The Republic of Georgia is a nation most Americans might be at pains to locate on a map. And the only time it made the news this century was when it went to war with its giant neighbor Russia in 2008. It was a short war, and it didn’t end well for the Georgians. Russia carved off Georgia’s northernmost province (Abkhazia) when it was all over. But in fact, Georgia has an incredible history, and its natural scenery is breathtaking in the foothills of the massive Caucasus Mountains, located between the Black and the Caspian Seas. Most of all, the people of Georgia are incredibly warm and hospitable, particularly toward Americans. So, in the fall of 2014, my wife and I went to visit a friend, who lives half the year in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and half the year in the Russian capital Moscow. Fittingly, George is half Russian and half Georgian.
Georgia is one of the oldest Christian nations in the world, Christianity having been declared the state religion in 337 A.D./C.E. Over the centuries it was free or occupied by hostile powers (such as the Persians and Mongols), but the people of Georgia have never wavered in their strong Christian beliefs. We visited an 11th century orthodox cathedral (Svetitskhoveli—also an early capital of the kingdom), where Georgian kings have been buried since the earliest days of the kingdom. A 4th century baptismal font still sits in the old cathedral. We were given a tour of the country’s most important religious center by a wily old priest. When he asked where I was from, I told him the United States. He then asked me, “But where are you really from?” I answered mostly Scotland. He smiled and responded, “Ah, a Highlander, just like us.”
Overlooking Svetitskhoveli from a high mountain top is the Jvari Monastery of Mtskheta, dating from 590 A.D./C.E. The views over the valley and the confluence of two rivers is breathtaking.
Tbilisi was established as Georgia’s capital in 1122. But it has been continuously inhabited since the early Bronze Age (2000-3000 B.C.E.), when it sat astride the ancient crossroads between East and West along the Silk Road. Tbilisi is situated on the Mt’k’vari River. As it is surround by high cliffs that dominate the valley, the architecture is unique with homes and buildings sitting on the sheer sides of cliffs. We also visited the Black Sea port of Batumi, which sits on the site of an ancient Greek trading colony. The Black Sea is less salty than most any other body of water that is a sea. But it can be treacherous and was stormy when we visited.
I could go on and on about the history and the culture of Georgia, as it is all so fascinating. But for us the, the best thing about Georgia was the people—and the food. It was a fabulous culinary experience. There was a daily assortment of fresh breads, grilled meats and vegetables, and unique salads, always washed down by an amazing variety of red wines. The most famous dish is a stuffed cheese bread, known as Khachipurri.
I’d go back to Georgia for the food alone. The fact that it is an underappreciated country and is visited by few tourists, makes it all the better.