Tbilisi - The Crossroads of Cultures
Tbilisi is the host city for Special Edition: Georgia, The Caucasus. East meets west in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia and the country’s largest city with a population of 1.5 million people. Founded in the 5th century AD, there is an intriguing blend of Europe and Asia with no shortage of riches for all kinds of visitors and it’s worth taking a day or two to fully explore what some have described as the “Rome of the Caucasus”.
Tbilisi was founded when King Vakhtang Gorgasali was hunting in the area (then a dense forest) and went in search of the pheasant he wounded as well as the falcon he sent in pursuit. Legend has it that when he found both birds in the hot springs, he was so impressed that he decided to establish a city nearby and call it Tbilisi, as “tbili” means “warm” in Georgian. Built in the 17th century, the sulphur baths are very much a part of Tbilisi life today, and make for the perfect way to relax before the start of a 250km ultramarathon!
Tbilisi is a charming city that is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. A study in contrast, the city boasts both a cool, cosmopolitan vibe alongside its picturesque Old Town. As its tourism website says: Where else can you find Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Gregorian and Roman Catholic churches, a synagogue, a mosque and a Zoroastrian temple, all within a five-minute walk?
For lovers of art and architecture, food and shopping (and not just for stocking up on last-minute race items!), there’s much to see and admire in Tbilisi. Let’s start with the Old Town and its narrow, cobbled streets which are perfect for wandering. Pretty, traditional houses with carved wooden balconies are set alongside cafes and bars, shops and a number of the city’s historical sites, including the remains of a fortress from the 4th century AD. Make sure to check out the Kartlis Deda (Mother Georgia) monument, which was erected in 1958 to mark the city’s 1500th anniversary. Also in the Old Town is a funicular railway (grab a seat at the front), which takes visitors to the top of Mount Mtatsminda (Holy Mount) which, at 700 metres above sea level, gives you a panoramic view of the capital.
Save some time to explore the museums and galleries and the bustling Rustaveli Avenue. There’s also the pedestrian Peace Bridge which, having opened in 2010, is a marked contrast to the Old Town, as well as the Leaning Tower of Tbilisi, which is also known as the Gabriadze Clock and was built by puppet master Rezo Gabriadze in 2010.
Georgia’s unique cuisine also deserves some attention. With both Eastern and Western flavours, and influences ranging from the Middle East, Persia, Russia and Europe, there is no shortage of tasty dishes to try from dumplings to cheese pies and the Georgian feast called supra. Georgia is also one of the world’s oldest viticultural regions and Tbilisi offers plenty of opportunities to taste some of the country’s excellent wines at one its many tasting rooms.
Tbilisi International Airport is located approximately 25 minutes from the city centre. A number of airlines fly directly to Tbilisi making it an easy destination to reach. See you in Tbilisi!