With a culture that counts millenniums of history, Georgia is the meeting point of Europe and Asia. Located in the South Caucasus, Georgia is the land of the 5000m peaks of the Greater Caucasus Range, the Southern Volcanic Highlands, lots of water springs, the central plain and a zone of subtropical climate near Batumi. Ethnic Georgians form the 84% of the population, but there can be found also Abkhasians, Armenians, Azeris and others. The most spoken language is Georgian, and the main religion is Orthodox Christianity followed by 10% of Muslims.
If you like travel adventure, if you enjoy when things are happening without any apparent reason, Georgia is your country. The hospitality of Georgians is simply awesome, the toasts and the glasses of wine run from the hand to the mouth and the hitchhiking possibilities are one of the best in the world. On the other side, you can take it easier with plenty of cheap hotels, hostels and guesthouses, old but well-working public transport, good food and correct nightlife. If you like churches, Georgia have plenty of them, if you like mountains the options are huge, and even if you like the beach, you’ll find some decent ones. Take a breath, Georgia is fantastic!
According to Greek and Roman historians, in antiquity Georgia was divided in two zones: the Colchis, near the sea (known for the story about Golden Fleece and Jason), and Iberia. In the year 66 BC the region was conquered by Romans who established protectorates and improved commercial relations.
In the IV century, christianity was declared the state religion in Iberia, and soon the country unified with Colchis. In the Middle Ages, it disaggregated into several feudal kingdoms, which made it easy for the Arabs to conquer the southern states. Even Tbilisi was seized in the 7th century.
Later, in the 11th and 12th century the Georgian kings reconquered the Southern Caucasus and expanded to Northern Anatolia. Those were the golden ages of Georgia ruled by David IV the Builder, who drove the Seljuk Turks out of the country, unified Georgia and left a great legacy of cathedrals and literature. Ruled by his sons, Georgia expanded its limits in the whole Caucasus until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, which were followed by Tamerlane, Persians and Ottomans. Finally, in 1783, came Russians who stayed for a long time .
In the beginning, Russia signed an alliance, recognizing the Orthodox Church and promising protection for Georgia. However, they didn’t provide any help during the Persian invasions of 1785 and 1795 and annexed the country in 1801. During the 19th century, as a result of the Russian – Ottoman wars, some parts of the old Georgia at that moment belonging to the Turks such as Adjara were recovered and annexed to the Empire. Then came the Russian Revolution and the Civil War, and Georgia took advantage to declare its independence on 1918, followed by a war against Armenia for some bordering areas.
In 1921, the Red Army entered the country and Georgia was incorporated into Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic under USSR. Iosif Stalin remains as one of the most influential Georgians in history. In 1991 Georgia declared its independence followed by a brief Civil War that ended with the return of E. Shevernadze (former GSSR leader and Gorvachev’s right hand), who was elected president on 1995. He was “overthrone” by Mikheil Saakashvili in 2003, during the so called Rose Revolution. The unsolved situation of South Osseta and Abkhasia, and the oil pipe built from Azerbaijan to Turkey through Georgian lands, ended with the armed conflict with Russia in 2008.
Places to visit
The charm of Tbilisi
Built on the banks of the Mt’k’vari river, Tbilisi was founded in the 6th century by the Iberian kings, and although it was conquered several times, the Georgian Kings and noblemen succeed to build a huge amount of churches all around the city center. Atop of a hill, on the eastern bank of the river, the new Holy Trinity Cathedral (also known as Sameba) dominates the city. Older than this is the Sioni Church, located in the pleasant Old Town, which truly deserves a walk around until find the Sinagogue. Then, take a sulphur bath in the southern Old Town and walk up to the Narikala Fortress, that stands on the top of the Old city. Rustaveli Street vertebrates the newer center of Tbilisi from the Freedom Square (where you’ll find Tourist Information Center) to Rustaveli Monument, erected in front of the Parliament.
Tbilisi offers a wide variety of places to stay, plenty of Hotels from cheap to expensive, friendly hostels and friendly people to couchsurf.
From Tbilisi you’ll be able to reach most of the Georgian destinations and some cities outside the country. From Didube Market you can catch buses and marshrutkas to most of the destinations within the country, while from Ortachala bus station depart international buses and masrshrutkas to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Greece. Tbilisi main train station is always ready for you to get to international or national destinations. And as other capitals, Tbilisi has an airport for long distance movements.
The main sightseeing around Tbilisi is the city of Mtskheta. Capital of Iberia until the 6th century, Mtskheta is still the headquarter of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church. The churches of Svetitskhoveli and Samtavro give a calm and respectful atmosphere to the city, while the Jvari Monastery keeps an eye on the city from a cliff outside of it. A little bit farer there are the ruins of the Armazi Fortress, once the home of Iberian kings. And if you don’t have enough with this, you have plenty of Georgian style churches and even some castle in the surrounding mountains. Mtshketa became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
The best way to get to Mtshketa from Tbilisi is to take a marshrutka from Tblisi’s Didube market, or you can find buses from many other cities.
Uplitsikhe is another great day trip from the capital. Located 7 kilometers east of Gori, this rock carved city is a great place to jump from one rock to another and let the imagination fly 2000 years back. The settlement was inhabited from the Early Iron Ages to the Late Middle Ages, and is known to be one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. Once, it was one of the major centers of Iberia until declined its power in benefit of Mstkheta and Tbilisi between the 3rd and 6th century. During the Muslim invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries recovered the importance as a principal stronghold for Georgian army, and was almost destroyed and abandoned during the Mongol invasions in the 14th century. The complex is in the tentative list for becoming an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can arrive to Uplitsikhe from Gori by taxi, or take a marshrutka to the town of Kvarkhveli and then walk 2 kilometers to the caves. It takes around one hour to get to Gori from Tbilisi.
The main reason for visiting Gori is the Stalin Museum. As it was the birthplace of the “Steel Man”, a museum was placed near his house in the center of the city. The visit includes the museum, the Stalin’s house, and Stalin’s train carriage, in which he traveled to Yalta Conference in 1945. The other sight of Gori is the Gori Fortress atop of a nearby hill, built in the Early Middle Ages.
From Tbilisi you can easily get to Gori by marshsrutkas leaving from Didube Market or from the central square.
When you arrive to Batumi, you’ll quickly realize that it has a different atmosphere. The humid semitropical climate of Adjara gives it a different ambiance, more relaxed, more open to adventures and always ready for party. The city was mainly developed in the 19th century, being the final boost the construction, by the swedish Nobel family, of the railway that brought one fifth of the world oil production from Baku. But the later construction of Russian pipelines returned Batumi to the ground until some years ago, when Georgians tourists choosed it as their summer capital. Hotels and casinos appeared like mushrooms under the rain and became part of the landscape, while the promenade seafront got filled with restaurants and nightlife clubs.
The main sights in Batumi are the beach itself, Batumis Bulvari -the main artery of the city- and Evropas Moedani Square, featuring a newly built statue to Medea. Of course you won’t miss some Georgian style churches and a couple of museums, being the Nobel Technological Museum the most interesting.
Good places to spend a day around Batumi are Mitrala National Park, with its tropical looking mist-wrapped hills, and the intact Roman fortress of Gonio, both easily reachable by marshrutka from the city.
You can get to Batumi by plane from Istambul, Marsi (Ukraine) or Yerevan, but maybe it’s better to take the train at the new Makhinjauri Station, where you’ll be able to get to Tbilisi or head to Turkey. Another great opportunity is to get into a ferry crossing the Black Sea to the Ukranian city of Odessa. And for short distances, marshrutkas are always there.