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Celebrating St Mary and cleansing away our sins - or at least dirt...

sunny 32 °C
View In Search of the Golden Fleece - Armenia and Georgia 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It always takes a day or three to develop a rapport with your guide and driver; and just as I was feeling comfortable with Jenna and Artijom, we changed over. In the car from the border, Salomeh was telling us about the 16 ex-USSR states and I corrected her to 15. She insisted it was 16 until I listed the 15 and asked her to name the 16th. Which of course she couldn't so she suggested she would google it when she got home. Maybe not a good start...


Legend has it that at the beginning of time when God was giving out land to the nations of the world the Georgians were too busy drinking to attend. Arriving late, God was angry and asked why they had dishonoured him so; there was now no land left to give them. But the Georgians replied that far from dishonouring God they were late because they were drinking to His health and this took some time. God was pleased by their answer and so gave them the tiny bit of land he had been keeping for himself.


According to Georgian legends, it was founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali who, while hunting, shot a pheasant which fell into a warm spring and was healed. The king was inspired to found a city on the site, and the name of the city derives from the Georgian word tbili meaning "warm". Although the city has been destroyed and rebuilt some 29 times, the layout of the Old Town is largely intact with narrow alleys and big crooked houses built around courtyards. It appears that the entire town is “under restoration”, just like “it's closed” was the refrain for Armenia. I think in five years' time this will be the new 'in' place to travel for a weekend. It certainly ought to be.

The king himself

Metechi Church

Today is the anniversary of the birth of St Mary, and is considered a very special religious holiday, so Metechi (dedicated to St Mary) church was full to bursting with parishioners. 80% of Georgians are practising Orthodox Christians. The church was built between 1278 and 1284. It is a somewhat unusual example of domed Georgian Orthodox church which in the later part of Soviet period was used as a theatre.


Sulphur Bath Houses

The bath district is called Abanotubani and a long time ago the people not only washed themselves there but also socialised sometimes until dawn; and the city matchmakers arranged presentation of marriageable girls on special days. In the baths they threw parties, made deals. The baths consist of separate booths with individual small pools filled with hydro-sulfuric water. Just sit in such water - and all diseases will be gone. And after the special massage you will feel like you are born again. So Salomeh promises.



Built in 1811, this is the only remaining mosque in the city still functioning. Here, sunni and shiite Muslims pray together. About 400 Muslims still live in Tbilisi.


Narik Ala Fortress

Not just the first fortress in Tbilisi, but also one of the oldest buildings in town, with its origins dating back to the 4th century BC. In its heyday, the defence walls were 1 kilometre long with 70 watch towers. Somewhat more modest these days, the fortress is certainly still very formidable.


St Nicholas Church

The church of St Nicholas is only about five years old, and the inside is covered in beautiful frescoes. The previous church on this spot was used as a gunpowder store during Soviet times, but an explosion and subsequent fire completely demolished the church. The current church is one of the most important churches in all of Georgia.


Armenian Church

The 13th century church looks nothing like any of the churches we saw in Armenia – it is very much more decorated inside and none of the cross beams holdings the domes that we became so used to seeing.



Georgians have a good friendship with the Jews, up until 1991 there were 21,000 Jews in the country. Now only 3000 remain.


The walking tour continued through the old town, with Salomeh enthusiastically explaining to us about all the sights we passed, such as the old tram car, the statue of a popular Georgian actress and the 16th century caravanserai.


Sioni Cathedral

Bears the name of Mount Zion at Jerusalem, which was the place St Mary slept forever. It was initially built in the 6th-7th centuries. Since then, it has been destroyed by foreign invaders and reconstructed several times. Inside you can find a huge chair for the caotholicos patriarch to sit on, as well as graves of several previous caotholicos. Lots of devotees and priests milling around, one who was on his mobile phone – did he have a hotline to God?


The driver was meant to pick us up and take us to the restaurant for lunch, but for various reasons we ended up walking there instead. I was surprised at how many beggars we have seen in the city.


Lunch was very good – their traditional cheese pie (khachapuri) and the khinkali (a very tasty meat dumpling). The driver showed us how to eat the dumplings like a Georgian - with your hands, biting off one bit then sucking the juice out, and leaving the knot at the top.


State Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum houses more than 38 900 items, fortunately we only visited three sections: the treasury with ancient gold items including jewellery, the occupations museum and a new exhibit of oriental art in Georgia. This is one of the largest museums in the country, and very modern, even though it was of course under renovation. I was really amazed at the intricacy of the 2500 year old jewellery more than anything.


Bath and massage

Salomeh arranged a private room for us in the sulphur baths this evening – neither of us really knew what to expect, and we were both a little apprehensive. It was a new experience for both of us. The large tub was filled with water that was way too hot for us to enter, I expect it was around 45C or so. I managed half a leg. We'd also ordered a massage, which was in essence a good scrub, all over with plenty of lathering. Any ideas I had about preserving my modesty went out of the window. Women get a female masseuse, men a male. David's butcher, I mean masseur, turned the heat of the water down to around 40-41C which made it bearable to get in. A cold shower then chill out and get get dressed in the very posh anti-room, complete with comfortable arm chairs and A/C. I have never felt so clean in all my life.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:16 Archived in Georgia

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Looks like you're having a ball! You might have been to more churches than me now I think! haha

David looks FINISHED - was it torture or a massage? hehe

by Jen

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