Imereti located in the easternmost end of the Kolkheti Lowland. The northern portion of Imereti are in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, the easternmost part of Imereti is in the Likhi Range, which is one of two mountain ranges connecting the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains, and the southern portion of Imereti is in the Meskheti Range. Central and western Imereti is in the flat, semi-swampy Kolkheti Lowland. As such, Imereti is a microcosm of Georgia as a whole.
The southern and western portions of Imereti were a part of the Diaokhi Kingdom, however, much of Imereti’s known history begins with the Kolkheti Kingdom. Kutaisi was the mythological capital of the kingdom, and was known as “Aia.” Following the fall of the Kolkheti Kingdom, the Kingdom of Egrisi was formed and lasted from 131-697 C.E. The capital of this kingdom was Nokalakevi, in Samegrelo, however, Kutaisi served as a major city, both for political and religious purposes. By the end of the Egrisi Kingdom, which united the former Kolkheti Kingdom and the Abkhaz principalities, Kutaisi became the kingdom’s capital city.
In the 10th Century, following a series of fights for the unification of Georgia, King Bagrat III (975-1014) built a large cathedral in Kutaisi to commemorate Georgia’s unification. During the reign of Bagrat III, Kutaisi served as the capital of Georgia. Even following Davit Aghmashenebeli’s decision to move the Georgian capital from Kutaisi to Tbilisi, Kutaisi continued to serve as an important cultural and political center, largely thanks to Gelati Monastery.
Much like the rest of Western Georgia, Imereti oscillated between Persian/Ottoman vassalage and independence. Imereti began to grow as an industrial center during the Soviet period--Chiatura and Tqibuli have numerous mines, Zestaponi has Georgia’s second largest metallurgy plant, and Kutaisi had an automotive assembly factory. Unfortunately, like many post-industrial areas, Imereti is suffering from the ramifications of having lost said industry. As such, Imereti is currently Georgia’s most emigrated region. With that being said, Imereti, perhaps more than Georgia’s other regions, has the greatest potential--it is home to Kutaisi Davit Aghmashenebeli Airport, which serves more destinations to Europe than Tbilisi’s Airport, it has fertile farmland along with picturesque mountains for tourism, charming cities, and medieval monasteries.
This hill is a flat promontor that sits on the right bank of the Rioni River overlooking Kutaisi. According to scientists, the name of this hill is connected to the Greek word “Khima” meaning “winter” and from here comes the name “Ukimerioni.” The most prominent feature of this hill is the ancient citadel that used to be here. According to historical sources, the Ergisi Kingdom (2-7th Centuries CE) constructed a large fortress on this location, which later became the royal citadel from where the Kingdom of Georgia, led by Bagrati III, David Aghmashenebeli and Tamar Mepe.
Bagrati Cathedral of the Virgin Mary was built in 1003 CE by King Bagrat III (795-1014), in Kutaisi on Ukimerioni Hill. The monument represents Georgian Middle Age ecclesiastical architecture. A such, Bagrati Cathedral is an important cultural and historical symbol of Georgia.
Bagrati Cathedral was built in a typical cruciform plan with a domed central crossing. The dome is supported by four large pillars in the cathedral’s interior, with the cathedral’s cross-plan jutting from this central dome. The eastern end of the cathedral features a semicircular apse, which is an uncommon feature in Georgian ecclesiastical architecture.
The exterior of the cathedral is elaborately decorated using stone masonry--also a unique feature for many Georgian cathedrals. Especially notable is the eastern facade, which has five decorative carved stone arches and two deep niches. From the interior, these two niches form the semicircular apse. This element is also present in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.
The Chain Bridge is the oldest bridge in Kutaisi. It was discovered that a 5th century bridge was first built on this spot. The current bridge’s supporting buttresses date to the 1770s. Initially, the bridge was built from wood. In the 1850s, the bridge was rebuilt taking on the form of a wooden suspension bridge. It was after this reconstruction that the bridge became known as the “Chain Bridge.” During this time, the bridge had four short stone towers from which the supporting cables were suspended. The bridge was again closed between 1884-1885 for construction. The current metal frame of the bridge was built in 1995.
