Georgia – the country of remarkable history, culture and traditions. It is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and at the same time, Georgia occupies a central place in the Caucasus region, between the Black and Caspian Seas.
Based on its special geographical location, ever since the ancient times Georgia fascinated travellers and traders alike. Among them were the fabled Argonauts, heroes from the Greek mythology - The aim of Jason's expedition to the land of Colchis (today Western Georgia) was to claim the Golden fleece. Myth of the Golden Fleece hints at the early bonds between ancient Greece and Georgia. According to the legend, the gold on the slopes of the Caucasus, In Georgia, was extracted by immersing in a sheep’s skin gold-water river. This method of gold mining occurs in the mountainous region of Svaneti to this day.
The Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi, tracing their origins to Noah’s great-great grandson Kartlos. The earliest proto-Georgian kingdoms were Colchis in the west and Kartli (also known as Iveria or Iberia) in the east and south, including some areas in modern Turkey and Armenia.
Georgia was the second European country to officially adopt the Christian faith, a quarter of a century after Armenia. In the 5th century AD, western Georgia became tied to the expanding Byzantine Empire, while Kartli fell under Persian control. King Vakhtang Gorgasali (447-502), considered the father of the Georgian nation, briefly drove the Persians out and moved his capital from Mtskheta to the current seat of government, Tbilisi. (The main photo of this article is the statue of King Vakhtang overlooking Tbilisi).
Ruled by the Bagrationi dynasty for centuries, the zenith of Georgian culture and statehood came during the reign of King David IV the Builder (1089-1125) and the Queen Tamar (1184_1210). The XII-XIII century period in particular is considered the golden era of Georgia's history. King David made Georgia the major Caucasian power and a centre of Christian culture and learning. Georgia reached its further prosperity under his great-granddaughter Queen Tamar, whose writ extended over much of present-day Azerbaijan and Armenia, plus parts of Turkey and southern Russia. Tamar, the only woman ruler in Georgian history, is still so revered that Georgians call her King Tamar, in contrast to being merely a consort to a male ruler. However, shortly after Tamar's reign, Georgian Kingdom was swept over by the all-conquering forces of Genghiz Khan's Mongol horde, a conquest that would last centuries, and when it ended, there were another invaders to take their place. In late 18 century, the despairing King of Eastern Georgia, Erekle II reluctantly signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, thus making his kingdom a protectorate of the Russian Empire. The treaty was soon breached by the would-be sovereign, which promptly annexed the Georgian Kingdom.
In the wake of the Russian Revolution, Georgia was briefly independent from 1918 to 1921, but it was invaded by the Red Army and forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922. During the 1930s, like everywhere else in the USSR, Georgia suffered from the Great Terror unleashed by Joseph Stalin (Jugashvili), himself a Georgian, who had ingeniously taken control of the largest country on earth.
Georgia declared independence from the USSR on 9 April 1991. Almost immediately the country descended into chaos, with civil war breaking out as the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, backed by Russia, rejected Georgian government's rule. The Georgian-Abkhaz war ended with approximately 20000 deaths on both sides and more than 250000 Georgian losing their homes. in 2008 the conflict was renewed and ended with Russia recognizing South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence. Only a handful of countries worldwide followed Russia's example.
Culture and traditions
Influence from the west - first from Rome, and then from her rightful heir, -the Byzantine Empire, and at the same time, the influence from the East – from Iran and the Islamic Caliphate has enabled Georgia to become an unique bridge between Eastern and Western civilizations.
Georgia has its own alphabet, one of the world's unique 14 alphabets. The country is an ancient home to a variety of churches and monasteries, most of which are still standing in Georgia. Next to the Georgian Orthodox Church one can see Gregorian and Catholic churches, as well as Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques - peaceful coexistence of different religions emphasizes tolerance of Georgian culture.
Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world and as the latest archeological discoveries attest, it is the oldest civilization that is known for its wine drinking - not the Romans or the ancient Greeks, but the Georgians. Grapevine cultivation in Georgia goes back as far as to the Neolithic period, at least 8000 years.
Each of Georgia's historical regions has its trademark feature. For example, Kakheti is known for wine-making; Kartli – for its medieval fortresses (Uplistsikhe, Dzalisi, Mtskheta, Tbilisi, Samshvilde); Javakheti boasts unique healing spas and mineral waters, Abkhazia and Adjara – the seaside resorts; Samegrelo – a variety of beautiful dishes; Imereti – historical monuments, Svaneti – unique medieval towers, Racha-lechkhumi – unforgettable mountains, etc.
For Georgians, who consider the guest godsend, there is no higher joy that to demonstrate their hospitality. An Obligatory attribute of Georgian and Caucasian hospitality is Supra - a feast organized in perfect order, demanding good behavior and observance of appropriate etiquette. A special person who makes sure all goes according to the rules is called Tamada (toastmaster). The entire ocassion will depend on the wisdom and eloquence of the Tamada and his toasts, and they are indeed chosen from among the most respected and decent people. Holding a feast is a complex and critical task: a tamada has to supervise the feast progress skillfully maintaining the order, follow the toast, avoid verbosity, alternate toast with jokes or funny stories.
The Georgian songs and dances is one of the most beautiful parts of the very alive Georgian tradition. The Georgian song Chakrulo was used in 1976 by Nasa for the depart of Voyager as a proof of their singing talent. The best traditional Georgian chores are Rustavi and Erisioni. Sukhishvili National Ballet is very popular and must be seen as well.