I know that a lot of you probably can’t even find Georgia on a map and you might be here searching for information about traveling to the US state of Georgia. If you did, don’t leave right away and let me share a few things about Georgia, the country located at the crossroad between Europe and Asia. Georgia is a land of rock and stone, hidden monasteries, majestic mountains, deep caves, and the birthplace of wine. It’s a country with a very distinct culture sitting on a crossroad between two worlds it refuses to identify with. As such, there are some things you can only see in Georgia and nowhere else. That’s what this article is all about!
One of the oldest centers of Christianity in the world
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most sacred pilgrimage site in Georgia and home to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the second largest in the country. What makes Mtskheta even more fascinating is that it was also the center of Pagan worship in the 5th century B.C. Mtskheta was also the capital of Georgia for more than seven centuries until King Dachi moved the capital to Tbilisi. This ancient town today has only 8,000 residents.
Visit a cave city that used to host 20,000 people!
A town built into the rocks in the far East, Uplistsikhe is one of the oldest settlements in Georgia. It covers an area of eight hectares of narrow underground streets, caves, and interconnecting passages. The most fascinating part about this cave city is that at one point it was home to more than 20,000 people.
Visit the village where wine was introduced to the world
Several archeological findings state that the world’s first wine was produced in a Neolithic village, 30 km south of Tbilisi. A few years ago, researchers from the University of Toronto, discovered pottery fragments which were more than 8,000 years old in Gadachrili and Shulaveris. This means that this popular drink we all love today was first created in Georgia. This traditional Georgian method of winemaking in a clay jar (Qvevri) is a part of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage of humanity list.
Take a peek at the deepest cave on Earth
Located in the Arabika Massif in the western part of Abkhazia, Krubera is the deepest cave on Earth. This massive cave extends up to 13.5 kilometers (8.5 miles) and is 2,197 meters (7,200 feet) deep. It’s the only cave on Earth deeper than 2,000 meters. Interestingly, the geology community was (for some reason) largely ignoring this cave for years. It wasn’t until 2012 that the researchers actually reached the point of 2,197 meters. In order to fully explore this cave, you would need scuba diving gear, as the cave has a deep, mostly-vertical system and a lot of tunnels in the cave are under water.
Hear the almost-extinct Svan language and listen to polyphonic vocal songs
Svans are an ethnic subgroup of Georgians, who inhabit the northwest of Georgia. Svans were traditionally known as gatekeepers of mountain passes and in this part of the country, a traditional, authentic way of life is preserved. Villages in this part of the country are scattered across the hills and a lot of households are encircled with a protective wall. The region has a turbulent history and that’s why this system is still in place and a lot of Svans still practice blood revenge.
Svans are also famous for their polyphonic vocal songs. Many of these melodies are even older than Christianity and contain Pagan elements. No wonder this chloral folk music is a part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Take a look at the cave in which Prometheus was chained to
The legend says that Prometheus the Titan was given the task of creating man but he angered the gods by stealing fire from the Gods and gifting it to humans. As a punishment, he was sent to the Caucasus Mountains and chained to a rock for the rest of his life. According to the legend, that cave was this neon-lit cave outside of Kutaisi, in the western part of Georgia. Even if you’re not a fan of legends and Greek mythology, that won’t make this cave any less fascinating. The Prometheus Cave boasts an array of stalagmites, cave pearls, underground rivers, lakes, and even waterfalls.
The Georgian Romeo and Juliet
We all know the legendary story of Rome and Juliet but have you heard about Ali and Nino? The story from the 1930s’ whose author remains anonymous today portrays the unfortunate story of an Azerbaijani Muslim, Ali, who falls in love with the Georgian Princess, Nino. This story has become a literature classic in the Caucasus and is even the national novel of Azerbaijan.
This sad romance inspired Georgian artist, Tamara Kvesitadze to design this stunning moving sculpture in 2010. This giant metal artwork consists of two figures of stacked who slide towards each other every day at 7 o’clock and almost merging, without fully connecting. The statue is probably the most recent monument on this list but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating.
See the most picturesque monastery in the world
If you want to have the most Georgian experience ever, you absolutely must visit the Gergeti Trinity Church. The isolated location of this church on the top of a steep mountain surrounded by the endless vastness of nature made it a modern symbol of Georgia. Because of its remote location, during dangerous times and invasions, all important relics from Mtskheta were brought here for safe keeping. I’ve visited hundreds of different churches and monasteries around the world and if you ask me, I would say Gergeti is by far, the most picturesque one I have ever seen.
Stay in a luxury hotel that became a refugee camp and then a luxury hotel again
The Iveria Hotel became one of the first prime luxury hotels in Tbilisi in the 1960s’. At the time, Tbilisi was a primary choice for a lot of wealthy people from around the SSSR because of its thermal baths. However, this changed after the fall of the SSSR and tourism suffered. The Abkhazia War and the high number of Georgian refugees forced the local authorities to turn the hotel in a refugee camp. In recent years, tourism in Georgia started booming again and the Iveria Hotel went back to its old luxurious self.