The White bride connects central Kutaisi with its historical district, crossing the Rioni River. The construction of the White Bridge began in 1850 and was completed in 1852. The construction was overseen by a military engineer. That bridge was built in 1860 and was reconstructed using metal in 1870. The metal was painted white, and from here the bridge became known as the “White Bridge.”
The first iron bridge, which gave the bridge its name, came into operation in May 1862. It is thought that bridge was fabricated in the same factory as the Eiffel Tower, however, this has not proven to be true. It is obvious, however, that the material for the bridge did come from France.
Lado Meskhishvili Theatre
On March 03, 1861 in Kutaisi, with the participation of theater-goers, the first performance of Giorgi Eristavi’s comedy “Divorce” was held.This marked the beginning of a new era in Georgian theater, with a professional troup founded in Kutaisi in 1880. From 1894-1905, Kutaisi’s theatrical troupe was headed by Georgian actor, director, and public figure Lado Meskhishvili. In 1928, Kutaisi established a second state theater--the Kutaisi-batumi Theater, which was led by Kote Marjanishvili.
The current structure, which stands in central Kutaisi, was built in 1955.The unique architecture of the building led to it receiving a special monument status in 2009.
Former Parliament of Georgia
Between 2012 and 2018, Georgia was one of the few countries in the world that had more than one capital city. Then Georgian President Mikheil Saak’ashvili argued that by moving the Georgian parliament 220 km/140 miles from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, more economic development would occur in Kutaisi and Western Georgia as a whole, especially as the members of Parliament moved to Kutaisi, therefore bringing with them their higher salaries and demand for higher quality of goods and services.
Like the Avlabari Presidential Palace, Rike Park, and the Tbilisi Justice Hall, the Parliament Building uses glass and transparent materials, to be the manifestation of Georgia’s new identity as a transparent, modern, European democracy. As such, the parliament building in Kutaisi is composed of a large glass dome with a white roofing.
Regardless of the reason why the Georgian Parliament was moved from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, it quickly became evident that the parliament would not remain in Tbilisi. In 2012 the United National Movement became a minority party in parliament, and in 2013 its presidential candidate lost as well, effectively sealing the fate of the Kutaisi parliament building. On 01 January, 2018, the USD 110 million complex was abandoned when the Georgian Parliament was relocated to Tbilisi. Today, however, the complex serves as a nice park to walk through.
Construction of Gelati Monastery was commenced by Davit Aghmashenebeli. Some sources place this date at 1106 C.E. Aghmashenebeli intended for the monastery complex to become the Jerusalem of the East. The main church was completed by Aghmashenebeli’s son, Demetre, in 1130. There were additions to the church in the 13th and 14th Centuries. In the 12-15 Centuries, Gelati Monastery was granted full autonomy from the Crown, thereby separating the Church and State from its internal affairs. Eminent philosophers and academicians from the region studied at Gelati. Even the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia had limited autonomy in the affairs of Gelati. The monastery lost a large amount of importance following the Mongol invasions of Georgia.
After the political collapse of Georgia in the second half of the 5th Century, Gelati fell to the local fiefdoms in Western Georgia. On 23 November 1510, an invading Ottoman Army burned Imereti. As a result, Kings Bagrat III and Giorgi II of Imereti reconstructed Gelati Monastery, including the rebuilding of its churches, the restoration of the interior mosaics and murals, and donating more land to the monastery. As a result, in the 16th Century, the residency of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Western Georgia was moved to Gelati. The Monastery was again renovated in the 18th Century.
Despite the invasion and subsequent reconstruction, many of the murals at Gelati are still visible and are some of the best examples of Medieval Byzantine mosaics and decorations found not only in Georgia, but in the entirety of Asia Minor (Anatolia and the Caucasus). There are more than 40 portraits of various Georgian kings, queens, and high clerics, and religious figures found in Gelati Monastery. What’s more, there has been little reconstruction past the 12th and 13th Centuries that have damaged the original integrity of the monastery, and much of the modern restoration work has attempted to restore the original elements of the monastery.
