The ancient city site, 40km southwest of Kutaisi, was one of the main centres of ancient Colchis, flourishing from the 8th to 1st centuries BC. Some speculate that it could have been the city of King Aeëtes, where Jason came in search of the Golden Fleece. The museum here, due to reopen by 2016 after reconstruction, has beautiful exhibits.
Excavations first started in the 1890s, after locals reported gold ornaments being washed down the hill after rains. Archaeologists have since found remains of monumental architecture and opulent burials. The museum’s treasures include a mix of originals and copies of fabulous gold adornments with incredibly fine animal designs.
The site itself is not developed for visitors but you can make out some temple areas, defensive walls, a deep ritual well, a small city gate and a section of paved street. Taking a tour, available in English, Georgian or Russian, brings it all to life.
Marshrutky to Vani (3 GEL, 1½ hours) leave Kutaisi’s main bus station hourly from 7am to 1pm (except 10am). From Vani’s bus station, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the museum. A taxi from Kutaisi costs about 50 GEL return.