Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti is a region in northwestern Georgia which includes the historical provinces of Racha, Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti (i.e., Lower Svaneti). It covers an area of 4,954 km² and has a population of 50,969 (2002 census). It is the most sparsely populated region in the country. The capital is Ambrolauri.
Racha is a highland area in western Georgia, located in the upper Rioni river valley and hemmed in by the Greater Caucasus mountains. Under Georgia’s current subdivision, Racha is included in the Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti region as the municipalities of Oni and Ambrolauri.
Racha occupies 2,854 km2 in the north-eastern corner of western Georgia. Spurs of the Greater Caucasus crest separates Racha from the Georgian historical regions of Svaneti and Lechkhumi on the north-west and from Imereti on the south, while the main Caucasus ridge forms a boundary with Russia’s North Ossetia. On the east, Racha is bordered by breakaway South Ossetia, officially part of Georgia’s Shida Kartli region.
Racha had been part of Colchis and Caucasian Iberia since ancient times and its main town Oni was said to have been founded by King Parnajom of Iberia in the 2nd century BC. Upon creation of the unified Georgian kingdom in the 11th century, Racha became one of the duchies (saeristavo) within it. Rati of the Baghvashi family was the first duke (eristavi) appointed by King Bagrat III. Descendants of Rati and his son Kakhaber, eponymous father of Racha’s ruling dynasty of Kakhaberisdze, governed the province until 1278. In 1278 King David VI Narin abolished the duchy during his war against the Mongols. In the mid-14th century, the duchy was restored under the rule of the Tcharelidze family.
The next dynasty of Chkhetidze governed Racha from 1465 to 1769. Vassals of the King of Imereti, they revolted several times against the royal power. The 1678-1679 civil war resulted in the most serious consequences. In this war, Duke Shoshita II of Racha (1661-1684) supported Prince Archil, a rival of the pro-Ottoman Imeretian king Bagrat IV. On the defeat of Archil, Racha was overrun and plundered by an Ottoman punitive force. Under Rostom (1749-1769), the duchy became virtually independent from Imereti. However, towards the end of 1769, King Solomon I of Imereti managed to arrest Rostom and to abolish the duchy. In 1784, King David of Imereti revived the duchy and gave it to his nephew Anton. Local opposition attempted to use an Ottoman force to take control of Racha, but the victory of King David at Skhvava (January 26, 1786) temporarily secured his dominance in the area. In 1789, the next Imeretian king Solomon II finally abolished the duchy and subordinated the province directly to the royal administration.
Lechkhumi is a historic province in northwestern Georgia which comprises the area along the middle basin of the Rioni and Tskhenistskali and also the Lajanuri river valley. Now part of the Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti region, it corresponds roughly to the present day Tsageri district as well as parts of districts of Tsq'altubo and Ambrolauri. It is bordered by Mingrelia to the west, Svaneti to the north, Racha to the east, and Imereti to the south.
The area has been inhabited since the Neolithic Age and was later dominated by the so-called Colchian culture. The first recorded history of the area dates back to the early medieval period. The contemporary historic sources call the land Takveri, a name gradually being replaced by a term Lechkhumi. The province is usually identified with Scymnia mentioned by Procopius (sixth century AD) as a dependency of the Lazican kings . Within the unified Georgian feudal state (between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries), Takveri/Lechkhumi was subordinated consecutively to the dukes (eristavi) of Svaneti and Racha. On the breakup of the Kingdom of Georgia, the province came under the Kingdom of Imereti, 1455. Through incessant feudal warfare, the nobles from the Chikovani (Chikvani) family were eventual winners and established themselves as semi-independent Lords of Lechkhumi (Georgian: Lechkhumis Tavi). In 1714, Bejan Chikovani became Prince of Mingrelia and assumed the dynastic name of Dadiani. Thus, these two western Georgian polities united under the princes of Mingrelia.
King Solomon II of Imereti (1792-1810) attempted on several occasions, though unsuccessfully, to bring the area back under the Imeretian rule. The Russian Empire intervened on Mingrelian side that resulted in the fall of Solomon's kingdom and incorporation of Mingrelia into the Tsarist empire as an autonomous entity. In 1857, the Russian authorities abolished the Principality of Mingrelia and Lechkhumi became a part Kutais Guberniya. Together with the neighbouring region Svaneti, it formed the Lechkhumi Mazra from 1867 to 1930, when the Tsageri Rayon was created.