Georgia’s ancient and vibrant capital city spreads out on both banks of the Mtkvari River, and is surrounded on three sides by mountains. The most widely accepted variant of the legend of Tbilisi’s founding says that in the mid-5th century AD, King Vakhtang Gorgasali was hunting in the heavily wooded region with a falcon. The King’s falcon allegedly caught or injured a pheasant during the hunt, after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died from burns. King Vakhtang became so impressed with the hot springs that he decided to cut down the forest and build a city. The name Tbilisi derives from the Old Georgian word “tbili“, meaning warm. Archaeological studies of the region indicate human settlement in the area early as the 4th millennium BC.
The main sights of the city are clustered in the Old Tbilisi district. This area is well-known for its sulfur bathhouses fed by natural hot springs. Nearby on Shardeni Street you will find plenty of modern, popular restaurants, open air café-bars, trendy night clubs and art galleries. Rustaveli Avenue begins at Freedom Square and extends about 1.5 kilometers. This is the center of the city, where many of the governmental, cultural and business facilities are located. Strolling down Rustaveli you can observe daily life in the city, explore shops from both international and local brands, and get something to eat.
Due to its historical significance and cultural monuments, the "Historical Monuments of Mtskheta" became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. As the birthplace and one of the most vibrant centers of Christianity in Georgia, Mtskheta was declared as the "Holy City" by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014. The historic churches of Mtskheta, former capital of Georgia, are outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus:
Jvari Monastery: stands on the rocky mountaintop at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, overlooking the town of Mtskheta, which was formerly the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia. On this location in the early 4th century AD Saint Nino, Equal to the Apostles and the Enlightener of Georgiaerected a large wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple.
Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral: Back in the year 33, Elias, a Mtskheta man, was in Jerusalem, witnessing the last days of Christ. After the crucifixion, he bought Christ’s robe from a Roman soldier and brought it home to Georgia. When his very spiritual sister Sidonia touched this sacred relic, she was so overcome with emotion she died on the spot. No one was able to pry it from her grasp, so she was buried with the robe still in her hands.As time passed, the exact site of Sidonia’s grave was forgotten. 300 years later, King Mirian built the first Christian church. Miraculously, the church’s central pillar moved, all on its own, to the grave. That’s where Svetitskhoveli was built.The name in translation means ‘living pillar’. Naturally, this is a place of miracles.100 years later, the original wooden church was replaced with one of stone. You can still see the old wooden church in the cathedral. Sidonia and the robe is believed to be buried beneath the colourful square pillar in the middle.
Samtavro Monastery: Samtavro Transfiguration Orthodox Church and Nunnery of St. Nino were built in the 4th century AD by King Mirian III of Iberia. The church was reconstructed in the 11th century. Holy Father St. Gabrielis buried in the yard of Samtavro Church.