Tbilisi (Georgian: თბილისი [tʰˈbiliˌsi] ( listen)), commonly known by its former name Tiflis, and often mispronounced as Tiblisi, is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Kura River with a population of roughly 1.5 million inhabitants. It was founded in the 5th century on the site of natural hot springs, and has since served, with intermissions, as the capital of various Georgian kingdoms and republics. Located on the crossroads of Europe and Asia, due to its proximity to lucrative east-west trade routes Tbilisi has historically been an object of competition between countless rival empires. Later, under Russian rule, from 1801 to 1917 Tiflis was the seat of the Imperial Viceroy governing both sides of the entire Caucasus. Tbilisi's storied past is reflected in its architecture, which is an eclectic mix of Medieval, Neoclassical, Middle Eastern, Art Nouveau, Stalinist and Modernist structures.
Present-day Tbilisi is one of the safest cities in Europe, and frequently ranks among the most popular emerging destinations thanks to Georgia's growing tourism industry. Historically, Tbilisi has been home to people of diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, though it is overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox Christian. Notable landmarks include cathedrals like Sameba and Sioni, the medieval Narikala Fortress, classical avenues Rustaveli and Agmashenebeli, as well as the exotically-designed Georgian National Opera Theater.
According to an old legend, the present-day territory of Tbilisi was covered by forests as late as 458. 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 replaced with either a hawk or other small birds of prey in the legend). The King's falcon allegedly caught or injured a pheasant during the hunt, after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died from burns. 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 Old Georgian T'pilisi (ტფილისი), and further from T'pili (ტფილი, "warm""). The name "T'pili" or "T'pilisi" (literally, "warm location") was therefore given to the city because of the area's numerous sulphuric hot springs that came out of the ground. Archaeological studies of the region have indicated human settlement in the territory of Tbilisi as early as the 4th millennium BC.
King Dachi I Ujarmeli, who was the successor of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. Tbilisi was not the capital of a unified Georgian state at that time and did not include the territory of Colchis. It was, however, the capital city of Eastern Georgia/Iberia. During his reign, King Dachi I oversaw the construction of the fortress wall that lined the city's new boundaries. From the 6th century, Tbilisi grew at a steady pace due to the region's favourable and strategic location which placed the city along important trade and travel routes between Europe and Asia.
Tbilisi's favourable 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 the Roman Empire, Parthia, Sassanid Persia, Arabs, Byzantine Empire, and the Seljuk Turks. The cultural development of the city was somewhat dependent on who ruled the city at various times, although Tbilisi (and Georgia in general) was able to maintain a considerable autonomy from its conquerors
From 570–580, the Persians took over Tbilisi and ruled it for about a decade. In the year 627, Tbilisi was sacked by the Byzantine/Khazar armies and later, in 736–738, Arab armies entered the town under Marwan II Ibn-Muhammad. After this point, the Arabs established an emirate centered in Tbilisi. In 764, Tbilisi, still under Arab control was once again sacked by the Khazars. In 853, the armies of Arab leader Bugha Al-Turki (Bugha the Turk) invaded Tbilisi in order to enforce its return to Abbasid allegiance. The Arab domination of Tbilisi continued until about 1050. In 1068, the city was once again sacked, only this time by the Seljuk Turks under Sultan Alp Arslan.
Capital of Georgia
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 and thus inaugurating the Georgian Golden Age. 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, the population of Tbilisi had reached 100,000. The city also became an important literary and a cultural center not only for Georgia but for the Eastern Orthodox world of the time. 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" or the Georgian Renaissance.
Mongol domination and the following period of instability
Tbilisi's "Golden Age" did not last for more than a century. In 1226, Tbilisi was captured by the refugee Khwarezmian Empire Shah Mingburnu and its defences severely devastated and prone to Mongol armies. In 1236, 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 1503, Tbilisi came alongside wider Kartli and Kakheti under Safavid Iranian vassalship. In 1522, Tbilisi came for the first time under nominal Iranian control but was later freed in 1524 by King David X of Georgia. During this period, many parts of Tbilisi were reconstructed and rebuilt. Beginning with the 1555 Treaty of Amasya, and more firmly from 1614 to 1747, with brief intermissions, Tbilisi was garrisoned by the Iranian forces and functioned as a seat of the Iranian vassal kings of Kartli whom the shah conferred with the title of wali. Under the later rules of Teimuraz II and Erekle II, Tbilisi became a vibrant political and cultural center free of foreign rule, but the city was captured and devastated in 1795 by the Iranian Qajar ruler Agha Mohammad Khan, who sought to reassert Iranian suzerainty over Georgia. At this point, sensing that Georgia could not hold up against Iran alone, Erekle sought the help of Russia.
