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Tbilisi

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The Tbilisi Marriott Hotel

The Tbilisi Marriott Hotel

Tbilisi (IPA[ˌtbiˈliːsi], in Georgian: თბილისი), is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Mtkvari (Kura) River. Tbilisi is sometimes called TiflisTifflis), which is its Medieval non-native name. The city covers an area of 726 km² (280.3 square miles) and has 1,093,000 inhabitants. (or

Founded in the 5th century AD by Vakhtang Gorgasali, the Georgian King of Kartli (Iberia), and made into a capital in the 6th century, Tbilisi is a significant industrial, social, and cultural center. The city is also emerging as an important transit route for global energy and trade projects. Located strategically at the crossroads between Europe and Asia and lying along the historic Silk Road routes, Tbilisi has often been the point of contention between various rivaling powers and empires. The history of the city can be seen by its architecture, where the Haussmannized Rustaveli avenue and downtown are blended with the narrower streets of the medieval Narikala district.

The demographics of the city is diverse and historically it has been home to peoples from different cultures, religions and ethnicities. Despite being overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian, Tbilisi is one of the few places in the world where a synagogue and a mosque are located next to each other, in the ancient Bath district several hundred meters from the Metekhi Church. In recent times, Tbilisi has become known for the peaceful Rose Revolution, which took place around Freedom Square and nearby locations after the contested parliamentary elections of 2003 led to the resignation of the Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Tbilisi has one international airport. Notable tourist destinations include Tbilisi Sameba Cathedral, Freedom Square, Sioni Cathedral, Metekhi, Narikala, Parliament of Georgia, Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre, Anchiskhati Basilica, Mtatsminda (Holy Mountain), Kashveti Church along with the National and Historic Museums of Georgia and numbers of art galleries. Tbilisi is the home of famous artists. The city life was immortalized in their art by Niko Pirosmani and Lado Gudiashvili.

History

Main article: History of Tbilisi
Panorama view of Tbilisi, showing Metekhi church, statue of the 5th century Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali and Mtkvari river

Panorama view of Tbilisi, showing Metekhi church, statue of the 5th century Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali and Mtkvari river

Early history

According to an old legend, the present-day territory of Tbilisi was covered by forests as late as 458 AD. One widely accepted variant of the legend of Tbilisi's founding states that King Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Georgia went hunting in the heavily wooded region with a falcon (sometimes the falcon is either substituted by a hawk or other small birds of prey in the legend). The King's falcon allegedly caught/injured a pheasant during the hunt, after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died (from the burns received in the hot water). King Vakhtang became so impressed with the hot springs that he decided to cut down the forest and build a city on the location. The name Tbilisi derives from the Old Georgian word "Tpili", meaning warm. The name Tbili or Tbilisi ("warm location") therefore was given to the city because of the area's numerous sulfuric hot springs that came out of the ground.

Night on Rustaveli Avenue , Tbilisi

Night on Rustaveli Avenue , Tbilisi

Archaeological studies of the region have revealed that the territory of Tbilisi was settled by humans as early as the 4th millennium B.C. The earliest actual (recorded) accounts of settlement of the location come from the second half of the 4th century A.D, when a fortress was built during King Varaz-Bakur's reign. Towards the end of the 4th century the fortress fell into the hands of the Persians after which the location fell back into the hands of the Kings of Kartli (Georgia) by the middle of the 5th century A.D. King Vakhtang I Gorgasali (reigned in the middle and latter halves of the 5th century) who is largely credited for founding Tbilisi was actually responsible for reviving and building up the city and not founding it. The present-day location of the area which Gorgasali seems to have built up is spread out around the Metekhi cliff and the latter-day Abanot-Ubani neighborhood.

Tbilisi becomes a capital

View of Tbilisi as per French traveller Jean Chardin, 1671

View of Tbilisi as per French traveller Jean Chardin, 1671

King Dachi I Ujarmeli (beginning of the 6th century A.D.), who was the successor of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. It must be mentioned that Tbilisi was not the capital of a unified Georgian state at that time (therefore did not include the territory of Colchis) and was only the capital of Eastern Georgia/Iberia. During his reign, King Dachi I was also responsible for finishing the construction of the fortress wall that lined the city's new boundaries. Beginning from the 6th century, Tbilisi started to grow at a steady pace due to the region's favorable and strategic location which placed the city along important trade and travel routes between Europe and Asia.

