Full documentary about Georgia, a country located in the Caucasus, along the black sea with European vocation and western spirit with great landscape and cultural variety.
Georgia has protected its artistic heritage and been able to maintain the vibrancy of its unique traditions. It has conserved a biodiversity greater than that of some continents, and has a magnetism which draws people back to visit over and over again. Although as small as Switzerland, Georgia is big in all aspects; a progressive nation, European in attitude and Western in spirit; a real Caucasian country with the joy of the Mediterranean.
The vast vineyards of the Eastern Region of Kakheti, home to the largest wineries in the nation, are a clear illustration of this passion. In Georgia, there are a considerable number of grape varieties, more than anywhere else in the world. Most of them are used to make high-quality wines as prestigious as Tsinandali, Mukuzani, Theliani or Napareuli, all of which have received gold, silver and bronze medal awards in international competitions.
The care of the grape pickers and the meticulous selection process during the harvest, have led to Georgian wines enjoying worldwide recognition. According to archaeological research, Georgia is at the very cradle of wine culture, as grapes have been cultivated in this area for 7,000 years. It may even be true that the generic word for this most ancient of alcoholic drinks is derived from the Georgian word “gvino” And in some “marani”, or traditional wine cellars, such as this one in the town of Gurjaani, grapes are still pressed by foot in wooden vats to avoid crushing the seeds, which would give the wine a bitter taste.
In Kakheti, almost everything revolves around wine. Proof of this is the XVI century wine cellar in Velistsikhe, in which the traditional “kvevri” are still used: clay barrels buried underground that maintain a constant temperature to ensure optimal fermentation.
These fossilized grapes from the Neolithic Age and the discovery of vessels from the III century B.C., prove that since Prehistory, wine has played a key socioeconomic role in this region.
Tbilisi (tiflis), founded as a fortress-city in the V century, is the nation’s capital, its largest city and has been admired by famous people such as Leon Tolstoy and Alexander Dumas. Situated at a strategic crossroads between Europe and Asia, it has been invaded by Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, and Bolsheviks – none of whom were able to crush the energetic and artistic creativity of a people who consider dance to be an expression of Caucasian identity.
Every corner of Tbilisi is quite captivating. Its bewitching spell is cast over the whole of this safe and friendly metropolis in which guests are considered a “gift from God”. The Georgian capital is leading the way in the country’s development. It is an example of urban harmony in which classical architecture and Art Nouveau mix wonderfully together.
Baths from the XII century can be found under the Narikala fortress, in the Abanotubani district. They possess the natural properties of sulphur waters, as King Vakhtang observed when he founded the city of Tbilisi, which was first called Tpili, an old Georgian word meaning “warm springs”.
Near the sulphur baths, there is a group of buildings that symbolize the country’s tolerance: the only Mosque in the world in which Sunni and Shiite Muslims pray together; the Great Synagogue of the Jews who, after the Ottoman Turk invasion of the city of Akhaltsikhe, resettled in Tbilisi towards the end of the XIX century; the “Sioni” or Georgian Orthodox Dormition Cathedral, site of the “Catholik” Patriarchs of Georgia until the consecration of the “Sameba”, or new Cathedral of the Holy Trinity; the Armenian Church of Saint George, in which the poet Sayat-Nova, the “king of songs,” is buried; and the Catholic Church of the Assumption.
At the end of the harvest, colourful folkloric celebrations take place in the wine making areas. These are an expression of the sociability, optimism and unbridled joy that comes from living in an open and prosperous country. A demonstration of passionate national pride, they illustrate how Georgians love to celebrate their strong sense of identity. Their dances, full of passion, leave a lasting impression.
The fertile Valley of Alazani, in the Region of Kakheti, is renowned because of the excellence of its grapes and because it is the source of outstanding wines such as Khindzmarauli and Gurdjani. But this area, with a mild and pleasant climate, is not only known for its fantastic wine production.
Every day, a basic culinary work of art, known as “shoti”, is made in rural homes: long loaves of rustic bread baked in the traditional style.
The women also make interesting desserts such as “churchkhela”, sausage-shaped sweets made with thickened white grape juice and filled with walnuts, which are then strung up and hung out to dry.
Much of what is made or grown in the villages is sold in small markets, which are full of the colour and freshness of agricultural products.
