Published: November 25th 2005November 25th 2005
Georgia...is it in Europe or Asia?
The question needs only to be asked to be answered. Welcome to Georgia, a land filled with magnificent history and beauty. Archeologists find that the oldest traces of wine production (7000-5000 BC) are traced to this region in the Caucasus. For those of us in the West, we unfortunately get precious little exposure to this stretch of land between the Black and Caspian seas. Hopefully that is changing.
Georgians are not Russians and they are proud of their own language, which is in its own language group, completely unrelated to Indo-European or Slavic languages. Georgians have have been embroiled in struggles against their neighbors for centuries. The countryside is dotted with towered fortifications, many of which house ancient churches and monastaries. The Georgian nation enjoyed brief independance as a republic after WWI, but was then forcefully absorbed into the Soviet Union.
During the Soviet era, Georgia was the riviera of the USSR and set the highest standards for food and drink. Russians may love vodka, but the Georgian wines were favored by the Soviet elite. The coastal areas of Georgia enjoy sub-tropical conditions and lovely beaches. In the Soviet command economy, Georgia
flooded Russian markets with quality tea, wine and fruits. Georgia, on the periphery of the Soviet Empire, also contributed greatly to the dissolution of the USSR with calls for independance.
This proud nation is still in transition after the fall of the Soviet Union and the ousting of Shevardnadze in the non-violent Rose Revolution of 2003. The tense relations with Russia (and deepening friendship with the USA and the EU) has closed off the once indispensable Russian markets. The country struggles with unemployment and President Saakishvili has many challenges ahead: weeding out cronyism and corruption and waging the uphill battle to gain entry into the EU and NATO--with all of the prerequisities attached. The President of Romania spoke in support of Georgia's endeavors at the festivities marking the two year anniversary of the Rose Revolution on the 23 of November. Romania considers itself a helpful role model for Georiga. It is also noteworthy that the Romanian President spoke to the Georgians in English, though both peoples no doubt speak Russian.
Georgia became a Christian nation in the fourth century with the evangelism of St Nino. The Georgian cross is recognizable, for it was forged by St Nino with
grape vines and her own hair. The grape and the vine thus hold important places in Georgian symbolism. The conversion to Christianity meant that Georgians would have a historical cultural leaning to the West instead of the Muslims in the region (Turkey is South; Chechnya is North). Nonetheless, Georgian culture stands at the cross-roads of civlizations. Georgia stood on one of the key routes of the Silk Road and now plays a role in geopolitics with oil pipelines stemming from Azerbaijan and bound for Turkey. One of Georgia's primary concerns is energy, and this makes relations with the Russians a bit tricky. (Georgia endures routine power outages. We ate breakfast by candlelight one morning. Another time, Marcus was in the shower when the power failed!)
Imagine a city with narrow side streets filled with leaning houses, overstretched balconies, mangled and twisted stairways, majestic old churches, heavenly food and warm and welcoming people. All of this with a backdrop of magnificent snow peaked mountains. It is difficult to describe the natural beauty of Tbilisi. We have taken many snapshots in hopes of painting a few scenes when we settle down someday. If we didn't come from Scotland we would find
it difficult to imagine that such contrasting beauty could exist within such a small land area.
Please note that the Georgian flag shown on this website is incorrect. The flag is now a simple cross of St. George (like the English flag) with a little red cross in each white square. This is only one example of how things are changing so quickly in this country. Our guide book, published only last year, was out of date on many entries, including the photo of a building which Marcus tried searching for and later discovered had been knocked down due to its old Soviet connections. The building was known as 'Andropov's Ears', Andropov being a prominent figurehead in the secret police here ... enough said ...
There are more photos below