The main church is dedicated to Mary the Virgin Mother, and is built in a traditional central-dome construction. There are a total of five chapels in the church. Only the eastern facade is original. Also notable about the Church of the Virgin Mother is the extensive masonry on the exterior. Unlike many other churches in Georgia, the mason work in the exterior walls is notable for extensive arches, which go above arched windows and doorways.
The bell tower in front of the Church of the Virgin Mother is topped by a small dome, and was built in the 14th Century.
There are two primary legends about Gelati Monastery. The first is that Davit Aghmashenebeli himself assisted in the construction of Gelati Monastery. It is thought that there are two large stones that only he could have brought from the riverbed below to the monastery. The second legend is that Gelati Monastery is the burial site of Tamar Mepe. It is known that she died in Azeula Fortress, in Kvemo Kartli, but her burial site is unknown, but many believe that she is buried in Gelati.
Mots’ameta Monastery is Gelati Monastery’s lesser-known twin. This monastery is located on a peninsular ridge surrounded by the Ts’q’alts’itela River on the outskirts of Kutaisi. The monastery was built on the location where, according to legend, the brothers of a noble family were killed for attempting to rebel against the Arabs who were occupying Georgia in the 8th Century. When the Georgian Orthodox Church recognized them as saints, King Bagrat III (1018-1072 C.E.) built a church on this site.
The bell tower was built in 1845, and two additional towers were built in 1884.
Zest’aponi was incorporated as an administrative unit in 1872. The city sits in the easternmost corner of the Kolkheti Lowland along the Q’virila River--a tributary of the Rioni River. Zest’aponi’s name is connected to the Q’virila River--Zesta comes from the Georgian word ზედა “zeda” meaning “lower” and ფონი “poni” meaning “rapids.” During the 1820s, there was a Cossack army posted in Zest’aponi. The city grew rapidly thanks to the establishment of the metallurgy factory.
Ts’q’alt’ubo is first mentioned in sources in the 7th Century, and by the 12th Century, the city was already well known as a healing source. This is because of the naturally occurring mineral spring waters which are found in the city. A chemical analysis performed in 1913 confirmed the unique mineral content of the waters found in Ts’q’alt’ubo. The city’s first therapeutic resort was constructed in 1920. At its height, Ts’q’alt’ubo had a total of 22 sanatoria. Also included in the master plan for Ts’q’alt’ubo are its expansive gardens and an amphitheater. Unfortunately, following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, most of the sanatoria in Ts’q’alt’ubo shut down due to the lack of patronage. Due to this, the city is now becoming popular for “urban exploration,” which is where people explore abandoned buildings and other manmade structures.
Photo by the Tsqaltubo Municipality.
T’q’ibuli is located in northeastern Imereti, on the border with Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti. The town is located in a dramatic natural setting in an almost perfect U-shaped valley. The city was first mentioned in the late 13th century. During this time, the city was ruled by the House of Agiashvili--a prominent noble family which ruled over large parts of Imereti. Coal was discovered in the last half of the 19th Century, and since became the city’s major economic asset. Tq’i’buli’s main city center has a large plaza with a stepped fountain in the middle of it, surrounded by elegant arched Soviet-era buildings. The combination of evergreen trees, mountains, and pine trees gives the city the feel of both a tropical paradise and peaceful mountain resort.
Ch’iatura is located in a steep and narrow river valley formed by the Q’virila River. The area which is now Ch’iatura was once inhabited by cave-dwellers--similar to Uplistsikhe--during the time of the Kolkheti Kingdom (6th Century B.C.E.-1st Century C.E.). The city was founded in 1879, when Akaki Ts’ereteli--a prominent Georgian poet, author, public figure who was born in a nearby village--and initiated manganese mining in the area. In 1895, a railway was built through Ch’iatura. During this time Ch’iatura produced around 50% of the world’s manganese. In 1954, Ch’iatura built the USSR’s first ropeway for passenger traffic, connecting the city center to the city’s outer neighborhoods. In 1964, a trolleybus connected Ch’iatura to Sachkhere. Today, much of the city’s famed ropeway network has fallen into disuse and has been forgotten.