Foreign domination

Balconies in Old Tbilisi are very distinctive in style

Balconies in Old Tbilisi are very distinctive in style

Tbilisi's favorable and strategic location did not necessarily bode well for its existence as Eastern Georgia's/Iberia's capital. Located strategically in the heart of the Caucasus between Europe and Asia, Tbilisi became an object of rivalry between the region's various powers such as Persia, The Byzantine Empire, Arabia, and the Seljuk Turks. The cultural development of the city was therefore heavily dependent on who ruled the city at various times. Even though Tbilisi (and Eastern Georgia in general) was able to maintain a certain degree of autonomy from its conquerors, the foreign domination of the city began in the latter half of the 6th century and lasted well into the 10th century A.D.

From 570-580 A.D., the Persians took over Tbilisi and ruled it for about a decade. In the year 627 A.D., Tbilisi was sacked by the Byzantine/Khazar armies and later from 736-738, Arab armies entered the town under Marwan II Ibn-Muhammad. After this point, the Arabs established an emirate in Tbilisi. It must be noted that the Arab domination brought a certain order to the region and introduced a more formal/modernized judicial system into Georgia. In 764, Tbilisi was once again sacked by the Khazars, which was still under Arab control. In the year 853 A.D., the armies of Arab leader Bugha Al-Turki (Bugha the Turk) invaded Tbilisi in order to establish a Caliphate. The Arab domination of Tbilisi continued until about 1050 A.D, because local Georgians were unsuccessful in their drive to expel the Arabs. In 1068, the city was once again sacked, only this time by the Seljuk Turks under Sultan Alp Arslan.

Tbilisi as the capital of a unified Georgian state

Cathedrals in old district of Tbilisi

Cathedrals in old district of Tbilisi

In 1122, after heavy fighting with the Seljuks that involved at least 60,000 Georgians and up to 300,000 Turks, the troops of the King of Georgia David the Builder entered Tbilisi. After the battles for Tbilisi concluded, David moved his residence from Kutaisi (Western Georgia) to Tbilisi, making it the capital of a unified Georgian State. From 12-13th centuries, Tbilisi became a dominant regional power with a thriving economy (with well-developed trade and skilled labour) and a well-established social system/structure. By the end of the 12th century (A.D.), the population of Tbilisi had reached 80,000. The city also became an important literary and a cultural center not only for Georgia but for the larger civilized world as well. During Queen Tamar's reign, Shota Rustaveli worked in Tbilisi while writing his legendary epic poem, The Knight in the Panther's Skin. This period is often referred to as "Georgia's Golden Age"[1] or the Georgian Renaissance [2].


Mongol domination and the following period of instability

Tbilisi, ca. 1890-1900

Tbilisi, ca. 1890-1900

Tbilisi's "Golden Age" did not last for more than a century. In 1236 A.D., after suffering crushing defeats to the Mongols, Georgia came under Mongol domination. The nation itself maintained a form of semi-independence and did not lose its statehood, but Tbilisi was strongly influenced by the Mongols for the next century both politically and culturally. In the 1320s, the Mongols were forcefully expelled from Georgia and Tbilisi became the capital of an independent Georgian state once again. An outbreak of the plague struck the city in 1366.

From the late 14th until the end of the 18th century, Tbilisi came under the rule of various foreign invaders once again and on several occasions was completely burnt to the ground. In 1386, Tbilisi was invaded by the armies of Tamerlane (Timur). In 1444, the city was invaded and destroyed by Jahan Shah (the Shah of the town of Tabriz in Persia). From 1477 to 1478 the city was held by the Ak Koyunlu tribesmen of Uzun Hassan. In 1522 A.D., Tbilisi came under Persian control but was later freed in 1524 by King David X of Georgia. During this period, many parts of Tbilisi were reconstructed and rebuilt. From the 17-18th centuries, Tbilisi once again became the object of rivalry only this time between the Ottoman Turks and Persia. King Erekle II of Georgia tried on several occasions, successfully, to free Tbilisi from Persian rule but in the end Tbilisi was burnt to the ground in 1795 by Shah Agha-Mohammad Khan. At this point, sensing that Georgia could not hold up against Persia alone, Erekle sought the help of Russia.

