|Country Information & Lifestyle|
On the Old Silk Road
The sovereign state of Georgia is situated in Eurasia, in the Caucasus region and with Armenia and Azerbaijan is known as Transcaucasia. Georgia stood on one of the key routes of the Silk Road and now plays a significant geopolitical role, being located at the crossroads of Central Asia, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East.
This proud nation is still in transition after the fall of the Soviet Union. Tense relations with Russia have led to closed borders between the countries since 2006, while Russia's allies, the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have also closed their borders with Georgia.
In 2008, the country went to war against Russia over South Ossetia, in which the Georgians were defeated within days, leading Georgia to lose 17% of its territory, Russia to diplomatically recognising both separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the severance of diplomatic relations with Russia, which had a serious impact on the economy.
Georgia lies at the eastern end of the Black Sea and enjoys sub-tropical conditions, the best beaches of the Black Sea, heavenly food and warm, welcoming people, all with a backdrop of magnificent snow peaked mountains. Imagine cities with narrow side streets filled with leaning houses, overstretched balconies, mangled and twisted stairways and majestic old churches.
Georgia is a land filled with magnificent history and unparalleled natural beauty. This little country was invaded many times and destroyed as many. However, Georgians have managed to preserve their cultural and traditional identity for 9,000 years. The countryside is covered with ancient towered fortifications, many of which house ancient churches and monasteries.
Georgia is a very mountainous country divided into eastern and western halves by the Likhi Range. Because of a complex geographic setting, mountains also isolate the northern region of Svaneti from the rest of Georgia. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range forms the northern border of Georgia. The main roads through the mountain range into Russian territory lead through the Roki Tunnel between South and North Ossetia and the Darial Gorge. The southern portion of the country is bounded by the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The Krubera Cave is the deepest known cave in the world. It is located in the Arabika Massif of the Gagra Range, in Abkhazia.
Western Georgia's landscape ranges from low-land marsh-forests, swamps, and temperate rain forests to eternal snows and glaciers, while the eastern part of the country even contains a small segment of semi-arid plains. Eastern Georgia's landscape is comprised of numerous valleys and gorges that are separated by mountains.
The climate of Georgia is extremely diverse and much of western Georgia lies within the northern periphery of the humid subtropical zone. Much of the lowland areas are relatively warm throughout the year, the foothills and mountainous area experience cool, wet summers and snowy winters. Eastern Georgia has a transitional climate from humid subtropical to continental. Much of the region experiences hot summers and relatively cold winters.
Georgian cuisine and wine have evolved through the centuries, adapting traditions in each era. One of the most unusual traditions of dining is Supra, or Georgian table, which is also a way of socialising with friends and family. A huge assortment of dishes is prepared, always accompanied by large amounts of wine, and dinner can last for hours. The head of Supra is known as Tamada(toastmaster), an important and honoured position.
The cuisine offers a variety of dishes with various herbs and spices. Each historical regions of Georgia has its own distinct culinary tradition, such as Megrelian, Kakhetian and Imeretian cuisine example, Khinkali (meat dumplings), from eastern mountainous Georgia, and Khachapuri, mainly from Imereti, Samegrelo and Adjara. In addition to various meat dishes, Georgian cuisine also offers a variety of vegetarian meals.
The capital city Tbilisi was founded in the 5th century and has a subtropical and humid climate. Tbilisi is on the Kura River as well as on the Transcaucasian Railway and has more than 1,400 million inhabitants. Although the city has been destroyed and rebuilt some 29 times, the layout of the Old Town is largely intact with narrow alleys and big, crooked houses built around courtyards.
Mtskheta is an ancient town of extraordinary importance to the Georgian nation, located about 20km out of Tbilisi. Svetitskhoveli is one of the most sacred places in Georgia and was founded in 1010 built on the site of Georgia's first church, and contains the graves of the ancient Georgian kings, including Sidonia, who was said to have been buried holding Christ's robe. The 6th century Jvari Monastery is situated on a cliff above Mtskheta from where the view is magnificent.
Samtavro is located to the north up the main road, within easy walking distance from the Svetitskhoveli complex. The small church dates from the 4th century and the larger church on this site was built in the 11th century and contains the graves of Mirian, the Georgian king who adopted Christianity, and his wife. The Tsinandali Gardens are the residential palace of the Chavchavadzes family.
Hike to Lagodekhi Park into the subtropical forests to find one of most beautiful waterfalls in Georgia. If you go in the early morning chances are you will see bears, deer and leopards. The small wineries will be pleased to let you taste their exquisite wines and in Signagi town you can buy handmade crafts which are very beautiful.
Kartli in the Georgian heartland is the center of East Georgian culture and the national economic and political center. Visit the castle and monastery overlooking the beautiful Zhinvali Reservoir at Ananuri, a 6th century cave monastery at David Gareja, on a mountain lying just meters away from Azerbaijan and the 3,600 year old Silk Road cave city of Uplistsikhe. Mount Kazbeg is one of the highest mountains in Europe and also home to one of the most spectacularly situated monasteries in the world.
The Rioni Region is the centre of West Georgia and the ancient Kingdom of Colchis, land of the Golden Fleece, today home to magnificent UNESCO sites. The region is lush, green and mountainous with fantastic scenery. Kutaisi is historically the capital of western Georgia and is a must see for its two UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The capital of Racha is Ambrolauri, attractive and very leafy with a very steep road leading to the Greater Caucasus. Entekhi boasts several 10th century churches, a castle and Svan towers in a nearby village. Shovi is a high alpine Soviet-style resort near the source of the Rioni River in Upper Racha and has simply unbelievable hiking opportunities.