In 1801, after the Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti of which Tbilisi was the capital was annexed by the Russian Empire, and decisively with the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813, signed with Iran, the latter officially lost control over the city and the wider Georgian lands it had been ruling for centuries. Tbilisi became the center of the Tbilisi Governorate (Gubernia). During the 19th century, new buildings, mainly of Western 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 region, such as Batumi and Poti. By the 1850s Tbilisi once again emerged as a major trade and a cultural center. The likes of Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Mirza Fatali Akhundzade, Iakob Gogebashvili, Alexander Griboedov and many other statesmen, poets, and artists all found their home in Tbilisi. 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 main new artery built under Russian administration was Golovin Avenue (present-day Rustaveli Avenue), on which the Viceroys of the Caucasus established their residence.In the course of the 19th century, the largest ethnic group of Tbilisi were Armenians, who, at some point, formed 74.3% of the population. 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, Iakob Gogebashvili, Aleksandr Griboyedov, Mirza Fatali Akhundzade, Nar-Dos, Pertch Proshian, Raffi, Gabriel Sundukyan, Hovhannes Tumanyan, Akaki Tsereteli, Simon Zavarian and many other statesmen, poets, and artists all found their home in Tbilisi.
"Dry Bridge", constructed by Italian architect Antonio Scudieri
View on Rustaveli Avenue as seen form the site of present-day Freedom Square
Building of the current Tbilisi City Hall
Grand Hotel "Kavkaz" in central Tbilisi, c 1900
Building of the current Art Museum of Georgia, c. early 1800s
Tatar bazaar and with the Metekhi Orthodox church seen on the cliff.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, demolished by the Soviets to make way for the present Parliament building
Tbilisi 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 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.
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. At this time, Tbilisi had roughly the same number of Armenians as Georgians, with Russians being the third largest ethnic group. It was here, in the former Caucasus Vice royal Palace, where the independence of three Transcaucasus nations – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – was declared on 26 to 28 May 1918. After this, 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. On 25 February 1921, the Bolshevist Russian 11th Red Army invaded Tbilisi after bitter fighting at the outskirts of the city and declared Soviet rule.
In 1921, the Democratic Republic of Georgia was occupied by the Soviet Bolshevik forces from Russia, and until 1936 Tbilisi functioned first as the capital city of the Transcaucasian SFSR (which included Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), and afterwards until 1991 as the capital of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. During the Soviet rule, Tbilisi's population grew significantly, the city became more industrialised and came to be an important political, social, and cultural centre of the Soviet Union. In 1980 the city housed the first state-sanctioned rock festival in the USSR. In the 1970s and the 1980s the old part of the city was considerably reconstructed.
Tbilisi witnessed mass anti-Russian demonstrations during 1956 in the 9 March Massacre, in protest against the anti-Stalin policies of Nikita Khrushchev. Peaceful protests occurred in 1978, and in 1989 the April 9 tragedy was a peaceful protest that turned violent.
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 to January 1992 (when pro-Gamsakhurdia and Opposition forces clashed with each other), Tbilisi became the scene of frequent armed confrontations 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 because of unemployment 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 with decreasing crime rates, an improved economy, and a real estate boom. During the 2008 South Ossetia war the Tbilisi area was hit by multiple Russian air attacks.
After the war, several large-scale projects were started, including a streetcar system, a railway bypass and a relocation of the central station and new urban highways. In June 2015, a flood killed at least twelve people and caused animals from the city's zoo to be released into the streets.
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 (20 February 1998).
Tbilisi is governed by the Tbilisi City Assembly (Sakrebulo) and the Tbilisi City Hall (Meria). The City Assembly is elected once every four years. The mayor is elected once every four years by direct elections. The Mayor of Tbilisi is David (Davit) Narmania and the Chairman of the Tbilisi city Assembly is Giorgi Alibegashvili.
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:
- Old Tbilisi (ძველი თბილისი)
- Vake-Saburtalo (ვაკე-საბურთალო)
- Didube-Chugureti (დიდუბე-ჩუღურეთი)
- Gldani-Nadzaladevi (გლდანი-ნაძალადევი)
- Isani-Samgori (ისანი-სამგორი)
- Didgori (ka) (დიდგორი), 2007–2013
Most of the raions are named after respective historical neighbourhoods of the city. The citizens of Tbilisi widely recognise a system of the smaller non-formal historical neighbourhoods. Such neighbourhoods are several, however, constituting a kind of hierarchy, because 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 Mt'k'vari. The names of the oldest neighbourhoods go back to the early Middle Ages and sometimes pose a great linguistic interest. The newest whole-built developments bear chiefly residential marketing names.
In pre-Revolution Tiflis, the Georgian quarter was confined to the southeastern part of the city; Baedeker describes the layout succinctly:
In the north part of the town, on the left bank of the Kurá and to the south of the railway station, stretches the clean German Quarter, formerly occupied by German immigrants from Württemberg (1818). To the south is the Gruzinian or Georgian Quarter (Avlabár). On the right bank of the Kurá is the Russian Quarter, the seat of the officials and of the larger business firms. This is adjoined on the south by the Armenian and Persian Bazaars.
Avlabari is considered "the integral component of the so-called 'old Tbilisi'" and is currently the object of planning and cultural heritage preservation.
