A Little Bit about our City, Tbilisi

A Little Bit about our City, Tbilisi

For the first few months of our time in Georgia, we’ve been living in Tbilisi, the capital and largest city in Georgia.

DSC_1291

The name “Tbilisi” is derived from the Georgian word for “warm” (“tbili”). The city was famous for its natural sulphur baths, and there is still a district named for them. I haven’t gone yet, but definitely want to.

DSC_0946
Near the bottom centre, you can see the rounded brick dome of one of the baths in Old Tbilisi.

By the way, if you can’t figure out how to pronounce this name, you’re definitely not alone! A lot of foreigners approximate something like “Tuhbleezee” since “tb” isn’t a very kind consonant cluster (“tbeeleesee” is more accurate though). I guess it’s only fair; naming the capital city thus is like a big “beware of dog” sign for foreigners, warning them to stay away from this language since it gets even harder…

DSC_1848
Believe me, it gets much, much worse.

 

Tbilisi has a long history, dating from its founding around 450 CE. It was attacked and partially destroyed many times, whether by Arab, Turkish, Mongol, or Persian armies; due to this, few really ancient buildings are still around, although there are some really old fortresses and churches and the like. During this time (and actually until about 1930), most of the world referred to the city as “Tiflis.”

DSC_1006

Around 1800, the Russian Empire annexed Georgia (they were partially invited as protection against the Persians, but it’s a complex scenario).

DSC_2800

The 1800s brought a lot more European influence to the city via its new Russian overlords, including such necessities as an opera house and ballet. A lot of the older buildings still standing in Tbilisi date from the Russian colonial period.

DSC_0284

Throughout the 1800s (as in most earlier periods), Armenians were actually the majority population of the city, with ethnic Georgians being primarily a rural people at the time. It wasn’t until the Soviet period that the city’s Georgian numbers first matched and then began to overtake those of the Armenians. Tbilisi was the largest city in the Caucasus for most of its history, until Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, experienced an oil boom around 1900.

DSC_2705

The Soviet period was a time of major urban and demographic growth, leading to the building of many of these beautiful Khrushchev apartment complexes.

DSC_3106

In addition to these big apartment blocks, many people today live in “Italian courtyards,” which include several small flats or houses encircling a small open space (mostly a parking lot crossed by clotheslines). They are set back from the road by a short passage, making street noise more bearable. Here’s the entrance to our courtyard.

DSC_0228

The 1990s were pretty dark times in Georgia (both figuratively and literally–civil war, roving militias and civil instability meant that basic utilities like electricity and water were unpredictable or just totally nonexistent). Some damaged areas still haven’t been repaired–I don’t know if that’s the story with the house directly below or not, but something’s clearly not right.

DSC_0474

Today, Tbilisi comes across a little bit like a silent film diva who has reached her tenth decade and is dressed in the garments from her first starring role. The beauty is still there if you look for it, but it’s seen better days.

DSC_2094

The intricate ironwork of doors and balconies is often now overshadowed by peeling paint and crumbling walls.

DSC_2638

 

DSC_2629

The neoliberal phase that followed 2004’s “Rose Revolution” saw the construction of a whole lot of flashy new buildings and monuments, some of them wildly out of step with the style of their surroundings. This is the famous “Peace Bridge,” which some people like and others despise.

DSC_8819

The picture below (taken from the Peace Bridge) shows 3 of Tbilisi’s most obvious new structures, the Presidential Palace (the thing with the pickle dome on top), Sameba cathedral (the seat of the Georgian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch), and this odd pair of shiny slugs that apparently was supposed to become a concert hall but has remained unopened for more than 5 years (when viewed from another angle, Yok likens it to a pair of prone spread legs, which hopefully is not what the architect was going for).

DSC_0496

Tbilisi can be a pretty hectic place. These cars are driving past the Justice Hall, a large building which conveniently combines the functions of institutions like the DMV, social security, national health insurance, and most other civil services under one (OK, one oddly sectioned and overlapping) roof. Many people refer to it as the “mushroom building.”

DSC_0365

DSC_8793

At 1.5 million, it’s the largest city any of us has lived in (hey, we’re from Winnipeg, OK?), but it still has its quieter spots, perfect for a leisurely family stroll.

DSC_1171

Of course, the hilly terrain can turn even a leisurely stroll into a feat of endurance.

DSC_0873
No tricks of perspective here.

But the hills are worth it when you can get blossoms in February (the day this was taken it was about -14 in Winnipeg).

DSC_1239

There are also enough parks nearby to keep Rosa happy most of the time, plus we get to try to decipher graffiti in multiple languages and alphabets.

DSC_0745

DSC_0255

The verdict for now? Tbilisi’s an interesting place to live in and experience, despite some obvious shortcomings. You’re welcome to come visit us any time!

DSC_2110

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s