In the tiny village of Sno, one artist’s dream to eternalise Georgia’s great poets, writers and kings has re-shaped the landscape.

The sculptor behind the so-called ‘Gigantic Heads’, Merab Piranishvili, wants to create an open-air museum to teach visitors about the nation’s literary, artistic and cultural heavyweights.

I first heard about Sno and the sculptures when researching places to stop along the Georgian Military Highway between Tbilisi and Kazbegi. It took me several visits before I finally made a detour to see the Giant Stone Heads in person.

A giant head carved from granite in the Caucasus mountains in Georgia.

Some draw comparisons between Sno and Easter Island or even Mount Rushmore. In reality, this is quite a small-scale project (at least for now), but it’s still very impressive.

Set in one of Georgia’s most pristine landscapes, the Giant Head Sculptures are a quirky attraction with a heartwarming backstory. If you’re in the area, Sno is a worthwhile detour on the way up to Kazbegi and Gergeti Trinity.


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The story of Sno’s Giant Head Sculptures

Sno is a small village of around 150 people. It’s known within Georgia for two reasons: Firstly for its bottled water, Sno Aqua, and secondly for being the birthplace of the sitting Patriarch of Georgian Orthodox Church.

Sno’s third and altogether more obscure claim to fame is difficult to miss. As you approach the village from the highway, a rolling hill comes into view dotted with half a dozen monolithic granite faces, all staring down at you from behind tall grass.

Two giant stone head sculptures in a golden field in Sno, Georgia.

The sculptures are the work of one man, Merab Piranishvili. Piranishvili was born in Sno and graduated from the Tbilisi Art Academy in 1977 before working as an art teacher in the capital. He returned to his home village in the 1980s to embark on his passion project and completed the first sculpture, a portrait of St. George, in 1984.

There are now half a dozen stone heads in the collection, each depicting a different figure from Georgian history or the arts. You might recognise a few of them – and if not, you’ll certainly recognise the names: Shota Rustaveli, Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Vazha Pshavela, Alexandre Kazbegi.

A giant rock head sculpture in Sno, Georgia.
A giant stone head against a backdrop of green hills near Kazbegi in Georgia.

I did a double take when I saw Piranishvili’s latest work. An aberration, it doesn’t portray a Georgian but… Jesus. I missed out on seeing the first and largest sculpture, the one of St. George on his horse – it’s tucked further away in the hills behind Sno.

A rock carved with the face of Jesus in Sno village, Georgia.

The six main stone heads face towards the road, casting stony expressions at passers by. Each one is titled skywards as if to drink in the dramatic mountain views. In summer, nature brings the men beards of wildflowers and weeds.

Each face is carved from a single granite block, all a slightly different shade and texture. The stone is sourced locally and perfectly harmonises with the landscape. Some of the faces mirror the rust-and-amber tints of the nearby travertine mineral springs, others are steely grey with veins of pearl and obsidian.

A slender brown rock bearing the face of Shota Rustaveli in Sno, Georgia.
Three large rocks carved with the faces of famous Georgian artists in Sno village near Kazbegi.

Piranishvili carves them all by hand. The process used to take him a full summer, but with the help of a motorised tool he can now polish one off within a week. During Soviet times, the state funded his work. Now the artist must cover the cost of moving the slabs to Sno.

This has hindered Piranishvili’s progress. His goal is to carve 500 heads in total for his open-air museum to draw more tourists to Sno. Georgian kings Tamar Mepe and David Agmashenebeli are next on the agenda.

By the time you visit Georgia, there might well be a few more giant stone heads to admire.

Close-up of a giant head carved from grey marble in the village of Sno, Georgia.

How to visit the Giant Head Sculptures in Sno

Sno village is located in the Greater Caucasus, 150km north of Tbilisi just before Kazbegi/Stepantsminda. If you’re heading up to visit Gergeti Trinity Church as part of your itinerary, you can easily make a quick detour to visit Sno as you drive the Georgian Military Road.

To find the sculptures, take the turn off before Kazbegi towards the village of Achkhoti. The heads are located 3km from the main highway. The location is marked ‘Gigantic Sculptures’ on Google Maps (see the exact coordinates here).

Because it involves a detour, it’s not possible to stop in Sno if you’re in a marshrutka or a shared taxi. I highly recommend organising a private transfer through GoTrip.ge from Tbilisi to Kazbegi so you can stop off in Sno (and anywhere else you want, including at the Georgia-Russia Friendship Monument) along the way.

Prices start from a very reasonable 55 USD one-way. Book here.

After walking amongst the statues, cross the small river to visit Sno Castle, a 16th-century fortification that sits on a little rocky outcrop. The Patriarch’s residence and church is located just before the bridge and can be viewed from outside the gates.

Piranishvili’s sculpture of St. George can be found behind the village here and requires a short uphill hike.

From Sno, you can head back to the highway and continue to Kazbegi (a 10-minute drive) or continue further into Sno village. If you keep following the road east into the mountains you’ll come to a second village called Karkucha before eventually arriving in the picturesque Sno Valley and Juta village, home of the wonderful Fifth Season Cabin. There are plenty more accommodation options nearby in Kazbegi.

If you missed your Khinkali lunch stop in Pasanauri and you’re looking for a place to eat nearby, Tsanareti restaurant in Arsha comes highly recommended.


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Georgia essentials

Here are some of the websites and services I use when I’m planning a trip to Georgia and the Caucasus. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.

– Find affordable flights to Tbilisi, Batumi or Kutaisi on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).

– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Georgia and apply for an expedited visa online.

– Pre-book a private transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel or from Kutaisi Airport to Tbilisi with my preferred partners at Friendly.ge.

– Get a great deal on a rental car in Georgia by using MyRentACar to find a local agent.

– Buy your tickets for the Tbilisi to Baku or Yerevan sleeper train online in advance through my partners at Geotrend (get a discount when you use the code in this post).

– Find the best Georgia hotel deals on Booking.com, book a Georgia hostel, or find a unique Airbnb.

– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Georgia.

– Compare mobile providers and pick up a local Georgian sim card.

– Order a copy of the new Lonely Planet Caucasus guidebook (published July 2020).

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