I had an opportunity to discover Tbilisi on a short visit to Georgia. The enchanting splendor of the tiny capital has left undeniable impression!
Legend has it that in the 5th century, King Vakhtang I Gorgasali was hunting in the forest with a falcon. The falcon injured a pheasant during the hunt after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died from burns. The king became impressed with the hot springs and decided to build a city there. The name Tbilisi derives from the Old Georgian word tbili meaning warm.
Spread out on both the banks of River Mtkvari, Tbilisi is surrounded by mountains on three sides. Strategic location on the ancient trade route between Europe and Asia brought many invaders along with the fortunes. Romans, Parthians, Persians, Arabs, Byzantine and Turks fought to establish stronghold on Tbilisi and control the trade route. The influence of various empires is evident in Tbilisi’s architectural and cultural heritage.
While approaching Tbilisi by air, the lush Green plains dotted with the mountains welcomed me. Reading about Georgian ancient history had prepared me a little, though my visit to Georgian capital over exceeded my expectations. Tbilisi is unique, it has a mix of old and new. The picturesque capital is packed with every traveler’s fancy; great architecture, breathtaking countryside, snow peaked mountains, river passing through the old town, delicious cuisine and vibrant nightlife!
Historical Center of Tbilisi
While the international airport exudes modern flamboyance, the old town still thrives with historical heritage. The walls of Narikala Fortress dominates the old city skyline. Built in 4th century, the fortress served as a Persian citadel before Arabs took over in 8th century. The subsequent rulers expanded the ancient fortification, which eventually fell into ruin in early 19th century.
A cable car from Rike Park transported me straight to the ancient cradle. The elevation of Narikala Hill offered stunning panorama of the River Mtkvari cutting through the Old Town dotted with red roofs. The descent from the fortress was filled with tales of crusades and how Tbilisi bounced back after every attempt of destruction.
The twilight in Tbilisi was magical with golden glow enveloping the historical monuments. The Sioni Cathedral with its medieval Georgian architecture and grandiose structure of recently built Sameba Cathedral were beautifully illuminated. It revealed the dominance of Orthodox Christianity in Georgia.
As i walked through little alleys, i could breath the medieval magic of the old town lined with cobblestone pathways. There was a peculiar smell in the air, i realized i was in the vicinity of famous Sulphur baths. There appeared the beehive shaped low level domes lining the street in Abanotubani. These 1500 years old bathhouses reminded me of the caravanserai i had seen in Bukhara in Uzbekistan. A tributary of ancient silk route passed through South Caucasus, the domes of caravanserai are distinctive of the ancient silk route heritage. The traders enroute would stop by caravanserai to stay, park caravans, feed camels, mingle with other traders and indulge in leisure activities. The bathhouses located below the ground are fed by hot springs running under the belly of the old town. An hour at a private bathroom in Royal Bath House was rejuvenating,
Delicious Georgian Food
By now I was famished and looking forward to a traditional dinner. I had tried Georgian fare in Russia and Uzbekistan but indulging in Georgian cuisine right here in Tbilisi was a real deal. A Bohemian old villa in a narrow lane was a perfect setting to rediscover the taste of Georgia.
Discover Tbilisi is all about discovering its delectable culinary delights. My olfactory senses were overwhelmed with the smell of fresh cheese melting on top of hot Khachapuri. The influence of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and European culinary traditions is quite evident in Georgian cooking. I gulped down few glasses of Kindzmarauli (Georgian red wine) while gorging on Khinkali (Beef dumplings), Lobio (Stewed beans), Mtsvadi (Lamb Shashlik) and Chakhokhbili (Spicy chicken stew with herbs). I also made a mental note to buy couple of bottles of Georgian wines on my way back.
My hotel situated on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare, was quite central. After a sumptuous Georgian breakfast next day, i strolled around Rustaveli Avenue, the longest street of the city. Magnificent historic buildings of Rustaveli Theatre, Tbilisi Opera House and Kashvita Church adorned the avenue. The sunny September afternoon was ideal to soak in the fresh air of Tbilisi while sipping coffee at one of the street side cafes.
After a lazy afternoon i headed to Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia located on Rustaveli Avenue. It exhibits Georgia’s principal archaeological findings. The highlights include animal remains dating back 40 million years and archaeological and ethnographic collections from the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, Iron and Middle Ages. It was fascinating to stare at the prehistoric human re-parents dating back to 1.8 million years. They are considered to be the oldest sign of human existence outside of Africa!
The lazy day ended with yet another evening of gorging on Georgian delicacies. One thing which had caught my attention the previous evening was that Tbilisi came alive after dark. So i made it to Cafe Gallery, close to the hotel. The cafe is a great hangout place during the day, it morphs into a nightclub after midnight. The atmosphere was buzzing with youngsters grooving on electronica. I grabbed attention of a local engineer who was eager to try his English and was proud to share the history of his beautiful country.
The greater Caucasus Mountain range covers most of Georgia. I left Tbilisi the next day to explore the gorgeous countryside. The untouched grasslands of Tusheti mountains are compared with Scotland. I cherished fond memories of Tbilisi while on a bus journey to Omalo.
Interesting facts- Discover Tbilisi
- The Georgian people are warm and caring. They go out of their way to help despite the language barrier.
- Khinkali is a national dish of Georgia. The dumplings made with beef, pork or potatoes are to be eaten with its juice intact, leaving the thick pinched part aside.
- Nightlife in Tbilisi is to vouch for. There are more nightclubs than restaurants and cafes.
- Traveling, sightseeing, drinking and eating in Tbilisi is quite reasonable, where 10 dollars can get you drunk or fill your stomach with sumptuous Georgian meal for two!
- The South Caucasus valley’s warm weather is conducive for grape cultivation. The wine production in the region hails from the neolithic age. The high quality sweet red wines from Kakheti have made it to the world stage.
- Georgia is surrounded by powerful countries in the region. Discover Tbilisi and enjoy all the good qualities it has imbibed from its neighbors Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan.
- The soviet occupation has left its legacy in Georgia, where the local currency Lari is still called Ruble.
Read more about Russia and other countries in Caucasus.