A mosque where Sunni and Shia Muslims pray side by side
Tbilisi has been a crossroads of religions and cultures for centuries and it’s no wonder you can find such a rare sight right here, in Georgia’s Capital. Around 10% of Georgia’s population is Muslim, a lot of which reside in Tbilisi. Prior to the 1950s’, Tbilisi had two mosques where Sunni and Shia Muslims worshiped separately. However, during the Soviet era, the Blue Mosque of Tbilisi was completely demolished. After this event, the Shia community lost its only worship place in Tbilisi and the Jumah Mosque opened its doors to them. In the beginning, there was a black curtain dividing the mosque in half but since 1996, the curtain was removed and Sunni and Shia Muslims have been performing religious rituals side by side in the same mosque. This makes the Jumah Mosque the only such mosque in the entire world.
Step into nature’s very own art gallery
Completely surrounded by lush forests, Sataplia’s cave us the ultimate subterranean wonder of nature. The cave features spectacular stalagmites and stalactites and one of them looks like a giant human heart! Many of these fascinating formations are dramatically lit, giving the whole cave a beautiful eerie atmosphere.
Experience an ancient teatime tradition
Tbilisi’s ancient bath district also hides the last remaining ancient chaykhana (teahouse) where an ethnic teatime tradition is well-preserved. Once upon a time, the district housed five teahouses but the whole area was devastated by political unrest. However, that didn’t make the owner of this chaykhana give up. He decided to resist the gentrification and renovation and keep his ancient tea shop.
You’ll find a lot of new buildings and souvenir shops in the area today and if you look hard enough, you’ll discover this nameless chaykhana hidden between the narrow, charming streets, still standing proud and trying hard to defy the test of time. Most tourists don’t know about it but it’s very popular among people who remember the old days when Tbilisi was filled with this type of community spaces.
Georgians have their own version of pizza
A trip to Georgia is not complete without trying Khachapuri. This famous Georgian dish comes in a variety of forms but most of them include bread and ridiculous quantities of cheese. The most famous one is probably Adjaran Khachapuri. It has an egg on the top and it might not fit your definition of pizza but it’s absolutely delicious.
A monument in which the whole Georgian history is engraved
Georgia is probably the only country in the world that has its whole history engraved in giant pillars. Sitting at the top of the hill overlooking Tbilisi, it’s surprising that this place is so unfrequented. You can get to the Chronicle of Georgia by metro and taxi, or by taking a long walk from the city.
Stay in an old Soviet sewing factory
Another quirky place to stay in is the Fabrika Hostel. This building was once a typical Soviet sewing factory. Today, the building is a hostel and a café-bar and its courtyard has a lot of quirky shops. If you’re into hip and arty things, you should definitely check out this place. It’s one of the most unique and interesting hostels I’ve ever seen.
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If you like hard spirit drinks everywhere you go, then you definitely have to try Chacha while you’re in Georgia. Chacha is the Georgian version of vodka. It’s a pomace brandy that consists of either grapes, oranges, tangerines or tarragon ranging between 40% and 65% of alcohol. If you come across a Georgian that invites you to their home, they’ll probably offer you some chacha. Many Georgians will also tell you that chacha has medical properties. In fact, a lot of people use it and suggest it as a remedy for a number of ailments.
Visit one of Europe’s oldest cities
Kutaisi in western Georgia was the capital of the Colchis Kingdom as early as 2,000 B.C. This ancient city has seen hundreds of conflicts throughout the years between Georgian kings, Russians, and Ottomans and was even an industrial center during the Soviet era. Kutaisi is also home to one of the best-equipped museums in the country. This museum features over 16,000 artifacts related to Georgian culture and history.
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Explore the archeological remains of the oldest human skull in Europe
The discovery of primitive tools in Dmanisi in the 1980s’ increased the interest for this archeological site. This lead to a very important discovery in the 1990s’. According to the archeological findings of Dmanisi, the first humans traveled from Africa to Europe through Georgia. The skulls found on the site are more than 1.8 million years old! This makes it safe to say that Georgia was the homeland of the first Europeans.
Experience 12 different climates in an area of 70,000 square kilometers
True, Georgia might be a small country barely covering 70,000 square kilometers. But did you know that these 70,000 square kilometers feature 12 different climate zones ranging from subtropical to alpine to semi-desert? Georgia also has 49 different types of soil! All this makes this beautiful country arguably the most ecologically diverse one on Earth.
Visit Europe’s highest permanent settlement
If you’re wondering what’s the highest human settlement in Europe, look no further. It’s in Bochorna (2,345 meters). The second highest is in Ushguli (2,100 meters). Both of these villages are located in the remote Georgian mountains and are pretty difficult to reach, which allowed them to preserve their timeless feel.