In 2016 I spent 48 hours in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Some of this time I had to devote to interviewing some people from the Yezidi minority for my fieldwork (the reason I was in Georgia) but I still managed to get a good overview of this unique Caucasian city. Formerly called Tiflis, this ancient metropolis is home to over a million people from a number of different ethnic groups. It is a place like no other I have ever been to before and deserves to become a popular destination for tourists.
Here are my personal highlights:
Originally founded in the 4th century, there has been a fortification on this impressive hill ever since. It’s an easy walk from the Old Town or you can get the funicular to the summit, either way, you are rewarded with amazing views across the Tbilisi skyline.
This gold-roofed cathedral is visible from all over Tbilisi. It is absolutely massive and lights up in the evening. It was constructed between 1995 and 2004 to commemorate 1,500 years of the Georgian Orthodox Church. This building is not without controversy though as the site was previously an Armenian cemetery called Khojivank and the bodies were not removed before building work started.
Georgian food is quite unique and well worth investigating if you are visiting Tbilisi. The two main elements of Georgian cuisine are the Khinkali dumplings (I wasn’t keen) and the Khachapuri cheese-filled bread (which is really a meal). The latter comes in a variety of versions based on the regions of Georgia they historically came from. The Megruli khachapuri (from Megrelia) is the best because there is just so much cheese involved, the Imereti khachapuri (from Imeretia) is a slightly toned down version and the Adjaruli khachapuri (from Adjaria) has an egg on top. There is also a version made by Ossetian people who mainly live in the north of Georgia which includes potato too, the Osuri khachapuri. You can find this version in Tbilisi too.
As you may have already noticed, it is not just Georgians who live in Tbilisi. It is actually an incredibly diverse city and has been for centuries. You can eat Ossetian khachapuri, or Georgian dumplings, pray at a Russian or Armenian orthodox church and communicate in a number of different languages. There’s a mosque for the city’s Muslim inhabitants, a synagogue for the Jewish in Tbilisi and recently a temple has been built for the Yezidi community out in the suburb of Varketili. The city is also home to Azerbaijanis, Greeks, Kurds, Abkhazians and Assyrians to name a few. If you are into learning about different cultures you can certainly find a few to learn about in Tbilisi. I came specifically to see the Yezidis living in Georgia and interview them for my fieldwork. It was an amazing experience visiting their temple and speaking with these incredibly interesting and very friendly people.
The Epic Hotel
This might seem an odd highlight but this hotel is one of the best I have ever stayed in. It’s situated in a quiet neighbourhood, right opposite the imposing Sameba cathedral and within easy walking distance of the Old Town of Tbilisi. The staff were some of the friendliest and most helpful I have ever come across, the breakfast was unusual (in a good way), the transfer from the airport was free and the overall price was very reasonable. They even have a great roof terrace with excellent views.
I certainly didn’t see everything in Tbilisi, which is a good excuse to return. I don’t really know what I expected from the city and from Georgia as a country but I was pleasantly surprised by both.