Tbilisi, capital of Georgia from the 5th century AD, has a long and fascinating history. Founded in the 4th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali on the site of its warm mineral-water springs – it developed into the main city of the Caucasus. By the 12th century Tbilisi was one of the most important political, economic and cultural centers of the Caucasus. It stood as a key stop on the famous Silk Road – on the border between Europe and Asia. Tbilisi’s Old Town, the most ancient part of the city, is renowned for its wonderful mix of cultures.
The mosque, the synagogue, the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches blend harmoniously with the splendid Georgian churches and architecture. The wooden houses with open, carved balconies welcome the visitor. The sulphur baths have hosted poets, writers, musicians and kings down through the centuries.
TBILISI’S TOP 10 FAVOURITE ATTRACTIONS:
1.Old Town – the original settle- ment of Tbilisi with winding roads, alleys and wooden balconies; Metekhi Church standing proudly above the river on a cliff-top; Sioni Cathedral the beating-heart of Georgian Orthodoxy, Anchiskhati Church a yet more ancient style of Georgian church with a choir to match;
2. Narikala Fortress – impressive ruins located above the Old Town a landmark of the city and excel- lent for views of the swirling river Mtkvari (Kura) and the Old Town.
3. Sulphur baths (Abanotubani) – according to legend responsible for giving the name to the city and for the king Vakhtang Gorgasali’s (5th c.) decision to move the capital from Mtskheta. Today there is nowhere better to relax.
4. Funicular, Mtatsminda (Holy Mount or Father David’s Mount) Pantheon & Park – railway built in 1903 with two stations – the lower stopping at St. David’s church and the Pantheon of Writers and Public Figures and the upper station takes you to the Panoramic Park which provides spectacular views of the city.
5. Museum of Georgia – covers the entire history of Georgia: currently houses a unique collection of natural and human history, with animal remains dating back 40 million years, and rich in archaeological and ethnographic collections from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, Iron and middle Ages.
6. Museum of Fine Arts – former Theological Seminary once known as Stalin’s alma mater later trans- formed into the Arts Museum contains collections of old Georgian wall paintings and masterpieces of Georgian, Russian, European and Eastern countries. Georgian icons, enamel, jewelry, textiles, and unique works of embroidery are presented in the treasury and attract many visitors.
7. Open Air Museum of Ethnography – covers 52 hectares and encompasses 14 ethnographic zones, displaying around 70 buildings and more than 8,000 items: examples of folk architecture and craftwork from various regions of the country.
8. Rustaveli Avenue. – The main, 1 500 meter-long artery of the city decked out with elegant Renaissance and neoclassical buildings. Here you find the city’s most important theatres and the Opera House.
9. Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral – Recently built magnificently dominating Cathedral of Georgian Orthodox Church.
10. Botanical Gardens – established in 1845, on the site of 17th century Royal Gardens occupy over 128 hectares and hold more than 4 900 species of mainly Caucasian flora.
Historians date Mtskheta back to the 2nd millennium B.C. Mtskheta was the capital of the Georgian Kingdom of Iberia between 500 BC and 500 AD. Georgians adopted Christianity in the 4th c. and thereafter Georgians, Byzantines, Persians, Arabs and Mongols traded control of the territory until the Russian annexation in the 19th century. Important ancient architectural monuments include Jvari Monastery 6th c and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral 11th c. and Samtavro Monastery, 11th c. Shiomgvime Monastery, 6th c, is located near Mtskheta, hidden in the rocky mountains.
