Georgia has a long and troubled history. The isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea has been one of the great routes between Europe and Asia. The Greeks set up colonies on the coast of the Black sea as early as the 8th century BC. In the 7th century Anatolian tribes driven from what is now central Turkey fused with the local peoples giving rise to the kingdom of Iveria which was subjected to Roman domination from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD.
The 3rd century saw Iveria's conversion to Christianity. In the fourth, the western part became tied to Constantinople while Eastern Iveria fell under Persian control. Then came the Arabs who set up an emirate in Tbilisi in the 7th century. Eastern and western Iveria were re-united in the 10th century by king Bagrat and the Arabs were thrown out of Tbilisi in the 11th century by king David II the Builder allowing Georgia to reach its zenith under Queen Tamara (1184 - 1213) who ruled from the Black sea to the Caspian sea.
Mongol terror swept over Caucasia in the 13th century and a century later Tamerlane wrought his own brand of destruction. Next, the Persian Safavid Dynasty and the Ottoman Turks fought over this crossroads until the Russians got involved in the 18th century. By the end of the 19th, they had gobbled up all of the isthmus. After WW I, the communists took over and set up the Trans Caucasian Soviet Federated republic in 1922 which was split up into Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1936.
Soviet troops kept tensions under control but nothing was done to assuage the discomfort of the Christian Armenian population of Karabakh isolated in Muslim Azerbaijan or that of the Muslim Abkhazians isolated in Christian Georgia. The stage was set for the bloody conflicts that rocked Caucasia when the soviet empire disintegrated. The lid came off the pressure cooker in 1991.
The Georgians wanted out of the soviet empire and the Abkhazians and South Ossetians wanted out of Georgia. War ensued and Abkhazia declared itself an independent republic in October 1993. Some 200 000 refugees fled Abkhazia putting a heavy strain on the Georgian economy. A cease-fire was signed in may 1994 but serious negotiations between Abkhazia and Georgia have only in June 1997. Negotiations with the self declared republic of South Ossetia also seem to be making headway.
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Tamar Regina bridge over the peaceful Kura River in Tbilisi.
I felt some apprehension when planing to visit Georgia because of the recent civil war and continuing regional strife and more particularly because of reports of a high degree of common crime due to the present difficult economic conditions. I was therefore doubly delighted when Merab Abdaladze I had met on the internet invited me to share his apartment during my stay there. It made me feel safe.
View north from Mtatsminda mountain over Tbilisi's Sioni Cathedral by the Kura River.
The bus from Baku dropped me off in the middle of the night on a vast empty square. I didn't know where I was and it was pitch black but for some dim lights of what turned out to be the Adzharia Hotel on ploshchad Constitutsii on the north west edge of town. The night watchman let me enter and sleep in a chair until daylight. I waited until 8:00 AM and called Merab who came for me and brought me to his apartment in the old city in the south east part of town.
View east from Mtatsminda over Metekhi Church on an escarpment by the Kura River.
Conditions in post soviet and post civil war Georgia are very difficult indeed. The country's gross national product had fallen to one fifth of what it was in 1990 when it just stabilized in 1996. Merab is a research scientist who has had to go into business to survive as have several of his colleagues.
Merab could not have received me in a more princely manner. He took time off to show me around and to meet his colleagues at the university, his mother and some of his friends in town. Here, Merab and I are looking over the city from Narikala Fort. When he had to work I was happy to stay home to use his computer to write down my impressions of the trip and to keep in touch with home and with friends elsewhere on the internet.
City Hall on ploshchad Lenina near Merab's home. Merab decided I should see the Caucasus close-up so on Saturday Merab, his nephew Giga and I set off for the 150 km drive to the Kazbegi mountains where we had been invited by his niece Tamar and her husband Gugua.
Twenty km north of Tbilisi we reach Mtskheta where the Aragvi river flows into the Kura river. The Bebristsikhe fort above was an outlying defense point of medieval Tbilisi. Mskheta was the capital of Iveria from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. It is here that King Mirian was converted to Christianity by St Nino in the 4th century. The Sveti Tskhoveli Cathedral below was built in the 15th century on the site of an 11th century cathedral destroyed by Tamerlane. It is highly revered by Georgians as the last resting place of many Iverian Kings.
Further north we come to this handsome Ananauri castle with its great Assumption Church near the Zhinvali Reservoir on the Aragvi River.
The weather was great and scenery beautiful going north along the mighty Aragvi. Note how this small village is built high, out of reach of the Aragvi's flood waters.
As we enter the foothills of the Caucasus, the valley narrows to a gorge and we leave the Aragvi that flows south to follow the Terek flowing north through the Krestovy Pass.
At the entrance of Arsha village, this ancient tower keeps watch to warn of invasions coming through the Caucasus range by the Krestovy Pass further up the Terek river.
Merab is serving me an excellent Georgian wine at an annual family reunion banquet to which I had the honor of being invited.
It was a unique experience to be treated like family by these happy, hospitable Georgians. The long weekend I spent with them stands out as one of the great highlights of my whole trip. Below, our beautiful hostess, Merab's niece Tamar Marsagishvili, her generous husband Gugua Marsagishvili, a family friend and great singer Zurhab Areshadze and Merhab's happy nephew Giga Kakusaadze.
A mountain picnic is on the books for Sunday. We board two hardy Niva four wheel drive jeep-like vehicles and head north. After a while we leave the Terek valley to climb into the mountains with breathtaking scenery on all sides.
This ice cold mountain stream will join the Terek, flowing northward across this picture from right to left far below us.
What picnic site could be better than this lush meadow with a nearby bubbly natural mineral water spring high up in the Kasbegi mountains?
With scenery like this all the vicissitudes of life in post soviet Georgia can be forgotten - for a while...
It was so nice up here in the mountains that we stayed yet another day before returning to Tbilisi where I picked up the visa I had applied for at the Armenian Consulate, said adieu to my friend Merab and boarded the overnight train to Yerevan.