The famous Georgian legend says that when God divided the territories between different peoples of the world, the Georgians were late for the ceremony, as they were too busy feasting.
When they eventually arrived, all of the pieces of land were already shared and handed out. The legend goes that God decided to grant the Georgians with the piece of land He saved for Himself. And Georgia is truly a divine place! There are so many valleys that are so different from the ones next to them that they all could hold completely different cultures that there is no shortage of new things to try. Tired of Imeretian khachapuri, that special cheese-bread found on any proper Georgian menu? Then head to the coast and enjoy Adjaran khachapuri in Batumi, where an egg is baked within the dough. Or head up the coastal road toward Zugdidi and enjoy the stuffed cheesiness of its Mingrelian variety. Something different is always just around the bend in Georgia.
Tbilisi, the great city that stretches out below the Holy Mountain of Mtatsminda, ranks up with one of the most exotic places that a traveler can visit. The legendary land where Prometheus was chained upon a tall mountain, so high that only eagles fly nearby, as punishment for bestowing fire to mankind, Georgia clearly has its own vision of what heaven is like. As a crossroads, by necessity its ideas of reverence have grown cosmopolitan over the centuries.
Buildings here have a traditional Georgian architectural look with Middle Eastern influences.
As a result, the churches can hardly be called cookie-cutter copies of each other. The Anchiskhati is perhaps the oldest surviving church, and it would be easy to guess that it dates back to the sixth century. But up to a century earlier, other churches long destroyed were also built, upon which many newer places of religious worship were constructed. A good example of this is the renowned 12th century Sioni Cathedral, which despite Persians and earthquakes still stands over the broad Mtkvari River. Even the fairy-tale 4th century Narikala Fortress that oversees the steam baths, the old town, and pretty much looks out over a wide panorama of the entire city, boasts its own St. Nicholas Church near its main entrance.Aficionados of St. Petersburg culture will perhaps be surprised to find venerated here a familiar name - Alexander Griboyedov. As had many writers during the early 19th century after the passes across the Caucasus were opened up, Griboyedov found himself in the salons of Tbilisi, which in 1818 were such centers of culture that they rivaled even those in the great cities of Russia. He fell in love and married a young Georgian princess before continuing on to his death in Persia, naturally leaving her broken-hearted. “Your spirit and achievements will be remembered for ever. Why still does my love outlive you?” she wrote on his tombstone. Soon after, every cultural figure sought to be buried near his grave at the St. David Church on Mtatsminda, and the churchyard eventually became a Pantheon to Georgia’s greatest.
The Khachapuri index is a special measurement of the cost of living for comparison between different regions of the Republic of Georgia. Created by the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University, the index follows the price of ingredients and materials used to cook one Imeretian khachapuri - flour, cheese, yeast, eggs, butter, gas, and electricity.
Meanwhile, the newest place of worship in the city was completed only in 2004, the Sameba Cathedral. The third tallest Eastern Orthodox structure in the world, it restored the site of an Armenian church and graveyard destroyed by the Soviets back to hallowed ground. There are so many unique churches in Tbilisi that this is but a small sample of what it boasts. When you leave the capital, you’ll be further amazed as just about every ridgetop seems to have yet another ancient place of worship.
There is a special calm on the daytime streets of the Republic of Georgia. Rustaveli Street in Tbilisi provides a wonderful tree-shaded stroll between such sights as the pseudo-Moorish Opera House and the Museum of the Soviet Occupation, and down-home places like Prospero’s Books and Caliban’s Coffeehouse. The quieter-than-Vegas skyline of Batumi offers all sorts of fairly new marvels of modern urban creativity on a subtropical shoreline that could almost double as a scene out of California. Poti displays a semi-rural friendliness that belies its place as the purported location of Colchis, the country from which Jason and the Argonauts are said to have taken the Golden Fleece.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Georgia. Almost every valley provides something new and different from the previous as you go across the country, from vineyard to vineyard, from beautiful mountain to beautiful mountain, from ancient ruin to church tower. There is little wonder as to why travelers to this area of the world can easily transplant Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s “Georgia on my Mind” to this small slice of paradise.