Tbilisi under Russian control

The coat of arms of Tiflis under Russian rule

The coat of arms of Tiflis under Russian rule
Mikhail Lermontov, Tiflis, 1837

Mikhail Lermontov, Tiflis, 1837

In 1801, after the Georgian kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti joined the Russian Empire, Tbilisi became the center of the Tbilisi Governorate (Gubernia). From the beginning of the 19th century Tbilisi started to grow economically and politically. New buildings mainly of European style were erected throughout the town. New roads and railroads were built to connect Tbilisi to other important cities in Russia and other parts of the Transcaucasus (locally) such as Batumi, Poti, Baku, and Yerevan. By the 1850s Tbilisi once again emerged as a major trade and a cultural center. The likes of Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Iakob Gogebashvili, Alexander Griboedov and many other statesmen, poets, and artists all found their home in Tbilisi.

Metekhi cliff and the surroundings as depicted by N.G. Chernetsov, 1839

Metekhi cliff and the surroundings as depicted by N.G. Chernetsov, 1839

The city was visited on numerous occasions by and was the object of affection of Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Lermontov, the Romanov Family and others. The Romanov Family established their residence (in Transcaucasia) on Golovin Street (Present-day Rustaveli Avenue).

Throughout the century, the political, economic and cultural role of Tbilisi with its ethnic, confessional and cultural diversity (Armenians, Georgians and Russians comprised 38.1, 26.3 and 24.8 percent of the population respectively in 1897[3]) was significant not only for Georgia but for the whole Caucasus. Hence, Tbilisi took on a different look. It acquired different architectural monuments and the attributes of an international city, as well as its own urban folklore and language, and the specific Tbilisuri (literally, belonging to Tbilisi) culture.

Independence: 1918–1921

The 11th Red Army of the Russian SFSR occupies Tbilisi, 25 February 1921

The 11th Red Army of the Russian SFSR25 February 1921 occupies Tbilisi,

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the city served as a location of the Transcaucasus interim government which established, in the spring of 1918, the short-lived independent Transcaucasian Federation with the capital in Tbilisi. It was here, in the former Caucasus Vice royal Palace, where the independence of three Transcaucasian nations – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – was declared on May 26 to 28 1918. Since then, Tbilisi functioned as the capital of the Democratic Republic of Georgia until 25 February 1921. From 1918 to 1919 the city was also consecutively home to a German and British military headquarters.

Under the national government, Tbilisi turned into the first Caucasian University City after the Tbilisi State University was founded in 1918, a long-time dream of the Georgians banned by the Imperial Russian authorities for several decades.[4] On 25 February 1921, the Bolshevist Russian 11th Red Army invaded [5][6] Tbilisi after bitter fighting at the outskirts of the city and declared Soviet rule.

Under the Communist Government

In 1921, the Democratic Republic of Georgia was occupied by the Soviet Bolshevik forces from Russia, and until 1991 Tbilisi functioned first as the capital city of the Transcaucasian SFSR (which included Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), and later as the capital of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. During the Soviet rule, Tbilisi's population grew significantly, the city became more industrialized and came to be an important political, social, and cultural center of the Soviet Union. In 1980, the city housed the first state-sanctioned rock festival in the USSR.

Tbilisi witnessed mass anti-Russian demonstrations in 1956, (in protest against the anti-Stalin policies of Khrushchev), 1978 and 1989, which concluded with bloody crackdowns on the first and the last occasions.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Tbilisi has experienced periods of significant instability and turmoil. After a brief Civil War which the city endured for two weeks from December 1991 – January 1992 (when pro-Gamsakhurdia and Opposition forces clashed with each other), Tbilisi became the scene of frequent armed confronations between various mafia clans and illegal business entrepreneurs. Even during the Shevardnadze Era (1993-2003), crime and corruption became rampant at most levels of society. Many segments of society became impoverished due to a lack of employment which was caused by the crumbling economy. Average citizens of Tbilisi started to become increasingly disillusioned with the existing quality of life in the city (and in the nation in general). Mass protests took place in November 2003 after falsified parliamentary elections forced more than 100,000 people into the streets and concluded with the Rose Revolution. Since 2003, Tbilisi has experienced considerably more stability, decreasing crime rates and improving economy.