Sighnaghi is one of the smallest towns in the country, but it has the second longest wall in the world, after China. Urban regeneration and its popularity within the whole Region of Kakheti have made it a delightful place to visit. This town, known as “the city of love”, is also celebrated for its renowned grape harvest. Once again, dancing confirms that one of the defining characteristics of the Georgian people is to have a good time and enjoy life to the full.
To uncover the first steps of human beings, we must go back to Prehistory. The lands south of Tbilisi were inhabited by Homo georgicus, the forerunner of the first European civilizations, as proven by the remains of bones found in this unique archaeological site of worldwide importance.
The city of Uplistsikhe was founded 1,600 years before Christ and although the Mongols destroyed a large portion of the original 700 caves, there are still some 270 left today that were inhabited by local tribes and monks until the latter part of the XVIII century.
The Jvari Monastery is perched on top of the hill on which Saint Nino erected a wooden cross that symbolized the triumph of Christianity in Georgia.
Besides the font in which it is said that Mirian III was baptized, the king who in the year 337 established Christianity as the official religion of Georgia, there is a symbolic replica of the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which makes Svetitskhoveli the second most sacred place in the world. This Cathedral, a World Heritage Site, also houses the tomb of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, that of the last Georgian king, Giorgi XII and of his father Erekle II, the latter one decorated with a coat of arms and a sabre; an interesting zodiacal sphere surrounding the figure of the Redeemer; XIII-century frescoes; and Saint Sidonia’s funerary monument.
The Tusheti National Reserve is a model of administrative integration because it performs three functions: the conservation of 28,000 hectares of forest where animals as threatened as the Caucasian Snowcock live; the protection of over 50 nomadic peoples, along with their historically valuable monuments; and the promotion of ecotourism. Tusheti, one of the most beautiful areas of Georgia, is in the north-eastern part of the country, and a visit to any of the seven main villages, such as Shenako, makes for an unusual experience. These people, who speak their own dialect, enjoy a joyful isolation and live in rudimentary houses that preserve the traditional charm of the past. They are always welcoming and they open their doors to visitors to share their everyday household tasks, such as preparing the delicious dumpling known as “khinkali”, a ball of dough that is filled with spiced minced meat and lightly twisted before boiling.
Life in the city is completely different to surviving 2,000 metres above sea level. Shenako, in which only two families live throughout the year, has very harsh winters that make shepherding almost impossible. In the face of such adversity, most Tushetian nomads move to the warm flatlands of Kakheti, and their simple huts reflect their ability to adapt.
Vashlovani National Park, in the south-eastern part of the country, has a semi-desert ecosystem and is an excellent example of the varied bio-diversity to be found in Georgia.
This Nature Reserve was created by two Georgian scientists in 1935 and has recently been developed to make it suitable for ecotourism. In the park there are some 60 species of birds, 45 species of mammals and with luck, you can see an exceptionally rare male leopard of a species that was thought to be extinct.
One of the 13 Assyrian Holy Fathers who arrived in Georgia in order to strengthen Christianity, David Gareja, is buried here, and on his tomb there is a stone that symbolizes the one that the distinguished Patriarch brought in his journey from the Holy Land. This is why it is said that a third of Jerusalem’s holiness can be found in this group of 19 monasteries carved out of the rock, named after their founder, David Gareja, and that are still inhabited by monks today.
This city, founded by David Gareja in the VI century A.D. has always been a centre of constant pilgrimage. Notwithstanding Mongol aggression and bloody Turkish attacks, religious activity was only interrupted during the Soviet era, when the neighbouring lands were used as a military base during the Afghan war.
Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is in the centre of the country and it constitutes 1% of the territory of Georgia. The forested area has retained its natural state and there are a number of animal species, such as the Bezoar Goat, which were quite numerous in the past, then completely disappeared here. Today, they are being reintroduced in these mountainous places, in a system of semi-captivity.
Borjomi-Kharagauli, surrounded by the magical atmosphere of the Lower Caucasus, is the most visited Park in Georgia and has a large number of recreational activities on offer.
Interview with the Ranger from Borjomi National Park...
“Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is the largest in Europe. Since 2006 Borjomi–Kharagauli National Park has been a member of PAN Parks. The number of tourists to the National Park is increasing every year; they come for horse riding, as well as for hiking and study tours. The infrastructure of the park means that we can organize horse riding tours of different durations. Within the park there are shelters where tourists can stay overnight.”
