Mtatsminda one of Tbilisi’s most geographically unique and diverse neighborhoods. Here, the Trialeti Range--a subset of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains--comes crashing to the Mtkvari River. The neighborhood is named after the most prominent geographic feature, Mtatsminda “Holy Mountain” which is a large, flat mountain with Rustaveli Avenue running along the mountain’s base.
Mtatsminda began to grow from being a small village outside of Tbilisi to an important district in the early to mid 18th Century. Initially, the area grew around Orbeliani and Liberty Squares and up what is now Rustaveli Avenue. During this time, the district reached to present-day 9 April Park. Much of this area was built during Georgia’s time under the Russian Empire and, as such, it is known as the “Russian Quarter” of Tbilisi’s four historic neighborhoods.
Liberty (Freedom) Square
During the Middle Ages, present-day Liberty Square was once a large caravanserai--a public square used for traders and caravans passing through the city. During the middle decades of the 19th century, much of the caravanserai was demolished and the area began to take the form of a built-up public square. During this time, the Tbilisi Spiritual Seminary (located at Pushkin Square) and the first iteration of the Georgian State Art Museum were constructed. During the 1930s, much of the square was rebuilt according to Soviet plans for Tbilisi. In 1956, a large column in the center of the square was erected in memory of Vladimir Lenin. During this time, the buildings of the Courtyard Marriott and the buildings along the eastern edge of the square took their modern forms. In 1991, the square was renamed to its current name and in 2006 a large statue of St. George replaced the Lenin statue and many of the buildings were renovated, especially along the square’s eastern edge.
The three storey building opposite of Rustaveli Avenue is the თბილისის საკრებულო Tbilisi Sakrebulo--the head of the regional government of Tbilisi (Tbilisi is both a region of Georgia and a city). The building was built between 1824 and 1825. The central tower was added in 1910 and expanded in 1912.
Shota Rustaveli Avenue
Shota Rustaveli Avenue is Tbilisi’s most well-known road and is the epicenter of Georgia’s political and social culture. The avenue runs from Liberty Square to Rustaveli Square/ Rustaveli M/S. The road initially began as a route to go from Kala to the village of Dighomi (located in today’s Dighomi neighborhood). By 1802, Rustaveli Avenue had already became the location of a governmental administrative building for the Russian Empire and from 1810 the construction of large buildings along Rustaveli Avenue began, with many of the buildings being constructed in Russian classical architecture, most notably the two-storied National Palace (located at No 6 Rustaveli Ave, between the Galleria Tbilisi and Parliament), which was built in 1818.
Throughout modern Georgian history, Rustaveli Avenue has been home to many key events in the country’s history, such as the 9 April 1989 protests (an anti-Soviet protests which resulted in Soviet troops killing 21 and injuring hundreds), the site of the Tbilisi Civil War (a brief period of fighting following Georgia's independence from the USSR which saw the Parliament building and First Gymnasium shelled by grenades), the Rose Revolution (a peaceful “Color Revolution” in 2003 which saw the ousting of President Shevardnadze and the installation of a pro-Western government), and most recently the June 2018 protests (protests demanding judicial reform brought the resignation of the Government of Georgia).
Rustaveli Avenue has broad, tree-lined sidewalks, beautifully restored buildings, dozens of shops and cafes, and Georgia’s most important cultural institutions.
The current National Palace was built in 1869, and is an excellent example of Russian classical architecture in Tbilisi. The large, white, two-story building was an administrative building for Transcaucasia and the Tbilisi Governante during the region’s time under the Russian Empire. In 1918, when Georgia established itself as the independent country of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, the buildings served as the country’s parliament, where the 1918 Constitution, which serves as the basis for the country’s current constitution, was written and signed. Today, the building serves as the country’s national youth palace, hosting cultural and educational events for young Georgians.
Parliament of Georgia
The Parliament of Georgia is actually two separate buildings. The first building is the U-shaped back portion of the Parliament (all sides of the building not on Rustaveli Avenue). Under the order of Lavrenty Beria, this structure was completed in 1938 and was built on a former military church for the Russian Army. The existing arched-facade along Rustaveli Avenue was completed in 1953 with limestone rock from Bolnisi. During the Tbilisi Civil War, much of the building was ruined--a victim of grenades, fires, and gunshots but was later restored to its former glory.
