on the exterior. The first alterations were carried out in 828, followed by more in 1032 (the dome being added and the west end extended). Now that the roofs over the aisles are missing, the drum with its twisted columns seems almost to hover above the crossing. Note in particular the painting in the dome of angels holding a cross, and the medallions painted with saints and patrons of the church adorning the window vaultings of the north transept, embellished with plant and wicker pattern motifs. Inside the roofless church there is now a small chapel.
The spectacular Kaçkar Daglari is a mountain range that rises to heights above 2,000 m and is a noted hiking destination.
From the Çoruh Nehri at Yusufeli a side valley runs north, penetrating deep into the mountains. About 15km/9mi beyond Sarigöl lies another village, Altiparmak (also called Barhal or Parchali), its square graced by a well-preserved 10th century monastery church, still in use as a mosque. Founded by David Kuropalat and built in stone of different hues, the church resembles the basilica at Dört Kilise, even in much of its detail. Some traces of wall paintings survive. The windows are embellished with figurative motifs and reliefs. A path climbs up from the village to two more chapels. The lower of the two has only walls remaining, but the little basilica higher up boasts two small apses.In a side valley off the Barhal Çayi, near to the village Yüksekoba, are the remains of another monastery, the Gudaschewi Manastiri.
Savsat, also known as Yeniköy or Zavsat, a district center about 63km/39mi east of Artvin on the scenic road to Ardahan, is dominated on its east side by a massive ruined Georgian fortress. This is a relic of the days when it was the seat of the princes of Chavchetien, one of the small Georgian principalities which came into being when the country was partitioned in the ninth and 13th/14th centuries.
About 15km/9mi southeast of Ardanuç, the ruins of the Georgian Schatberdi Manastiri (or Yeni Rabat ie. new monastery) lie almost out of sight in a wooded hollow in the Yalnizçam Daglari, above the Köprüler Deresi. The church, endowed by Gregory Chandstili, has beautifully ornate window frames. Yeni Rabat was famous for its school of manuscript illuminators and some exquisitely illuminated Gospels produced here in the ninth and 10th centuries can be seen in the museum in Tiflis (in the Georgian Republic).