Culture

The capital city, Tbilisi, home to almost one in four of the country’s inhabitants, spreads out from the valley of the River Kura into the surrounding hills. Above the city looms the enormous statue of the Mother of Georgia, holding a sword for her enemies in one hand and a cup of wine for her guests in the other. Tbilisi means “warm city” and was founded in the 5th century.

Mother of Georgia Statue, Tbilisi, 2008. (USIP/Ted Feifer)

Mother of Georgia Statue, Tbilisi, 2008. (USIP/Ted Feifer)

Narikhala Fortess, Tbilisi, 2008. (USIP/Ted Feifer)

Narikhala Fortess, Tbilisi, 2008. (USIP/Ted Feifer)

Rustaveli Avenue, in addition to being the site of government buildings, is the address for new hotels and fancy shops. The old city, with its low red-roofed houses and narrow winding alleyways, is being renovated and becoming a fashionable entertainment area. One of the city’s traditional attractions is the hot baths fed by underground sulfur springs. The entrance is below the mosque on the riverbank. Other sights include the ancient Narikhala fortress, the Sioni cathedral, and the theaters on Rustaveli Avenue.

Festival of Tbilisi
View of Tibilisi from Narikhala Fortress, 2008 (USIP/Ted Feifer)

View of Tibilisi from Narikhala Fortress, 2008 (USIP/Ted Feifer)

The festival of Tbilisi, Tbilisoba, is celebrated every year on the last Sunday of October with traditional music and dancing concerts in the open air. This is the season of harvest and winemaking, and many Georgian weddings are held at this time. 

East Georgia
The Georgian Orthodox Jvari Monastery (Monastery of the Cross) at Mtskheta was built in an early tetra conch style (a four-apsed domed structure) that greatly influenced later Georgian and South Caucasus architecture.  (CIA Factbook)

The Georgian Orthodox Jvari Monastery (Monastery of the Cross) at Mtskheta was built in an early tetra conch style (a four-apsed domed structure) that greatly influenced later Georgian and South Caucasus architecture.  (CIA Factbook)

The broad rolling hills and valleys of the East Georgian countryside are dry, but grain and vegetables can be grown and livestock grazed. Just outside of the capital city there is a fascinating outdoors museum, which includes life-scale model homesteads constructed to demonstrate the traditional way of life of peasants in different parts of Georgia. Nearby stands the old capital Mskheti, still the seat of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Further north, the terrain rises steeply toward the crest of the Caucasus mountain range, which looms across the skyline.  

West Georgia

Western Georgia, by contrast, is humid and subtropical. The swampy coastal lowlands, drained by many rivers, provide ideal conditions for cultivating citrus fruits, tea, and tobacco. Northwards along the Black Sea coast into and through Abkhazia, the mountains approach closer and closer to the shore, until near the Russian border the strip of flat land is only a few hundred yards wide.

The Georgian Orthodox Church

The Georgian Orthodox Church has played an important role in forming the Georgian national identity both during and since the Soviet period.  A 2012 International Republican Institute poll showed Georgians trusting the Church more than any other national institution.

The Georgian Orthodox Church

The Georgian Orthodox Church has played an important role in forming the Georgian national identity both during and since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  According to a  2012 International Republic Institute survey, Georgians trust the Church more than any other national institution.

The Church has been highly vocal on homosexuality, including a call by Patriarch Illia II in May 2013 to ban a government-sanctioned gay activists parade on the International Day Against Homophobia. The Government refused to ban the event.  Anti-gay protestors violently attacked the rally, resulting in 28 injured participants.  Prime Minister Ivanishvili condemned the violence and the attack on citizens exercising their democratic freedoms. 

Cuisine

Georgian cuisine makes much use of cheese. Slices of goat’s cheese seem to be served at every meal, and khachapuri—a yogurt pastry filled with cheese and egg—is a popular dish. Many dishes also contain walnuts, a product of Ajaria in the country’s southwest—beets with walnuts, cabbage salad with walnuts, fried eggplant with walnuts, and fried chicken in hot walnut sauce (satsivi). Other dishes are chakhokhbili (chicken stewed with onion, tomato, butter, herbs and pepper) and khinkali (meat dumplings). And no feast is complete without wine and eloquent toasts orchestrated by the tamada (toast-master). Most Georgians find it hard enough just to survive under current economic conditions, however, and can only rarely afford many of these delicacies.