Svaneti, the mythical western province of Georgia, the land of the ‘Golden Fleece’ (where locals still pan for gold through sheep skins) lies high up in the Greater Caucasus. Several 5000 metre plus peaks thrust glaciers down into this beautiful and remote region, where amazing stone towers rise up beside homes, dating back to the 12th century. Never far away is one of Svaneti’s numerous, richly frescoed churches, focal points for lively communities where traditions have been preserved for nearly two thousand years. Unique icons and manuscripts are on display in Mestia’s museum. Mestia, overlooked by huge hanging peaks, is a well known climber’s starting point and the beginning of dramatic trekking trails for the adventurous traveller. The villages of Ushguli, ‘the highest permanently inhabited settlements in Europe,’ give a stunning view of Mt. Shkhara (5201m) the highest peak in Georgia. Its ragged stone tower villages have been designated a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. There are many myths of ancient Svaneti preserved in popular folklore. According to one, Svaneti, formerly rich in gold, was the source of the Golden Fleece. Gold was extracted from the sands of the Enguri River and its tributaries. Strabo, the Greek geographer and historian of the first century BC, described a gold-prospecting technique carried out by putting a sheep’s fleece into the river to trap the gold particles. Probably, such a gold covered fleece was brought by Svans as an offering to Aeetes, the King of Colchis that Jason and the Argonauts journeyed to obtain
The Georgian Military Highway is the historical road leading north from Tbilisi into the Caucasus Mountains. It passes the spectacular Ananuri fortress, then climbs the sides of the dramatic Aragvi River Valley, then over the Jvari Pass (2395m) and down into Kazbegi (1700m). Official name of Kazbegi is Stepantsminda. Surounded by gigantic mountains, Kazbegi is a picturesque settlement overlooked by the biggest peak of all – Mount Kazbek (5047m) – one of the six 5000 metre peaks of the Caucasus. The Sameba Church in Gergeti is beautifully situated on the hill above the town and provides splendid views of Mt. Kazbek. The region, with its many valleys and peaks is one of the most popular walking destinations in Georgia. The nearby Chaukhi Mountains provide superb rock-climbing, with numerous routes. The Gudauri ski resort located just the other side of the Cross Pass on the southern slopes of the Caucasus offers the best skiing and heliskiing in the Caucasus.
Kakheti, Georgia’s famous wine district lies due east from Tbilisi in a land dotted with fine old churches and vineyard after vineyard. Stop at any home and be offered delicious homemade wine. Historically Kakheti was often the centre of political turmoil however some of the most beautiful and important buildings were erected here and the church architecture is as diverse as wines in the region. Among the architectural gems are the gracious Alaverdi Cathedral (11th c), the picturesque Ikalto Academy (11th -12th c), Shuamta Monasteries (6th – 16th c), and the elegant Gremi Church (16th c). Sighnaghi is a beautiful hill-town surrounded by medieval wall and providing panoramic views of the Alazani valley and Caucasus Mountains. Kakheti is the major producer of Georgian wines. Please, go to Georgian Wine page
Georgia is considered to be one of the oldest homelands of viticulture in the world. It is proved that wine-making in Georgia has been practiced since the 5th millennium BC. From 4000 BC Georgians were cultivating grapes and burying clay vessels, “kvevri”, in which to store their wine ready for serving at perfect ground temperature. Vine growing is one of the ancient branches of economic activities of people in Georgia. The presence of a large number of aboriginal sorts of grape (more than 500) also proves that Georgia is the cradle of initial inter-mutation of wild cultivated grapes.
For many centuries vine remains one of the fascinating symbols of Georgian history and culture. Famous sorts of Georgian wines are Rkatsiteli, Manavi, Napareuli, Tibaani, Tsinandali, Vazisubani, Mukuzani, Saperavi, Kindzmarauli, Khvanchkara, etc. The head of the Georgian table is Tamada, a person who proposes traditional toasts.
Georgian ancient traditional wine-making method using the Kvevri clay jars is included in the the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Georgian cuisine is diverse and delicious; It consists of much ingredients and spices and offers variations of beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, cheese, eggplant, walnuts, hazelnuts, pomegranates, kidney beans, hot peppers, etc. Mtsvadi (barbeque), roast pig, chanakhi, khinkali, chakapuli, khachapuri, phkhali, satsivi, badrijani, churchkhela, “Matsoni”, the Georgian yogurt etc. are some of the many popular dishes in Georgia.