This 76,000 hectare Park has an abundance of attractions. It is also immensely enjoyable to visit the nearby villages, which alongside medieval relics and local handicrafts, are home to incredibly dynamic people, even if they are 120 years old like katherine, this lady who was born in 1890.
Caucasians live quite a long time, thanks to their physical strength. But besides this they have a natural aid that most probably helps them increase their life-span; “matsoni”, a thick yoghurt that contains two very healthy lactobacilli also used in home-made cheese. This isn’t surprising, given that early in the 20th century, the Nobel prize-winning Russian microbiologist Metchnikoff demonstrated that regular consumption of yoghurt was the cause of longevity in some central European towns.
In 1830, it was rumoured that springs from the Borjomi-Kharagauli Nature Reserve contained healing properties, and 60 years later, the first bottling plant of the now world-famous Borjomi water, was created. It is unique because of its naturally mineralized hydro carbonated sodium and therapeutic qualities. Although the original fountain still works, barely a trace remains of the luxury that characterized this place when it was the summer residence of the Russian Imperial family, the Romanovs.
Towards the Black Sea, in the Goderdzi Pass, nomadic peoples farm the land in idyllic and misty mountainous surroundings. During the winter, the snowfall is heavy and these people, most of them Muslims, come down from the mountains to the outskirts of Batumi, where the subtropical climate is more favourable for daily life.
Historical tourism, a variety of year-round leisure options and an abundance of sunny days are what resorts such as Kvariati and Gonio have to offer. With long, quiet beaches, they are very popular among citizens of western Georgia. On the border with Turkey, they are also very close to Batumi, a coastal city with an appealing Botanical Garden, home to thousands of exotic plants and over 100 species of Caucasian origin.
However, what really makes Batumi a cosmopolitan city is its Port, the gateway to Europe via the Black Sea and the external maritime link of a country which is prospering, thanks to its continuing cultural, artistic and commercial exchanges with other countries. As well as the mythical statue of Medea, Batumi, the administrative centre for the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, has impressive monuments that are spectacularly beautiful when lit up at night.
The Region of Guria is north of Adjara, in the western part of the country, and its name means “The Land of the Restless,” an appropriate term for a very active people who masterfully interpret an art form that is now inscribed in UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage of Humanity: Polyphonic Singing. It is full of beautiful melodies with a wide thematic repertoire that often proclaims noble Georgian values such as vitality and peace.
In Lake Paleastomi and the wetlands of Kolkheti National Park, over 21 species of migrating birds can be observed. Humans have lived, in these marshlands for centuries, although it has been difficult for them to acclimatize to this rugged and hostile ecosystem that has been a site for diseases such as malaria in the past. Today, this natural paradise entices ecotourists and offers opportunities such as watching water buffalo, huge animals that demonstrate the great biodiversity of the park. Kolkheti is 29,000 hectares large and 10 to 15 metres deep in the marshy areas, which are made up of a sedimentary layer formed over 6,000 years.
The Dadiani Palace-Museum in Zugdidi belonged to a Georgian noble dynasty. Inside, there are a multitude of articles with historical value and objects related to Napoleon Bonaparte, since Salomé Dadiani strengthened the ties between Georgia and Europe by marrying Achille Murat, a nephew of the French Emperor. A little further north, in Jvari, is the tallest Dam in the world, the Enguri Dam, which is 272 metres high. It is a hydroelectric fortress on the Enguri River, whose source is close to Shkhara, the tallest mountain in Georgia. Svaneti is a remote mountain region in the north of Georgia, and Mestia is its most important town.
For thousands of years, Georgian kings and powerful men hid their wealth in the inaccessible mountains of the Region of Svaneti. Today, some of those valuable treasures are on public view in this museum that houses magnificent works of gold and silver, as well as icons from the 9th to the 13th centuries.
The prominent towers of Mestia were used as lookout points, and during emergencies they served as refuges for each family, who lived in the living quarters in their lower sections, and which even had stables for livestock. Currently, these medieval fortresses are still private property and looking out the window, you can see a beautiful mountain range and mighty Mount Ushba, one of the most important peaks in the country. It is 4,700 metres high and known as the “Matterhorn of the Caucasus”. It is one of the most difficult mountains to climb in Europe.
