Tbilisi (English /tᵻˈbiːlᵻsi/; Georgian: თბილისი in some countries also known by its former foreign name Tiflis (English /tᵻˈfliːs/ or /ˈtɪflᵻs/), is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Kura River with a population of approximately 1.5 million people. Founded in the 5th century AD by Vakhtang I Gorgasali, the monarch of the Kingdom of Iberia, Tbilisi since served as the capital of various Georgian kingdoms and republics. Between 1801 and 1917, then being under the rule of the former Russian Empire, Tbilisi was the seat of the Imperial Viceroy, governing both Southern and Northern Caucasus.
Because of its location on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, and its proximity to lucrative east-west trade routes, throughout history Tbilisi was a point of contention between various global powers. The city's location to this day ensures its position as an important transit route for various energy and trade projects. Tbilisi's diverse history is reflected in its architecture, which is a mix of medieval, classical, Middle Eastern, Art Nouveau, Stalinist and Modernist structures.
Historically Tbilisi has been home to people of multiple cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, though it is currently overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox Christian. Its notable tourist destinations include cathedrals Sameba and Sioni, classical Freedom Square, Rustaveli Avenue and Agmashenebeli Avenue, medieval Narikala Fortress, pseudo-Moorish Opera Theater, and the Georgian National Museum.
Archaeological studies of the region have indicated human settlement in the territory of Tbilisi as early as the 4th millennium BC. According to an old legend, the present-day territory of Tbilisi was covered by forests as late as 458. One widely accepted variant of the legend of Tbilisi's founding states that King Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Georgia went hunting in the heavily wooded region with a falcon (sometimes the falcon is replaced with either a hawk or other small birds of prey in the legend). 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 on the location. The name Tbilisi derives from Old Georgian T'bilisi (თბილისი), and further from T'pili (თბილი, "warm""). The name "T'bili" or "T'bilisi" (literally, "warm location") was therefore given to the city because of the area's numerous sulphuric hot springs that came out of the ground.
King Dachi I Ujarmeli, who was the successor of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. Tbilisi was not the capital of a unified Georgian state at that time and did not include the territory of Colchis. It was, however, the capital city of Eastern Georgia/Iberia. During his reign, King Dachi I oversaw the construction of the fortress wall that lined the city's new boundaries. From the 6th century, Tbilisi grew at a steady pace due to the region's favourable and strategic location which placed the city along important trade and travel routes between Europe and Asia.
Tbilisi's favourable and strategic location did not necessarily bode well for its existence as Eastern Georgia's/Iberia's capital. Located strategically in the heart of the Caucasus between Europe and Asia, Tbilisi became an object of rivalry between the region's various powers such as the Roman Empire, Parthia, Sassanid Persia, Arabs, Byzantine Empire, and the Seljuk Turks. The cultural development of the city was somewhat dependent on who ruled the city at various times, although Tbilisi (and Georgia in general) was able to maintain a considerable autonomy from its conquerors.
From 570–580, the Persians took over Tbilisi and ruled it for about a decade. In the year 627, Tbilisi was sacked by the Byzantine/Khazar armies and later, in 736–738, Arab armies entered the town under Marwan II Ibn-Muhammad. After this point, the Arabs established an emirate centered in Tbilisi. In 764, Tbilisi, still under Arab control was once again sacked by the Khazars. In 853, the armies of Arab leader Bugha Al-Turki (Bugha the Turk) invaded Tbilisi in order to enforce its return to Abbasid allegiance. The Arab domination of Tbilisi continued until about 1050. In 1068, the city was once again sacked, only this time by the Seljuk Turks under Sultan Alp Arslan.
In 1122, after heavy fighting with the Seljuks that involved at least 60,000 Georgians and up to 300,000 Turks, the troops of the King of Georgia David the Builder entered Tbilisi. After the battles for Tbilisi concluded, David moved his residence from Kutaisi (Western Georgia) to Tbilisi, making it the capital of a unified Georgian State and thus inaugurating the Georgian Golden Age. From 12–13th centuries, Tbilisi became a dominant regional power with a thriving economy (with well-developed trade and skilled labour) and a well-established social system/structure. By the end of the 12th century, the population of Tbilisi had reached 100,000. The city also became an important literary and a cultural center not only for Georgia but for the Eastern Orthodox world of the time. During Queen Tamar's reign, Shota Rustaveli worked in Tbilisi while writing his legendary epic poem, The Knight in the Panther's Skin. This period is often referred to as "Georgia's Golden Age" or the Georgian Renaissance.
The architecture in the city is a mixture of local (Georgian) and Byzantine, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Beaux-Arts, Middle Eastern, and Soviet Stalinist architectural styles. The oldest parts of town, including the Abanot-Ubani, Avlabari, and to a certain extent the Sololaki districts clearly have a traditional Georgian architectural look with Near Eastern influences. The areas of downtown Tbilisi which were built or expanded mainly in the 19th century (Rustaveli Avenue, Vera district, etc.) have a chiefly Western European look, but they nevertheless contain individual examples of European pseudo-Moorish architecture, such as the Tbilisi Opera.
