Tbilisi Part 1

Saturday, August 13, 2022 - 15:00

Today we did the free walking tour in Tbilisi, which as well as giving us information about the city, also allowed us to finally learn a bit more about Georgia and its history too. The tour started in the closest thing Tbilisi seems to have to a city centre, at the bottom of Freedom Square not too far from the river. The square itself is more of a large roundabout than a square, certainly not on the same scale as the squares we have seen in places like Tirana and Yerevan. It has some government buildings around the side, and a column in the middle of the roundabout with a gold statue of St George on top. This is the same St George who is also the patron saint of England, and this explains the similarities in the Georgia and England flags. Apparently sculptures aren't allowed in the Georgian Church, so this sculpture is a bit of an exception given it represents a religious figure. We learnt that a statue of Lenin had been in its place during the Soviet times, so perhaps this is why the Church grants an exception, since it is better than the old statue of a non-religious figure!

From the Square we met up with our tour guide Eka (short for Ekaterina) who is a local Tbilisian and was very animated when telling us about the history of her city and country. She first told us how the city was a key location on the Silk Road for centuries, which meant it was a melting pot of East meets West. Georgia has long been dominated by all the countries and empires around it, and has only had independence relatively recently, somewhat like the situation with Armenia. There was quite an unfortunate story about how they did a treaty with the Russian Tsars in the late 1700s where they should come to each other's aid if ever invaded by someone else. Georgia was then invaded (by the Persians if I recall) and the Russians didn't come to their defence, but they did then come and annex the country as part of Tsarist Russia once the invaders had left - oh dear! Similarly, they had three years of independence around 1920 while the revolution in Russia was going on, but then they came back and absorbed Georgia into the new Soviet Union.

The walking tour took us from Freedom Square where independence had been gained twice in the 20th century, hence the name, down along the path of the old city walls and into the old town. The city walls are only recently excavated, and we could see them under a new road bridge which lead up to the square. On this bit of the walk we also went past some traditional Tbilisian houses, where we learnt about how important ornate wooden balconies are to the locals. This is because they are a place to catch up on gossip, cool down on the long, hot summer days, and also grow vines of grapes along the edge of. We then entered the old town where the architecture was a bit of a mish mash of different styles, with a mix of 19th century European, Soviet, and Middle Eastern styles. The old town was very pleasant, and luckily had a lot of shade on this very hot day where it was approaching 35 degrees.

Other highlights on the tour included finally finding out what the word caravanserai means, and learning a bit about the Georgian alphabet and language. Apparently caravanserai were buildings used by the Silk Road traders as they came to the city to stay for a few days at a time. From here they would sell their products to locals, store their belongings as well as horses or camels, and also sleep. As for the Georgian language and alphabet, similarly to Armenian it is a bit of an orphan language, not related to any Western or Eastern language family. Eka took us through the alphabet and laughed about how harsh some of the consonant sounds are, which make Georgians sound angry even if they are describing something beautiful. No one actually knows where the alphabet comes from, but one theory I liked is that it was a code written by the military centuries ago to hide strategies from foreign invaders. Another fun fact was that there is a Georgian dialect spoken in the north which has removed all swear words from the language so you can't be rude to someone.

The tour ended at the public Sulphur Baths at the base of Narikala Fortress which sits on the hillside above. We already knew the story about the healing properties of Sulphur Baths from our time in Borjomi, and there was a good legend told by Eka about the king who founded Georgia and how he accidentally discovered these hot baths when his falcon had a fight with a pheasant and they fell into the boiling water, which meant they were then eaten for dinner. The baths are open to anyone, apparently with the only rule that you must leave your status at the door, i.e. everyone is treated equally inside. Probably something we will give a miss with a baby and a dog, but interesting nonetheless!

After the tour we headed back to our hotel for a relax by the pool. Given we have two more full days in Tbilisi we aren't in a rush to see everything at once, so will return to Freedom Square another day to take more pictures and go up to the Fortress.

Dog Notes: 

This was Summer's fourth free walking tour, and she was well behaved as we would expect, especially given the heat. However this particular group of tourists and the guide didn't give her much attention at all which was very unusual!

Electric Vehicle EV Notes: 

While we were on the walking tour we parked in the Galleria Mall car park right by Freedom Square to use the charger. However when we got back to the car we found the charger hadn't worked and we were still on 50% charge - the first time we have had a situation like this all trip! I'm not sure what happened exactly as the charger seemed to work again when I reconnected it, so it hadn't malfunctioned. Probably just bad luck, but not a problem since we still have more time in Tbilisi to get charged up.
- EcoCars charger at Galleria Mall, near Freedom Square in Tbilisi

Miles Driven: 
Holiday Inn Tbilisi


There are a lot of Georgians in Israel now. It just gets more and more fascinating James.

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