Tbilisi is located in the South Caucasus at 41° 43' North Latitude and 44° 47' East Longitude. The city lies in Eastern Georgia on both banks of the Mt'k'vari River. The elevation of the city ranges from 380–770 metres above sea level (1,250–2,530 ft) and has 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 complex. The part of the city which lies on the left bank of the Mt'k'vari (Kura) River extends for more than 30 km (19 mi) from the Avchala District to River Lochini. The part of the city which lies on the right side of the Mt'k'vari 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 Mt'k'vari. The mountains, therefore, are a significant barrier to urban development on the right bank of the Mt'k'vari 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.
To the north of the city, there is a large reservoir (commonly known as the Tbilisi Sea) fed by irrigation canals.
People and culture
The architecture in the city is a mixture of local (Georgian) and Byzantine, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Beaux-Arts, Middle Eastern, and Soviet Stalinist architectural styles. The oldest parts of town, including the Abanot-Ubani, Avlabari, and to a certain extent the Sololaki districts clearly have a traditional Georgian architectural look with Near Eastern influences. The areas of downtown Tbilisi which were built or expanded mainly in the 19th century (Rustaveli Avenue, Vera district, etc.) have a chiefly Western European look, but they nevertheless contain individual examples of European pseudo-Moorish architecture, such as the Tbilisi Opera.
The start of the 20th century was marked by an architectural revival, notably, with an art nouveau style. With the establishment of the communist government, this style was decreed as bourgeois and largely neglected. An example of Stalinist architecture in Georgia was the 1938 Institute of Marx, Engels, Lenin (მარქს-ენგელს-ლენინის ინსტიტუტის შენობა) building, also referred to by the abbreviation IMELI (იმელი) in Georgian.
Following privatization, this building was supposed to be converted from 2006 to 2009 into a five-star luxury Kempinski hotel by the UAE-based Dhabi Group. As of 2013[update], no refurbishment had been achieved.
The architecture of the later 20th century can mainly be identified with the building style that was common during the Soviet era throughout the Soviet Union and the countries under Soviet occupation.
This included building large, concrete apartment blocks as well as social, cultural, and office facilities, like for example the Tbilisi Roads Ministry Building. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Tbilisi has been the site of uncontrolled/unsanctioned building projects. Since 2004, the city government has taken new initiatives to curb uncontrolled construction projects with mixed success. In the near future, Tbilisi will have three skyscraper complexes. The Axis Towers, Redix Chavchavadze 64, and the new Ajara Hotel/Business Complex, which is currently under construction will be the tallest buildings/skyscrapers in the Caucasus.
Tbilisi has important landmarks and sightseeing locations. The Parliament and the government (State Chancellery) buildings of Georgia, as well as the Supreme Court of Georgia, are in Tbilisi. The city has important cultural landmarks such as the Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi State Conservatoire, Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre, Shota Rustaveli State Academic Theatre, Marjanishvili State Academic Theatre, the Sameba Cathedral, the Vorontsov's Palace (also known as the Children's Palace today), many state museums, the National Public Library of the Parliament of Georgia, the National Bank of Georgia, Tbilisi Circus, The Bridge of Peace and other important institutions. During the Soviet times, Tbilisi continuously ranked in the top four cities in the Soviet Union for the number of museums.
Out of the city's historic landmarks, the most notable are the Narikala fortress (4th–17th century), Anchiskhati Basilica (6th century, built up in the 16th century), Sioni Cathedral (8th century, later rebuilt), and Church of Metekhi.
Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport is Tbilisi's only airport, located about 17 kilometres (11 miles) south east of the city center. Handling 1.85 million passengers in 2015, it is the busiest airport in Georgia and the twenty-fifth-busiest airport in the former Soviet Union. The airport has experienced rapid growth, having more than doubled passenger numbers from roughly 822,000 in 2010 to approximately 1,847,000 in 2015. The airport is the base of the Georgian flag carrier Georgian Airways.
The Tbilisi Metro serves the city with rapid transit subway services. It was the Soviet Union's fourth metro system. Construction began in 1952 and was finished in 1966. The system operates two lines, the Akhmeteli-Varketili Line and the Saburtalo Line. It has 22 stations and 186 metro cars. Most stations, like those on other Soviet-built metro systems, are extravagantly decorated. Trains run from 6:00 am to midnight. Due to the uneven ground, the rail lines run above ground level in some areas. Two of the stations are above ground.
Tbilisi had a tram network, since 1883 starting from horse driven trams and from 25 December 1904 electric tramway. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, electric transport went to a degradation state within the years and finally the only tram line left was closed on 4 December 2006 together with two trolleybus lines which were left. There are plans to construct a modern tram network.
The most dominant form of transportation is the marshrutka. An elaborate marshrutka system has grown in Tbilisi over the recent years. In addition to the city, several lines also serve the surrounding countryside of Tbilisi. Throughout the city, a fixed price is paid regardless of the distance (80 tetri in 2014). For longer trips outside the city, higher fares are common. There are no predefined stops for the marshrutka lines, they are hailed from the streets like taxis and each passenger can exit whenever he likes.
Since 2012, Tbilisi has a modern, high capacity cable car which operates between Europe Square and Narikala. Historically, the city had another aerial lift but, due to mismanagement at the hands of Soviet authorities, it experienced a major malfunction, causing the 1990 Tbilisi Cable car accident and remaining closed ever since.