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The site of this ancient city is 40km southwest of Kutaisi. Though there's not much to see at the ruins, the modern museum here, all labelled in English as well as Georgian, has spectacular exhibits.

Vani is situated in a valley of the Sulori River (a tributary of the Rioni) on a small hill southeast of the administrative center of the same name. It is an archaeological site of the greatest importance. First excavations yielded archaeological evidence attesting to the fact that Vani was a major center from 700 to 100 ВС before being completely destroyed by enemies. From 600 to 400 ВС., Vani was the most important economic center of Colchis. Known to the Greeks as Surium, it was a major centre from the 8th to 1st century вс (at its peak from 600- 400вс), and many of the finest artefacts from ancient Colchis were found here. Some have suggested that Vani is the city of Leukothea mentioned by Sirabo; others believe that it is Аeа, the capital of King Aeetes who possessed the Golden Fleece. The best artefacts from the area are all in the Treasury of the National Museum in Tbilisi, but there are replicas in local Museum, as well as fine original pieces. By 1876 it was known that rain revealed gold objects on the hillsides here, and excavations began in the 1890s, with further work in the 1930s, from 1947 to 1963, and in present days under Otar Lordkipanidze, member of a well-known political family.

The ground-floor of the Museum, that is located next to Archeological Excavations displays mostly weapons and tools, and the oldest and finest pieces are up in the gallery. In the 7th and 6th centuries вс gold jewellery by superb craftsmen was buried with nobles, together with fine ceramics from the 6th to 4th century вс. From the 4th century вс on burials were in kvevri (clay vessels or pithoi), making it easier to conserve the contents, which now included Greek imports from Sinope. By 100вс foundries were casting bronze statues; on the gallery there's a fine torso of a youth, in front of a small treasury of beautiful gold ornaments and lots of tiny silver coins from the 3rd century вс.

Archaeologists have found remains of monumental architecture and opulent burials from the 8th to 1st centuries BC. Strong brick and mud walls with towers were built towards the end of this period, when archaeologists think Vani may have become a kind of temple-city, dedicated principally to the goddess Levcoteia. From this latter era the ground floor of the museum displays the spear point of a battering ram, a bronze vessel depicting Greek gods, and large animal-head temple carvings. The most remarkable treasures, however, are on the museum's upper floor, where you can see fine bronze casts including a statue of a youth, and copies of fabulous gold adornments with animal designs, whose originals are in the Museum of Georgia. The inner upstairs room contains original finds, including a pair of diadem pendants with incredibly fine bird decorations.

Across the footbridge is a small area of ruins, including city walls and sanctuaries; a few are covered, but visitors can clamber over the rest. Still visible at the site are the ruins of the city gale and defensive walls, which date back to 300-100 ВС, a stepped altar on the hilltop, the ruins of a round temple on the central terrace, and a rectangular temple near the city gale. Only a portion of the site has been uncovered, and excavations are still underway.  There's a fine view north to Kutaisi and the High Caucasus, with attractive wooded hills to the south.

Much of the magnificent gold and silver jewellery, toreutics, sculpture, pottery, and coins that have been found at Vani are in the Treasury of the Museum of Georgian Art in Tbilisi. Other artifacts are in the Archaeological Museum in Vani.

The material is riveting. The Hellenistic and Oriental influences that combine with the native artistic traditions of the region form a unique style that illuminates the splendor of the Colchian culture, one known by only a small number of cognoscenti.

It's also possible to visit the house-museum of Galaction Tabidze (1892-1959), one of Georgia's finest and best-loved poets, near the Rioni in Ckhovishe, about 4km north of Shuamta, on the main road about 3km west of Vani. It's a simple cottage with little on view; what's more, the replica of Jason's ship, the Argo, which Tim Severin sailed here from Greece in 1984 and was on display, has been burnt! However, it's worth coming here on Galaction's birthday, 17 November, when there's always a celebration (followed on 23 November by Giorgoba - a good time to visit Georgia!).

Buses and marshrutkas to Vani (1½ hours) leave the bus station next to Kutaisi-2 train station about hourly from 8am to noon, then every two hours until 6pm. From the Vani bus station, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the large concrete museum building. A taxi from Kutaisi is 50 GEL return.