First Impressions: Tbilisi, Georgia

Sameba Cathedral

It took two years, but I made it out here. Georgia (the country) doesn’t get a lot of press in the US, not a lot of buzz. But it deserves it. More importantly, the nation, the people, the history, they deserve it. I am by no means a sociologist, an anthropologist, a historian, but I’m going to share what I know, most are reflections from my first 10 days.

Peace. It’s not on anyone’s mind, but in their subconscious in their psyche. Take for example, the bridge in the gallery below, “The Bridge of Peace.” After years of war in the ’90s, and ongoing Russian occupation in two large regions of the country (Abkhazia & Ossetia), peace is a common theme. A visitor will find it in the names of monuments, but it is most striking in the people. People here are proud. Proud of their city, proud of their country, of their roots, of their growth, of their fortune, of their wine… yet there is no superiority complex.

The hospitality is astounding and everyone loves to share. Share their stories, share their culture, share the places they find exciting, the ones they are most proud of and most unproud of. While in many places a foreign complexion may attract unwanted attention, mine distinguishes me–to the point that I am known to be American despite my familiar attire–but does not demand stares, or special attention. That is to say, I feel somewhat at home here, I feel welcome to stay, to relax, to dutifully seek peace like my neighbors and friends.

There are many aspects of this place which are foreign to me, architecture being foremost in this regard. The new is rigid, square and dirty from outside. But within one will find all the modern amenities, nice finishes and furnishings; comfort. The old is old, yellowed, stone and brick, to be admired as a transcendence of many centuries. Much as corner stores and bodegas persist in abundance in urban American landscapes, so do churches and basilicas in Tbilisi. This is not to condemn the modern city, but to celebrate the rich history of the Post-Soviet Caucasus. A holy reverence is nearly ubiquitous, and one will find himself alone if not signing the Holy Trinity while passing by a church.

The new is mixed with the old, by chance, or maybe due to the market, informally following new theories of urban development. Streets are covered in dust and dirt, crossed by skybridge and tunnel for those who mind their well being. The US State Department says to get rabies shots: there are dogs in the street, but they are shy and mellow and require little mind. The city bustles with people and cars all times of day. Things are happening; the young and old are celebrating daily their accomplishments, or are anticipating doing so. There is a lot to celebrate, after all, much as there is anywhere. I suppose being from Seattle I am pre-accustomed to what I’ve found: lot’s of eating and drinking, some gray skies, rain and mountains.

Tbilisi runs along the Kura River, buried in a steep valley with hot sulfur springs. Tbilisi got its name from those springs after King Vakhtang came hunting in the 5th century from nearby Mtskheta. A pheasant fell into the water and was poached, leading the king to build a new city in Tbilisi, which then became the capital of Georgia.

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