Ushguli also belongs to the mountainous Region of Svaneti. It has defensive towers which are World Heritage sites. Some 70 families live in this area at the foot of Mount Shkhara. At 2,200 metres above sea level, it is the highest inhabited community in Europe.
Shatili is located on the narrow pass of Arghuni, on the northern slope of the Great Caucasus, a historical territory where Saint Nino preached after the conversion of King Mirian and King Nana. The intriguing beauty of the medieval towers and their considerable elevation – 1,400 metres above sea level – has made this town the ideal location for the shooting of many films about the lives of Georgian Highlanders.
Interview with Mountaineer…
“So, sixty percent of Georgian territory are mountains. There a lots of fantastic opportunities for all kind of people who like nature, who like mountains. There are five peaks in the Caucasus in Georgia over 5000 meters, which gives really great opportunities for the amateur climbers. Apart from mountaineering these mountains give brilliant opportunities just for those who like nature, so you can do two or three weeks continuous tracks in a totally wild environment, plus there are lots of opportunities for rafting, canoeing, canyoning or any mountain activities”.
The Caucasus, in the shadow of Mount Kazbek, has given rise to a number of legends, such as that of the rebel Prometheus. According to mythology, Zeus chained him to these mountains for stealing fire from the Gods and giving it to the mortals. The Georgian Military Highway is also historic: it is the largest commercial route in Georgia, linking Tbilisi with Russia and was used by Attila, and later, as part of the Silk Road.
Georgia has two ski resorts: Bakuriani, to the south of Borjomi, at an altitude of 1,700 metres has conditions that are ideal for family skiing. Gudauri, in the Upper Caucasus, at 2,000 metres, has steep slopes which will satisfy the most extreme athletes.
The Hindu writer Kalpana Sahni said: “Some countries attract one instantly. Georgia seduces you the moment you set your foot on its soil”, and the truth is, that this is what one feels even before setting foot in Tbilisi, a city that, although it has been ransacked and destroyed some 30 times in the last 1,500 years, still conserves its remarkable spirit. Built in the 5th century, and with the Mtkvari River running through it, Tbilisi is not only the capital of Georgia, but it has always been considered the great metropolis of the Caucasus. Today, distinctive buildings stand along Rustaveli Avenue. Here we find the Morisco style Opera, and the Rustaveli Theatre, site of rehearsals and performances of the Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet, the only folklore ensemble in the world to perform at La Scala in Milan. The final dance performed had three encores, to incessant ovations. The curtain was raised 14 times, which was a record. No one had anticipated such overwhelming success.
Tbilisi, with a population of over one million three hundred thousand, is an elegant and welcoming city. It encompasses the spirit of the whole of Georgia, a forward looking country, which has literacy levels above the European average thanks to its excellent educational system. All the signs point to Tbilisi, and Georgia in general, undergoing strong development in the 21st century. This is a unique nation which, besides its distinctive alphabet and “Kartvelian” language, one of the oldest in the world, has left the world a legacy of artists such as Niko Pirosmani, the self-taught painter who chronicled daily life in Georgia towards the end of the XIX century.
Nowadays, Tbilisi continues to expand non-stop; the city changes, but its diversity remains because for centuries, Georgians, Armenians, Jews, Kurds, Greeks and people of many other nationalities have coexisted in peace and harmony, as if they were one large family. Rugby is the national sport, although martial arts and chess are both extremely popular. Tigran Petrosian was born in Tbilisi and was world chess champion for many years. Relaxed, friendly, open and affectionate: these are the fundamental reasons why people often say that the citizens of this Caucasian Republic have a Mediterranean character.
Georgia is a nation renowned for its creativity and successful musicians, such as Katie Melua, who has been a top selling artist in the United Kingdom. Jazz can be heard in many bars and cafes in the capital, a perfect way to spend an evening in this lively and spiritual city. Tbilisi is undoubtedly an essential piece of the great national puzzle. Shota Rustaveli, one of the greatest contributors to medieval literature, wrote that the essential requirements for love are: beauty, wisdom, generosity, intelligence and wealth, and to be patient with powerful opponents. All these are qualities to be found in Georgia, a country in love with its history and proud of its roots.