Politics and Administration

The status of Tbilisi, as the nation’s capital, is defined by the Article 10 in the Constitution of Georgia (1995) and the Law on Georgia’s Capital – Tbilisi (February 20, 1998).[7]

Tbilisi is governed by the Tbilisi Assembly (Sakrebulo) and the Tbilisi City Hall (Meria). The City Assembly gets elected once every four years. The mayor gets elected by the City Assembly. The current Mayor of Tbilisi is Giorgi (Gigi) Ugulava and the Chairman of the Tbilisi City Assembly is Zaal Begashvili.

Administratively, the city is divided into raions (districts), which have their own units of central and local government with jurisdiction over a limited scope of affairs. This subdivision was established under Soviet rule in the 1930s, following the general subdivision of the Soviet Union. Since Georgia regained independence, the raion system was modified and reshuffled. According to the latest revision, Tbilisi raions include:

Most of the raions are named after respective historical neighborhoods of the city. The citizens of Tbilisi widely recognize a system of the smaller non-formal historical neighborhoods. Such neighborhoods are several, however, constituting a kind of hierarchy, since most of them have lost their distinctive topographic limits. The natural first level of subdivision of the city is into the Right Bank and the Left Bank of the Mtkvari. The names of the oldest neighborhoods go back to the early Middle Ages, and sometimes pose a great linguistic interest. The newest whole-built developments bear chiefly residential marketing names.

Freedom Square, Tbilisi


Transportation

There are different types of transportation in Tbilisi, the most popular of which are the yellow buses, that were transported from the Netherlands by the new government of Georgia. Tbilisi is also served by the Tbilisi Metro, that has been functioning since 1966 . There used to be Tram Lines in Tbilisi, that were built in the Soviet Period, but currently they are cancelled. In addition, there are many taxi companies. The city is served by Tbilisi International Airport.

Geography

Location

View towards Northern Tbilisi, with Mt. Kazbek rising above the clouds in the distant background

View towards Northern Tbilisi, with Mt. Kazbek rising above the clouds in the distant background

Tbilisi is located in the South Caucasus at 41° 43' North Latitude and 44° 47' East Longitude. The city is situated in East Georgia on both banks of the Mtkvari River. The elevation of the city ranges from 380-770 meters above sea level (1246-1968 ft)and possesses the shape of an amphitheatre surrounded by mountains on three sides. To the north, Tbilisi is bounded by the Saguramo Range, to the east and south-east by the Iori Plain, to the south and west by various endings (sub-ranges) of the Trialeti Range.

The relief of Tbilisi is quite complex. The part of the city which lies on the left bank of the Mtkvari (Kura) River extends for more than 30km (19 miles) from the Avchala District to River Lochini.

Tbilisi Coordinates

Tbilisi Coordinates

The part of the city which lies on the right side of the Mtkvari River on the other hand is built along the foothills of the Trialeti Range, the slopes of which in many cases descend all the way to the edges of the river Mtkvari. The mountains, therefore, are a significant barrier to urban development on the right bank of the Mtkvari River. This type of a geographic environment creates pockets of very densely developed areas while other parts of the city are left undeveloped due to the complex topographic relief.

North of the city is a large reservoir (commonly known as the Tbilisi Sea) fed by irrigation canals.

Climate

The climate of Tbilisi is transitional from humid subtropical to relatively mild continental. The city's climate is influenced both by dry (Central Asian/Siberian) air masses from the east and humid subtropical (Atlantic/Black Sea) air masses from the west. Tbilisi experiences relatively cold winters and hot summers. Because the city is bounded on most sides by mountain ranges, the close proximity to large bodies of water (Black and Caspian Seas) and the fact that the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range (further to the north) blocks the intrusion of cold air masses from Russia, Tbilisi has a relatively mild micro-climate compared to other cities that possess a similar continental climate along the same latitudes.

The average annual temperature in Tbilisi is 12.7 degrees Celsius. January is the coldest month with an average temperature of 0.9 degrees Celsius. July is the hottest month with an average temperature of 24.4 degrees Celsius. The absolute minimum recorded temperature is -23 degrees Celsius and the absolute maximum is 40 degrees Celsius. Average annual precipitation is 568 mm (22.4 inches). May is the wettest month (90 mm) while January is the driest (20 mm). Snow may fall on average for 15-25 days per year. The surrounding mountains often trap the clouds within and around the city mainly during the Spring and Autumn months, resulting in prolonged rainy and/or cloudy weather. Northwesterly winds dominate in most parts of Tbilisi throughout the year. Southeasterly winds are common as well.




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