Overview of Georgia
Georgia is a small country (around 69,700 sq. km/26,900 sq. mi) located between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains. Despite its relatively small size, it is bountiful in its natural diversity, with each region having its own distinctive and unique feel thanks to scenery ranging from subtropical beaches to alpine forests and climate ranging from temperate plains to semi-arid deserts.
Human habitation of Georgia dates back almost two million years, beginning with the archeological findings in Dmanisi. Here, archeologists have discovered numerous critical pieces to humanity’s history in its journey from Africa to Europe, with Homo erectus georgicus providing a crucial link. Over the millennia, the early Georgian Colchis Kingdom had contact with the Greeks, giving way to the myths of Jason and the Argonauts and King Aeetes and the Golden Fleece. This contact introduced wine to the world, with the word for wine coming from the Georgian word ღვინო ghvino. Since the Greeks and the later Romans couldn’t pronounce the Georgian “gh” sound, they dropped it, and hence the Latin root for wine--vin--was born.
Georgia was one of the world's first countries to convert to Christianity, a process conducted by St. Nino of Cappadocia, a cousin to St. George. Georgians are extremely proud of their Christian heritage and their country’s unique place in the Christian world. Shortly after the Georgians’ conversion to Christianity, a unique alphabet with characters specific to the Georgian language was created to help spread Christianity to the people.
Georgia's medieval Golden Age during the reign of King Davit Aghmashenebeli and Queen Tamar saw Georgia become a regional hub of education, science, and literature. Georgia’s most famous author--Shota Rustaveli--wrote his masterpiece, ვეფხისტყაოსანი Vepkhist’q’aosani “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” which is an
Statue of Medea with the Golden Fleece in Batumi
epic love poem with undertones of gender equality predating even the European Enlightenment and Renaissance. Additionally, it is during this time that Georgia began to adopt the customs and traditions of the nearby Byzantine Empire which helped give way to Georgian architecture--a synthesis of Byzantine, Russian, and Middle Eastern motifs.
Since the end of Georgia’s Golden Age, Georgia has been ruled by the Persians, Ottomans, and Russians, up until its independence from the Russian Empire in 1918. For a brief period between 1918 and 1921, Georgia enjoyed its first time of independence since its Golden Age. During this time, the Georgians created a new state that was to be based on ideals such as universal suffrage, civic equality, and workers’ rights. In 1921, the fledgling Georgian state was absorbed into the USSR, where it remained until the fall of the USSR in 1991.
The fall of the USSR brought one of the most difficult times for Georgia. The country was split on three fronts--an all-out war in the separatist region of Abkhazia, a civil war for leadership under the failing presidency of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and a simmering situation in South Ossetia. During this time period, even the capital, Tbilisi, lacked 24-hour access to electricity, which remained a problem well past the turn of the millenium. It wasn’t until the past 10 years or so that stability has returned to Georgia.
Geleti Monastery near Kutaisi
Today, Georgia is an example of humanity’s drive to overcome adversity. Tbilisi now has an unforgettable energetic feel, from its wide, tree-lined Rustaveli Avenue to the quaint and quiet streets of the historical center. The rest of the country too, exhibits hope for the future, with hotels, cafes, pharmacies, and small shops lining the streets of each town in the country. Georgia is a country that has proven that determination and hope lie at the heart of the human spirit.
Georgia's population is around 3.7 million people (excluding the two break away regions). The majority (over 80%) identify as ethnically Georgian. The remaining are a mixture consisting predominately of Armenians and Azeris, however there are still sizable Kurdish, Yazidi, and Roma populations in Georgia.
