Nestled amidst the rolling foothills of the Trialeti mountain range, Tbilisi is a charming city of 1.5 million people that has much to offer visitors, despite its relatively recent revolution and an unfortunate military skirmish with Russia over disputed territory. Indeed, this part of the world has been fought over by countless empires, monarchs, and nation states over the ages, with Tbilisi being reduced to rubble and subsequently rebuilt exactly 29 times since the 5th century AD.
Amazingly, the Old Town has been lovingly restored during each of these reconstructions, right down to the details including street layout and classic courtyards that are characteristic to houses found within this section of the city. Additionally, the “Tibili” in Tbilisi is the Georgian word for warm, which references the presence of hot springs within the city and in its surrounding environs.
After enjoying the combination of classical architecture and the modern infrastructure of this little known Caucasus country, a hot soak in the gorgeous mountainous terrain will make the journey to this remote corner of the world well worth the effort.
With Georgia quickly joining its neighbour Armenia in taking up Christianity as a state religion back in the early days of the faith, there has been a long history of the church being in the Tbilisi area. In order to celebrate the 1,500 year anniversary of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the 2,000 year anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, the faithful here built the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world.
Their zeal caused quite a stir during construction though, as it was built atop an Armenian cemetery, with many graves being disturbed, bones and all. Their protests were utterly ignored, so if you have no fear of a bunch of angry ghosts, no reservation regarding the manner in which the cathedral was constructed, and a love of grandiose Byzantine architecture, then visiting this landmark will prove to be a highlight of your sightseeing in this city.
With many elevated points available throughout the surrounding areas of Tbilisi, it conferred the ancient city with many excellent defensive points, put perhaps none are quite as notable as Narikala Fortress. Built in two parts on a steep hillside with excellent sightlines to track an advancing army, it was constructed in the 4th century, standing up against invasions well over 1,000 years before a massive earthquake did it in in the 1800’s. The lower terrace hosts a reconstructed St. Nichola’s Church, which was first constructed in the 13th century, but had to be restored after it burnt to the ground in recent times.
To get an idea of what life has been life in this ancient metropolis through much of the past 1,500 years, a stroll through Old Tbilisi will do much to assuage your curiosity. Walking through streets built well before the era of the car will lend a more romantic feel to this place, as shops, elaborate balconies jutting out from well-established homes, and art galleries in close proximity to you and others out enjoying the day will make you yearn for a similar atmosphere of community back home wherever you live.
Start your tour of Tbilisi’s alternative and natural attractions by visiting the statue of Kartlis Deda. Built and erected in 1958 to honour the 1,500 year anniversary of the founding of the city of Tbilisi, Kartlis Deda holds a bowl of wine in one hand, while holding a rather intimidating sword in the other. The symbolism captures native Georgians attitude towards foreigners: a warm attitude of hospitality towards friendlies, but a fiercely defensive and aggressive defiance towards those who would threaten their sovereignty.
The geology of the region is as such that much of the water deep beneath the surface is heated, gurgling up again months or years later in the form of numerous hot springs throughout the area. In the city and in its immediate vicinity, you can find many Sulphur Baths, where you can soak your cares away along with many locals with the exact same idea. These receptacles of hot water are not the big springs that you might be thinking about, but small pools more akin to large bathtubs (but much more ornate). Be prepared to get nekkid too, as the locals will all be there in their natural state as per their traditions.
If walking amidst greenery is what brings calm to your inner core, than a trip to the National Botanical Garden of Georgia will prove to be a great place to visit before or after your trip to the sulphur baths. With 4,500 plants on offer here, botany enthusiasts will have their hands full here, and even if you aren’t that obsessed, the views of a spectacular waterfall and of the surrounding cityscape below still make this garden worth visiting.