Tbilisi Classical Gymnaseum
The first public school in Tbilisi, and Georgia, was established in 1830. The current building was built in 1833 and has an extensive library and theater. Many well-known Georgian poets, writers, and scientists graduated from this school including Grigol Orbeliani, Nikioloz Baratashvili, Ilia Chavchavadze (Georgia’s 2nd most well-known author, after Shota Rustaveli), and Ivani Javakhisvhili (the founder of Tbilisi State University, the oldest university in the Caucasus). The building was reconstructed in 1872. During the Tbilisi Civil War (1991) the building was almost completely destroyed, but, like the Parliament of Georgia, it has since been reconstructed to its original form.
Georgian National Museum
The first museum for Georgia was established in 1852 as a part of the RUssian ROyal Geographic Society’s Museum of the Caucasus. In 1919, the museum was renamed the Georgian Museum. In 1921, the Menshevik government of Georgia, fearful of the Bolshevik’s anti-Menshevik sentiments (Georgia was the only Menshevik-led country during this time) decided to relocate Georgia’s historic artefacts away from Tbilisi. First they were moved to Kutaisi, then Batumi, and finally to France. Following the end of WWII they were returned to Georgia.
The Georgian National Museum contains artifacts tracing Georgia’s thousands of years of history and civilization. The National Treasury includes jewelry and metallurgical artifacts dating as far back as the Colchis Kingdom (13th Century-1st Century BC) along with medieval texts. The museum also has archeological artifacts dating back to the Iron and Bronze Ages, and a section describing Georgia’s history under the USSR.
National Gallery of Georgia
The gallery was established in 1888 and housed in a building that was originally used as a Russian military and history museum. The first exhibition at the museum was held in 1920 and included artwork from Georgian, Russian, Western European, and Iranian artists. In 1988, the gallery was moved to its current location where the building was renovated to allow for more works to be on display. Due to political instability in the 1990s, the museum closed. In 2003, the gallery was officially incorporated into the National Museum system and the building was renovated again. Today, the gallery houses collections and works of some of Georgia’s best artists.
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Opened as the Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Art in 2012, the museum holds many works from Pirosmani, Malevich, Kandinsky, Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Chagall, and Van Gogh along with photographic art.
Dry Bridge Market
The Dry Bridge Market is located on Saarbrucken Bridge and spills over in Dedaena Park. Originally, this area was one an island in the Mtkvari River (the road separating the park from Mtatsminda was originally part of the Mtkvari River but was filled in in 1938). The bridge itself (over the Mtkvari River and the filled in portion) was constructed in the Italian architectural style in 1851.Today, this is Tbilisi’s most well-known flea market. Here, it is possible to buy everything from old Soviet passports, birth medals, and currency to knives, electric converters, and hand-made art.
9 April Park
This park was once the lower portion of the Alexander Garden. This park was the first public park to be established in Tbilisi. The park’s upper portion consists of paths, Kashueti Church, and the Georgian National Gallery. The lower portion is named after Giorgi Leonidze and has a lovely step fountain, numerous paths and benches, and nice views of Mtatsminda and the surrounding neighborhood.
Mtatsminda Park is located on the Mtatsminda Plateau, which is a part of the westernmost extension of the Trialeti Range and sits at a high of 770 meters/2500 feet above sea level. During the 9th Century, a church was built on the side of Mtatsminda (now where the Mtatsminda Pantheon is located) and in 1542 a monastery was built by the brothers Nikoloz and David Gabashvili. The current church was built in 1871. Today, this Pantheon (cemetery) holds the graves of numerous Georgian authors and important figures. A funicular was built connecting the city, the Pantheon, and the top of Mtatsminda, in 1930.
The park at the top of Mtatsminda dates back to the Soviet-era. The park has a small roller coaster, ferris wheel, log flume, and numerous other amusement park rides. The most prominent feature of Mtatsminda, though, is not the mountain itself nor the ferris wheel clinging to its side, but the 275 meter/900 foot tall TV broadcasting tower, colloquially called ანძა andza. Much like the “Mother” statues throughout the former USSR, many cities were adorned with large broadcasting towers, such as Yerevan, Kiev, Moscow, and Almaty. Tbilisi’s first broadcasting tower was demolished and moved to Gori, in Shida Kartli, in 1955. Construction of the present tower was completed in 1972. The tower is typically lit up in plain white lighting at night, but the lighting will change for various special events, such as red, white, and blue for the French Tricolor on Bastille Day or orange for International Women’s Day.