Georgia is officially divided into ten regions (called მხარე mkhare) and two autonomous republics. The capital city of Tbilisi is a region in itself and is the most populous with a population of around 1.2 million people. Kakheti is the eastern third of the country and is the country's predominant wine-growing region. Mtskheta-Mtianeti is located in east-central Georgia and is home to the city of Mtskheta, which predates the Roman Empire. Kvemo Kartli is in south-central Georgia and is home to a large portion of Georgia's Azeri population. Shida Kartli is located in Eastern Georgia and is home to Stalin's hometown, Gori. Imereti is located in central Georgia, with Kutaisi, the third largest city of Georgia and medieval capital city, located here. Samtskhe-Javakheti is located in southeast Georgia and is home to much of the
Inspirational statue at Expo Georgia in Didube neighborhood
country's Armenian population. Racha-Lechkhumi is in north-central Georgia and offers breathtaking alpine mountain scenery. Samegrelo is in northwest Georgia and is home to Zugdidi and Mestia, two of Western Georgia's most beautiful towns. Guria is in Western Georgia and is where the Lesser Caucasus Mountains meet the sea. Adjara is one of two autonomous republics in Georgia, and its capital, Batumi, is Georgia's second largest city. Abkhazia is Georgia's second autonomous republic, but is currently considered by many to be occupied by Russian troops following 2008.
There are two regions in Georgia--South Ossetia and Abkhazia--that are considered by many to be occupied by Russia. Following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, these two regions demanded independence from Georgia, but the international community and the Georgian government did not recognize these two regions as independent countries. Abkhazia broke away in the mid to late 1990s. In August 2008, Georgia and Russia went to war over control of South Ossetia. Since then, the Russian government has recognized the sovereignty of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, providing both entities with economic and military aid. The international community still considers these regions to be a part of Georgian territory. While travel to these regions is not advised and could even land you in jail, the rest of the country remains perfectly safe to explore and visit. To learn more, visit our page about the "Occupied Regions of Georgia."
Countryside of Kvemo Kartli
Symbols of Georgia
Flag of Georgia
The current flag of Georgia has five red crosses--one St. George’s cross and four Bolnisi crosses in each corner--on a white field. The various medieval kingdoms of Georgia had a variant of the current flag, such as the Principality of Tao-Klarjeti, the Kingdom of Georgia under Kings Tamar and Davit Agmashenebeli, and even the Kingdom of Abkhazia. The five-crossed flag, ხუთჯვარიანი khutjvariani in Georgian (literally “with five crosses”), has even been found on numerous nautical maps dating as old as 1318 CE.
The Bolnisi cross comes from a church in the village of Bolnisi, Kvemo Kartli. The church that the cross is carved into is the oldest surviving Christian structure in Georgia, dating back to the 5th Century CE. As such, the Bolnisi cross has become a de facto symbol of both the Georgian Orthodox Church and of Georgia as a whole.
Saint Nino Cross
The St. Nino cross comes from the story of how St. Nino of Cappadocia, a cousin to St. George, converted the Georgians to Christianity. As St. Nino went throughout Georgia, she lacked a cross, so she improvised by making one by tying two grapevies together using strands of her hair. As such, the horizontal section of the cross drooped, giving the cross an arrow shape. Today, along with the Bolnisi cross, the St. Nino cross is one of the Georgian Orthodox Church’s two primary symbols.
The Borjghali is an ancient Georgian symbol composed of seven radiating arms in a spiral that form a circle. The Borjghali dates back to the proto-Georgian civilization of the Mtkvar-Araksis peoples from the 4th Century BCE.The symbol as a whole is taken to represent the sun, and, to a greater extent, the unity and balance of the universe. Originally, each spiral represented a different deity: მთოვარე Mtovare the Moon, ჯუმა Juma Mercury, მთიები Mtiebi Venus/Aphrodite/Ishtar (the dawn star), მარიხი Marikhi Mars, დია Dia Jupiter, ზუალი Zuali Saturn, and ჰელიო Helio the sun. From this symbol comes the Georgian word for peace. The Georgian word for “seven” is შვიდი shvidi and the word for “Seven-ness” is მშვიდობა mshvidoba, which is the word for “peace.”