Our journey through Europe ends at the crossroads with Asia in the Caucasus. Join us as we explore the former Soviet republic of Georgia!
Want to learn more about Georgia?
- Capital: Tbilisi, Kutaisi (legislative)
- Largest City: Tbilisi
- Population (2017): 3,718,200 (130th)
- Total Area: 69,700 km2 (120th)
- Official Language: Georgian
- Currency: Georgian lari (GEL)
History of Georgia
Like many nearby countries, the age of antiquity saw Georgia cycle through periods of independence and the rule of foreign empires. It was of particular interest to both the Romans and Iranians – with these two powers largely dominating proceedings until the early Middle Ages. In the year 337 CE, Christianity was declared the state religion, thereby changing the course of Georgia away from its formerly pagan and Zoroastrian beliefs.
Medieval and Early Modern Era
Foreign wars had divided the kingdom come the Middle Ages. It wasn’t until the 12th century when Georgia was able to reach a Golden Age of sorts. Under subsequent rulers, this late medieval era has been classified as a Renaissance for the country. Centralized rule and the arts flourished – especially under Tamar, the first female ruler in Georgia’s history. For 29 years she reigned, defeating rivals and expanding territory. This age ended a couple decades after Tamar’s death thanks to the influx of Mongol invaders.
In the ensuing centuries, Georgia was weakened further. The rise of the Ottomans cut into the Georgian territory, with vast swathes of land subjugated and the kingdom itself destroyed. While parts of the country remained autonomous, subsequent Muslim invasions weakened Georgia further while the Russians (another nearby power) did not act to stop them. In 1800, Russia incorporated Georgia into its territory – much to the chagrin of the Georgian nobility. Still, they were powerless in the face of this transfer of power, and Georgia was now a part of the great Russian Empire in the north.
The Russian Empire
After defeating Iranian forces in the early 19th century, Russia claimed the rest of Georgia for their own. Over the next 100 years, more former territories of Georgia were incorporated into the Russian Empire.
Flashing forward to 1917, the Russian Revolution (and subsequent) instability resulted in Georgia declaring independence a year later. Soon after, the fledgling country was embroiled in a war against Armenia – which was ended thanks to British intervention. After a couple years under British protection, Georgia was invaded by the Red Army and became a part of the Soviet Union in 1921.
The Soviet Union
An uprising in 1924 was put down; following which Soviet control was consolidated. Initially part of the Transcaucasian SFSR alongside Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia became its own Soviet republic in 1936. While not a major player for the most part compared to some other members of the USSR, an ethnic Georgian did rise to the very top of the country – one Joseph Stalin.
Independence and Modern Day
As the Soviet Union collapsed on itself, Georgia declared independence in 1991. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected president, though he was removed from power in a 1992 coup. This led to a bloody civil war, with the coup leaders (The State Council) getting their candidate elected in 1995. Over the next several years, regional wars and border disputes in the Caucasus displaced ethnic Georgians. In 2003, another revolution took place (the Rose Revolution) – which resulted in Mikheil Saakashvili being elected president.
Alongside several years of deteriorating relations with Russia, South Ossetian separatists (from a region in Georgia) began to attack Georgian targets. While the government was reluctant to begin counterattacks, a Russian invasion of South Ossetia (officially to enforce peace) was mounted. This was viewed by many international observers as a premeditated invasion and occupation. The separatists killed many Georgians while many more were displaced and villages destroyed. Today, the border regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain Russian-occupied Georgian territories in the eyes of the Georgian government.
Georgian culture has evolved a lot over the centuries, with an ancient basis in the old Empires of the day. The arts, including architecture and literature, are on display throughout the country. Architecture in Georgia is an intriguing mix of historic and modern, European and Asian.
The flag of Georgia consists of a red cross on a white background with small, red crosses in each of the white sections. The flag dates back to medieval Georgia, though it came back into use during the last century.
Georgian cuisine is largely unique to the country though it does take some inspiration from nearby European and Middle Eastern culture. Rice with meat, as well as veggies, are staples however each region varies to a degree. Georgia is known for the supra, which is a traditional type of Georgian feast. The head of the table is known as the tamada, and is responsible for a long toast. The tamada must be both a great conversationalist and able to consume large amounts of alcohol without seeming too drunk. On a related note, Georgia is also known for its local wines.
Soccer, basketball, rugby union, wrestling, judo, and weightlifting are the most popular sports in Georgia today. English sailors were responsible for bringing soccer to the country. The Kakhetian style of wrestling is one of the most practiced and important sports in the country.
Geography of Georgia
Georgia is located in the South Caucasus and despite the small size of the country, the topography and climate do vary considerably. There are also forests throughout the landscape.
Cities and Towns
The largest city in Georgia is by far Tbilisi, which also serves as the main capital of the country. It is home to over a million people while no other city numbers more than 200,000. Kutaisi, the third largest city in Georgia, serves as the legislative capital despite lying over 200 kilometres from Tbilisi.
Facts about Georgia
- Georgians call their country ‘Sakartvelo’
- Shkhara (5,193m) is the 2nd highest mountain in Europe
- Georgia is the birthplace of wine
- Tbilisi is derived from the Georgian word for ‘warm’
While recent conflict has certainly been trying for the Georgian nation, the small republic looks to find its footing moving forward.
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