Kakheti in eastern Georgia is the fertile wine region, full of beautiful churches, monasteries and wineries. The capital, Telavi, is a convenient base for exploring the region and Lagodekhi is a pretty border town on the road to Sheki, Azerbaijan. Tusheti is a mysterious, remote region high in the mountains bordering Chechnya with anicent pagan and Christian monuments, to visit here is to wander back in time hundreds of years. The Tsinandali Winery is more than just a winery, it is also a large and attractive estate-park, with a large manor owned by former President Eduard Sheverdnadze.
Akaltsikhe is a small city that has been around for at least 800 years, and was a regional administrative centre for the Ottomans from the 16th century up to the Russo-Turkish War. Until the 20th century Akhaltsikhe was majority Armenian, but today, unlike most of the province, it is majority Georgian. It's a rather sleepy town, but its Old City is worth a visit, especially the castle, and it's a great base for exploring the surrounding areas, including Sapara Monastery and Khertvisi Fortress in the immediate vicinity.
Southwestern Georgia is a region along Georgia's Black Sea coast which borders Turkey to the south. Batumi the capital of Ajara is a pleasant Black Sea port with great Ajaruli cuisine and good beaches. Sarpi is a coastal town right next door to the border gate with Turkey and here are a number of fortresses, monastery and churches the oldest dating back 3,000 years. The region is famous for its Gurian Riders, trick horse rider who toured the United States as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
Northwestern Georgia is a very diverse region, magnificently beautiful, rather dangerous and politically unstable, but worth the risk of a visit to see the once-in-a-lifetime fantasy of Upper Svaneti. Svaneti is Georgia's most mysterious mountain range and is like a fairy tale come to life. The capital Estia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but Ushquli is perhaps the most picturesque Svan village, at the bottom of Georgias highest mountain, Ushba. The coastal resort of Gagra is at foot of the Caucasus Mountains and the splendid Novy Afon Monastery is near. Magnificently beautiful, rather dangerous, and politically unstable, but worth the risk of a visit to see the once-in-a-lifetime fantasy of Upper Svaneti.
Samtskhe-Javakheti borders Northern Armenia to the south and was traditionally known as Meskheti, for its Meskhi Georgian tribes. Akhaltsikhe is the capital and largest city with a nice weekend bazaar and is a good base for exploring the Sapara Monastery, one of Georgias truly magical monasteries hidden in the forested mountains above the town, at the end of a slow, bumpy dirt road. Vardzia is a 12th century cave monastery and city carved out of a cliff overlooking a river gorge and at Vanis Kyabebi is another cave monastery.
Abastumani is both a former Czarist spa town and a Soviet built astrophysical observatory, the western gateway to the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. The central entrance to the park is the small town of Atskuri with its three castles. Borjomi is the eastern entrance to the national park and is famous for its mineral water and summer palace of the Romanov Dynasty.
Khertvisi Castle is a stone fortress dating back to the 2nd century BCE and although it has been re-built several times, is spectacularly situated on a rocky outcropping overlooking the Mtkyari gorge on the way to Vardzia from Akhaltsikhe. Amazingly the site is completely abandoned and you may roam about the fortress at your own risk and delight. For ski enthusiasts it is a popular ski winter resort.
Georgia's breakaway regions, in a state of civil war with the national government; Abkhazia is a beautiful subtropical beach and volcano destination, while South Ossetia is high in the Greater Caucasus Mountains, with little to offer a traveler beyond constant danger and mountain vistas. South Ossetia is a partially unrecognised state, only recognised by Russia, Abkhazia, Nauru, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Abkhazia is a self-proclaimed country in Caucasus and is situated on the eastern banks of the Black Sea. Snow covered mountains combined with beaches, caves, lakes and mountains and its architectural and religious legacy of churches makes Abkhazia a wonder to tourists. Sukhumi is the capital and principal city and for the better part of the last century been famous throughout the former Soviet Union as a prominent subtropical beach resort, complete with palm trees, botanical gardens and citrus plantations backed by the high alpine peaks of the Greater Caucasus Mountains.
Gori is a city located a short drive from Uplistsikhe in the Shida Kartli region. An ancient Silk Road cave city and former regional centre of pagan worship, Gori is famous, or infamous for being the birthplace of Stalin.
Uplistsikhe (The Fortress of the Lord) is easily one of the oldest existing cities in Georgia, although it is now uninhabited save tourists. Founded in the sixteenth century BC and carved out of rock, this was a bustling city over 3000 years ago and was, before the introduction of Christianity in the fourth century, a major regional centre of Caucasian pagan worship. Uplistsikhe suffered long years of neglect and vandalism and is currently undergoing significant restoration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Goris Tsikhe stands at the heart of the city atop a large hill and is the only structure in town that could dwarf the Stalin statue. According to locals, Goris Tsikhe's most notable moment in world history occurred in the first century BC, when it was conquered by the Roman General Pompeii. The current ruins are more recent, however, having been built after the Mongol invasion. There is not much to see inside the ruined castle's walls, but there are nice views of the city and the surrounding dark green plains of Shida Kartli.
Georgia has many myths and legends such as Devi, giants, usually believed to be evil beings, the goddess Lamara, goddess, who was called Eye of the Earth, Morige, the Lord of the Sky sitting on a golden throne and Mzeqala the sun goddess, patroness of grape growing.
The Georgians have exceptionally strong traditions of hospitality, chivalry, and codes of personal honour. They believe that guests come from God. Friendship is prized highest among all the virtues. The Georgians are proud, passionate, and fiercely individualistic, yet deeply connected with each other by a shared sense of belonging to a greater Georgian family. Women are highly esteemed in society and are accorded a chivalry respect.
The statue of Kartlis Deda, Mother of Georgia, stands in the hills above Tbilisi and perhaps best symbolises the national character: In her left hand she holds a bowl of wine with which she greets her friends and in her right is a sword drawn against her enemies.