Set in the south-western corner of Georgia, against the eastern coast of the Black Sea, Ajara spans a wide variety of land- scape, from high forested mountains to lush subtropical hills – all set beside the balmy Black Sea coast. Batumi, the capital of Ajara region is a major sea port with a glorious boulevard beside the Black Sea. The city is changing dramatically and now has a number of international class hotels and hosts many cultural events. During the holiday season visitors can attend shows at the recently opened dolphinarium, enjoy a drink and live music at Batumi Piazza at the end of the day. Batumi and its surroundings offer everything that the sea-side holiday-maker needs: Batumi Botanical Garden, Mtirala National Park, Gonio & Petra Fortresses.
The city of Kutaisi dates back to the Argonauts’ time (13th -12th centuries B.C). Formerly capital of old Colchida, Kutaisi then ruled all of Western Georgia. The Parliament of Georgia is located in Kutaisi, making the city the legislative capital of Georgia.
Gelati Monastery, located near Kutaisi was founded in the 12th century by the most famous Georgian King David the Builder (1073 – 1125). Here he founded the academy and monastery, which became the foremost centre of education in Georgia. The unique murals of saints and Georgian monarchs are inside the main Virgin Cathedral. Gelati Monastery is in the List of Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.
Bagrati Cathedral was built by Georgian King Bagrat III and it is considered one of the masterpieces of Georgian architecture. Bagrati Temple was partly destroyed in the 17th century. In 2010 the Termple was reconstructed to its original state. It is included in the UNESCO list of Cultural Heritage.
Tusheti is a fascinating mountainous province, situated on the northern slopes of the Eastern part of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range. Medieval villages Dartlo, Parsma and Diko are some of the undisputed highlights of Georgia. Because of the severe conditions in winter, most local people usually leave Tusheti and come down to the valleys. In spring they again come up to their homes and work hard, running the cattle and making cheese.
The scenery is spectacular; the nature zones include dense forests, alpine meadows with endemic flowers and higher up there are snowcapped mountains among which Diklo, Komito and Tebulo are some of the highest summits of the Eastern Caucasus. The villages are nestled in deep valleys and are very picturesque with their stone architecture.
Deep and narrow river gorges, severe snow-capped peaks, virgin nature, mountainsides carpeted with flowers, traditional stone villages, make Khevsureti an unforgettable experience. Shatili, its main village-citadel, is a unique cluster of houses built-in together to form a defensive citadel. It still stands proudly above the Arguni River – as it has from the 9th century – as a symbol of Georgia’s independence and resilience.
Vardzia in the Meskheti province of southern Georgia – is a thirteen story cave town built between 1186-9 by Georgia’s famous Queen Tamar. It stands as a unique example of the Georgian renaissance in an area of many medieval sites. Around the town Akhaltsikhe you can find the elegant Sapara Church and dramatic Khertvisi Fortress.
David Gareja Monastery is situated 75 km south- east of Tbilisi. Founded in the 6th century by the Christian Father St. David. The monasteries of Lavra, Udabno, Dodo and Bertubani are remarkable for their original cave frescoes that date from the 8th to 13th centuries. The setting is no less impressive and expects to see the fabulous white vultures soaring in the sky above.
Uplistsikhe (‘the Lord’s citadel’) is a cave town hewn into the living rock, 8km south-east of Gori. The citadel dates back to the 7th century BC. It served as a strategic point on the ancient Silk Road from ancient times until the 15th century AD. It contains a large central hall for pagan rituals, living rooms and a 9th century church. The picturesque Ateni Church (7th c) also near Gori is yet another classic architectural representation of the Georgian church, as are its impressive interior murals.
Georgians value their natural Heritage. At present the total area of Protected Areas is 511 123 hectares, about 7% of the country’s territory. 75% of Protected Areas are covered by forests. There are 14 Strict Nature Reserves, 9 National Parks, 17 Managed Nature Reserves, 14 Natural Monuments and 2 Protected Landscapes in Georgia.