The start of the 20th century was marked by an architectural revival, notably, with an art nouveau style. With the establishment of the communist government, this style was decreed as bourgeois and largely neglected. An example of Stalinist architecture in Georgia was the 1938 Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute building ("Imeli"), now housing the Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi.
Following privatization, this building was supposed to be converted from 2006 to 2009 into a five-star luxury Kempinski hotel by the UAE-based Dhabi Group. As of 2013, no refurbishment had been achieved.
The architecture of the later 20th century can mainly be identified with the building style that was common during the Soviet era throughout the Soviet Union and the countries under Soviet occupation.
This included building large, concrete apartment blocks as well as social, cultural, and office facilities, like for example the Tbilisi Roads Ministry Building. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Tbilisi has been the site of uncontrolled/unsanctioned building projects. Since 2004, the city government has taken new initiatives to curb uncontrolled construction projects with mixed success. In the near future, Tbilisi will have three skyscraper complexes. The Axis Towers, Redix Chavchavadze 64, and the new Ajara Hotel/Business Complex, which is currently under construction will be the tallest buildings/skyscrapers in the Caucasus.
Sulfur Baths. The bath district is called Abanotubani and is on the south side of the Metekhi bridge. It is easy to spot with its small domes on ground level. There are several small baths offering different levels of comfort. The baths are relatively small, and you may have to wait for a pool to become available. English service is not guaranteed. Massages are available; however, they are more like a washing, but well worth it for the experience. You should bring your own towel and beach sandals (available for a small fee). Some travelers have suggested the Royal Baths is a much better alternative to Sulfur Baths (they are next to each other). Sulfur baths tends to double the price at the end of the massage and bath in spite of your original agreed price.
Also in other districts you can find sulphur baths. For example in the Kiev-ulica, A bit south east of metro station Marjanishvili, around the corner of hostel Green Stairs, there is an old, characteristic bath. In the evening you can get a private bath for 10 lari (although they call them roubles) and an additional towel is 2 GEL. Public Pool: 2 GEL; Private Pool: 10-80 GEL per hour; Massage 5-20 GEL.
Turtle Lake (Kus Tba), (Take a taxi or walk up from Saburtalo). This lake is located in the hilly outskirts of Tbilisi. A popular weekend getaway for families, the lake offers pedal-boat rentals as well as swimming (deckchairs optional) for reasonable prices (swimming entry, without deckchair, is about 3 Lari). Allright for a hot summer day, and offering views of both the mountains and the city below. Snackbars, restaurants and fruit cocktail shakers are available overlooking the lake. It's about an hour's pleasant walk from the Saburtalo district along country roads, passing the Ethnographical Museum, or a ten-to-fifteen minute (5-10 lari) cab ride from the center. While the lake itself isn't particularly nice, the views from the hike up to the lake makes it a worthwhile excursion.
Lake Lisi(Lisis Tba). Much further out than Turtle Lake (a cab will set you back about 10-15 lari each way), Lake Lisi is much larger and more remote, with long, winding mountain walks surrounding the lake. Unlike Turtle Lake, the entire Lake Lisi is opened up for swimmers. Be warned - there aren't always taxis waiting to take you back...
Climb up to the Narikala Fortress. The crumbling ruins of this once-great fortress, standing alongside the Upper Betelmi Churches and the stunning Botanical gardens, offer panoramic views of the city below. But be warned - it's quite a steep climb - and while the lack of bureaucracy and guard-rails can be liberating for some, you may want to pay extra care to watch your step. Now, the best way to visit is by aerial tramway, a exciting experience with stunning views of the city, only for 1 Lari. And you can enjoy the way down walking to the mosque and the baths. The usual metro card can be used.
Botanical garden. National botanic garden of Georgia, lying in the Tsavkisis-Tskali Gorge near Narikala Fortres, has not only collection of plants, but is also a lovely park with with scenic waterfall which is great for a dip on a hot summers' day, although you need to avoid the guards. 1 GEL pp.
TV antenna park (high on the hill), (Bus 124 from Rustavelli). bus until 23h. Take the bus up to the park to have fun with your kids, or to take a ride in the Ferris wheel. The ride is 2 Lari, and you need to buy a rechargeable access card at a cashiers desk for 2 lari (one card can be used by many persons). Alternatively, use the funicular for 2 Lari, which has to be loaded onto the park access card (Metromani card not valid). There's also a roller coaster (one ride - 5 lari, minimum of 4 persons) which offers not only some adrenaline but great views on a sunny day.
Fly Caucasus Paragliding (every day 60km from Tbilisi), (Didgori), 114453, 10am to 6pm. Paragliding with instructor one hour drive from city.