Georgia’s turbulent history

Georgia is sometimes called the balcony of Europe, because the border between Europe and Asia is not clearly defined until today. Geologically, both continents are even united on the Eurasian continental plate. Situated on the southern flank of the Great Caucasus, Georgia is still marked by political and ideological directional struggles.

Die Stadt Schatili liegt in einer strategisch wichtigen Lage in der historischen georgischen Provinz Chewsuretien. Sie ist oft belagert aber nie besiegt worden. Im Jahr 2023 wehen die georgische und die Europafahne an einem Mast / © Foto: Georg Berg
The city of Shatili is strategically located in the historic Georgian province of Chevuretia. It has often been besieged but never defeated. In 2023, the Georgian and European flags fly on a pole / © Photo: Georg Berg

Walking through the capital city of Tbilisi, one notices above all the numerous graffiti that position themselves against Russia and for Georgia’s rapprochement with Europe against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. Overall, however, the city exudes a friendly welcoming culture. People from Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine can almost only endure it here together at one table.

Musik und georgischer Wein helfen, die Grenzen zwischen den Nationalitäten zu überwinden  / © Foto: Georg Berg
Music and Georgian wine help to overcome the barriers between nationalities / © Photo: Georg Berg
Das Reiterstandbild des Königs Wachtang I. Gorgassali, der im 5. Jahrhundert die Stadt Tiflis gründete, vor der Metechi-Kirche, die sich über dem Steilufer der Kura auf dem Gelände der ehemaligen Königsresidenz erhebt / © Foto: Georg Berg
The equestrian statue of King Vakhtang I. Gorgassali, who founded the city of Tbilisi in the 5th century, in front of the Metechi Church, which rises above the steep bank of the Kura River on the site of the former royal residence / © Photo: Georg Berg

Today’s capital TbilisiTbilisi1means warm water in Georgian. The name Tbilisi, used in Germany, borrows from the ancient Persian name owes its name to the hot sulfur springs discovered by the Iberian king Vakhtang I in the 5th century, when a pheasant he had shot while hunting fell into them and was immediately boiled. In 5,000 years Persians, Mongols, Turks and Russians ruled Georgia, whose capital Tbilisi was completely destroyed 26 times. In the old town, among the many half-ruined buildings, one in particular stands out. The puppet theater named after it was built by Rezo Gabriadze since the 1990s from materials he found in dilapidated buildings. In doing so, he has made a statement against soulless modernization, and not just in his puppet plays for adults, which are still performed.

Der zerzauste Uhrenturm des Puppentheaters Gabriadze ist gebaut aus Material von zerstörten Gebäuden aus Tiflis / © Foto: Georg Berg
The disheveled clock tower of the Gabriadze Puppet Theater is built from materials found in destroyed buildings in Tbilisi / © Photo: Georg Berg

St. Nino as the “Enlightener of Georgia

A young woman convinced the Georgian king of Christianity in the 4th century through her healing skills. Christianity first spread in the Caucasus and became the state religion in Georgia, the second country after Armenia. Many churches in Georgia are dedicated to Saint Nino. In the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi, Nino’s grapevine cross is venerated, still held together by her own hair.

Ein Fesselballon am Himmel über Tbilisi hinter der Sioni-Kathedrale, die als eine der heiligsten Stätten der georgischen Orthodoxie gilt / © Foto: Georg Berg
A tethered balloon in the sky over Tbilisi behind the Sioni Cathedral, considered one of the holiest sites of Georgian Orthodoxy / © Photo: Georg Berg

Chronicle of Georgia

Outside the capital, on a hill overlooking Lake Tbilisi, artificially created as a water reservoir, stands a curious monument. The sculptor Zurab Zereteli began planning it in Soviet times, and in 1985 it was not yet completed, but its brute gigantomania was already visible from afar. What the many biblical motifs from the New Testament are supposed to have to do with the history of Georgia is hardly comprehensible from today’s perspective. After all, at the same time in Georgia many churches were converted by the Soviets into assembly halls, animal stables and prisons.

Die Chronik von Georgien ist ein weithin sichtbares Monument auf dem Berg Kenisi bei Tbilisi, der Hauptstadt Georgiens. Geschaffen wurde es 1985 vom Bildhauer Surab Zereteli / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Chronicle of Georgia is a monument visible from afar on Mount Kenisi near Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. It was created in 1985 by the sculptor Zurab Zereteli / © Photo: Georg Berg
Die Chronik von Georgien ist ein weithin sichtbares Monument auf dem Berg Kenisi bei Tbilisi, der Hauptstadt Georgiens. 16 Säulen erheben sich 35 Meter hoch. Im unteren Bereich sind biblische Szenen dargestellt. Darüber sind für die Geschichte Georgiens bedeutende Persönlichkeiten abgebildet. Begonnen wurde das Monument 1985 vom Bildhauer Surab Zereteli und ist bis heute noch nicht fertig gestellt / © Foto: Georg Berg
16 columns rise 35 meters high. Biblical scenes are depicted in the lower part. Above them are depicted personalities significant for the history of Georgia. The monument was begun in 1985 by the sculptor Zurab Zereteli and has not yet been completed / © Photo: Georg Berg
Ein Hund döst in der Chronik von Georgien, einer monumentalen Skulptur in den Nähe von Tbilisi, der Hauptstadt Georgiens. 16 Säulen erheben sich 35 Meter hoch. Im unteren Bereich sind biblische Szenen dargestellt. Darüber sind für die Geschichte Georgiens bedeutende Persönlichkeiten abgebildet. Begonnen wurde das Monument 1985 vom Bildhauer Surab Zereteli und ist bis heute noch nicht fertig gestellt / © Foto: Georg Berg
A dog dozes between huge bronze reliefs. 16 columns rise 35 meters high. Biblical scenes are depicted in the lower section. Above them are depicted personalities significant for the history of Georgia. The monument was begun in 1985 by the sculptor Zurab Zereteli and has not yet been completed / © Photo: Georg Berg

Today, many monuments from the Soviet era in Georgia lead an ambivalent existence. At a time when wars are being waged between countries formerly united under the umbrella of the Soviet Union, hero worship seems stale. And the position of the storyteller can also lead to the question of whether history really happened as it is portrayed. Many Georgians are disturbed by Zurab Tsereteli ‘s proximity to the political power circles in Moscow. They doubt that statements made with such force are any truer than the political opinions expressed on the walls of downtown buildings.

A multi-day trek through Tusheti focused our attention on the lives of people in this hard-to-reach border region of Georgia. Bonus point here that our Georgian guide studied history.

Für ein Touristenattraktion relativ schwer erreichbar. Die Chronik von Georgien ist ein weithin sichtbares Monument auf dem Berg Kenisi bei Tbilisi, der Hauptstadt Georgiens. Geschaffen wurde es 1985 vom Bildhauer Surab Zereteli / © Foto: Georg Berg
There are no signs pointing to the tourist attraction. Meanwhile, at least the cab drivers know the way / © Photo: Georg Berg
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