5 tips for Tbilisi

Tbilisi at night
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With more than one million inhabitants, Tbilisi is today the largest city in Georgia and also the capital of the country. Historically, there were probably two reasons for founding a city in this place. Firstly, the warm springs that rise in the surrounding mountains made the location appealing. These have been used in spas for centuries. For another, Tbilisi was located at the crossroads of two historic caravan routes. In the course of history, the city changed its nationality several times. Thus, Tbilisi repeatedly served as the capital of Georgia, but was also part of the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Union. These different cultural influences can still be observed in the city today. As by far the largest city in the country, Tbilisi is also the cultural and sporting center of Georgia.

Tip 1: Sioni Cathedral

Sioni Cathedral in the capital city of Tbilisi, built between 575 and 639, as one of the holiest sites of the Georgian Apostolic Church, was the seat of the Patriarch of the Church and the Archbishop of Mtskheta-Tbilisi, Ilia II, until 2004.

 Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi
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The cathedral houses sacred Christian relics such as the skull of St. Thomas the Apostle from the following of Jesus Christ and the grapevine cross of St. Nino, who brought Christianity to Georgia in the early 4th century. In 1425 a freestanding three-story bell tower was built next to the cathedral, which was destroyed in 1795 and rebuilt in 1939.

Tip 2: Narikala

The Narikala Fortress is located on the ridge flanking the old town to the west. Its strategically favorable location, however, is less obvious from the city than from the back country side, where the cliffs drop almost perpendicularly into a small tributary valley of the Mtkwari. The military importance of the fortress was not diminished when Dawit the builder moved the seat of government to Issani on the eastern bank of the Mtkwari after the capture of the city. The fortress was besieged, conquered, partially destroyed and rebuilt by Mongols, Turks and Persians in the following centuries. The last repairs were carried out by the Persians in the 17th century.

Narikala Fortress in Tbilisi
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Thus, the chronicle of Narikala’s eventful history, marked by various construction periods, can be traced back to 1827. In that year, a lightning strike hit the powder magazine in the casemates. The consequences of the explosion were so devastating that it was decided not to rebuild the facility. Thus, the ruins represent what withstood the explosion of 1827.

At the edge of the fortress stands the so-called “Istanbul Tower”, which dates from the relatively short Turkish occupation of the 16th century and served as a prison.

Tip 3: Sameba

The Trinity Cathedral, Samebas Tadsaro in Georgian, is the largest church building in Transcaucasia and the third tallest Christian Orthodox cathedral in the world. The tower is 105 meters high. The monumental building was erected between 1995 and 2004 high up on Elia Hill according to plans by architect Artschil Mindiaschwili.

The architecture follows the traditional Georgian architectural style, but is a mixture of different church building styles. It has a cruciform ground plan, the dome of the tower is located above the cloister and rests on eight pillars.

Sameba Church in Tbilisi
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After its completion in 2004, this church replaced the Sioni Cathedral in the Old Town as the seat of the Patriarch and is now considered a symbol of the national and religious revival of Georgia. The money for the construction came, among others, from the funds of one of the major Georgian oligarchs.

The golden pointed roof of the cathedral’s tower can be seen from almost any point in the city and is an unmissable landmark by day in the sunlight and illuminated at night, as seen above in the entrance picture.

The nine-hectare site includes 9 chapels dedicated to the Archangels, St. John the Baptist, St. Nino, St. George, St. Nicholas of Myra, the Apostles and all the saints. Most of them are located in the basement.

Tip 4: Abanotubani

Every city has its lore, here in Tbilisi once King Vakhtang Gorgassali (446-502 AD) went hunting in the dense forests on the territory of the present city. There he shot a pheasant and had a hawk chase the prey. The animals fell into a hot spring and were allegedly cooked immediately by the bubbling water. The king was so impressed by the hot springs that he decided to establish a city in the area, to be called Tbilisi. This is because Tbili means “warm” in Georgian.

The old bathing district in Tbilisi is called Abanotubani. This is Georgian abano for “bath” and ubani for the “district”. This district very touristy and has been largely renovated.

Abanotubani in Tbilisi
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On the northeastern slopes of Mtabori Mountain, carbonated sulfur spring water bubbles up to 46.5 °C from the earth, and has been popular in bathhouses for over 700 years. In the 13th century, there were probably about 65 sulfur baths here in the bathing district. They were repeatedly destroyed during the numerous conquests of Tbilisi and only partially rebuilt. Famous guests raved about them and spread Tbilisi’s reputation all over the world.

Today there are still about 10 baths in use. The oldest of them date back to the first half of the 17th century and were named after their former owners. Many non-Georgian ethnic groups also lived in the district, so the Sejdabad commemorates a group of Sejids who immigrated from Persia and settled at the sulfur springs in the 17th century. Many baths were built in Persian style of brick and have hemispherical domes.

The bathrooms are below ground and receive daylight from the domes. After Georgia’s independence, many baths were privatized and the bathing tradition took a new lease on life in the city.

Tip 5: Old Town

The biggest attraction of the Georgian capital is the winding Old Town. It was built in its current form at the end of the 18th century, when Tbilisi was destroyed for the last time by the military. However, the medieval street and building structure was preserved. Characteristic for the image of the Tbilisi Old Town on the left bank of the Kura River are sacral buildings of different religions and residential houses in the distinctive Tbilisi style.

Old Town Tbilisi
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These are two- to three-story buildings made of wood, enclosing a courtyard and with a typical system of balconies and external staircases. The Old Town of Tbilisi has already been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site. A restoration program has also been launched to safeguard the historic fabric of the buildings. An excellent view of the entire city can be obtained from the ruins of the Narikala Fortress. It is located above the old town on the Sololaki mountain ridge.