Photo by netgazeti.ge
Samtredia is located in the westernmost portion of Imereti, on the border with Samegrelo. The House of Mikeladze was the primary noble family in Samtredia. The construction of the Tbiliis-Poti Railway from 1871-1872 greatly increased the importance of Samtredia as that the city lies at the railway junction between a line that goes to Poti and to Batumi as well. During the Soviet era, Samtredia was home to a chocolate, tea, and wood refinery. Aside from this, Samtredia had a highly developed agricultural industry.
Geguti Palace Ruins
Geguti Palace was a major feudal palace for Georgian nobility, and later, Georgian royalty. The initial palace was built in the 8-9th Centuries, however, the main complex was built by King Giorgi III (1156-1184 C.E.) to serve as his residence. The palace also served as the residency for Tamar Mepe (1184-1213 C.E.). The palace ruins include numerous rooms and the remnants of a large domed-hall which is found in the center of the palace complex. The ruins are found 7km south of Kutaisi, just north of the Kutaisi Bypass highway and north of the village of Geguti.
The term “K’atskhi” comes from the Svan word denoting a peak. Prior to Christianity, the pillar served as a place of worship for a fertility cult. After the adoption of Christianity, the cult here was expelled, which is evidenced by a 6th Century Bolnisi Cross found at the base of the pillar. The pillar itself is 40-45 meters tall. At the top is a small church which dates to the 6-8th Century and a new church was built there in 1995. Only religious individuals with the permission of the Catholicos-Patriarch of All-Georgia are allowed to ascend to the top of the pillar, and, as such, the pillar remained unclimbed by any non-monk until 1944.
Ok’atse Canyon is located in the extreme northwestern corner of Imereti. The Protected Territory is famous for a 700-meter suspended walkway over the 100-meter deep canyon. Further up the canyon is the famed K’inchkha Waterfall--one of the largest waterfalls in Georgia. The visitor center is located in the village of Gordi.
Sataplia Cave and Protected Territory has extensive and well-maintained trails throughout the reserve. The reserve is best known for dinosaur footprints found in exposed surface rock. There is also an overlook which provides amazing views of Kutaisi and the Kolkheti Lowlands. Sataplia Cave is much smaller than Prometheus cave, but has a well-lit and colorful interior, and is known for a large stalagmite formation in the shape of an anatomical heart. The visitor center is located in the village of Banoja.
Prometheus Cave is the most popular cave in Georgia and has had extensive work done to it to allow for tourists to visit the cave without harming the natural rock formations. There is a total of 22 halls which form the 11 km-long cave complex, but only 6 of them are open to the public. The total walkable distance through the cave is 1,420 meters. The cave is known for its boat tour. According to local legend, Prometheus, from the Greek legend, was chained to the cliffs outside the cave. The visitor center is found in the village of Kumistavi.
Sairme is a small balneological resort located in a narrow alpine valley in the Meskheti Range in southern Imereti. The resort is located around 25 km south of the town of Baghdati. The resort has a modern park and resort infrastructure and is the perfect place to escape to nature without having to forgo modern amenities.
Getting to Imereti is relatively easy. Davit Aghmashenebeli Kutaisi International Airport (KUT) is located close to Kutaisi, which serves as a hub for WizzAir, a Hungary-based low-cost airline which serves European destinations. There are shuttles, taxis, and marshrutkas from the airport, which is located about 30 minutes (25 km) from Kutaisi’s center, to Kutaisi and Tbilisi.
Likewise, there are frequent marshrutkas between Kutaisi and Zestaponi, Kutaisi and Batumi, Kutaisi and Tbilisi, and from Kutaisi to the region of Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti.
Imereti is also served by rail, with Kutaisi having two rail stations. Kutaisi I Railroad Station has trains running between Kutaisi and Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi. Kutaisi II Railway Station has trains that go to Tsqaltubo and Zugdidi. In Imereti, the cities of Zestaponi (to Khashuri) and Samtredia (from Kutaisi I) also have railway stations.
By road, Imereti is predominately accessible by the ს-1 (E-60) which runs from Tbilisi to Senaki, at which point the E-60 continues to the Black Sea city of Poti and the ს-1 continues to Zugdidi.
2: Ok'atse Canyon
3: Prometheus Cave
5: Gelati Monastery
6: Geguti Palace Ruins
11: K'atskhi Pillar
13: Sataplia Cave