Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Tbilisi and Batumi may be the most popular cities to visit in Georgia, but Kutaisi is the city that has it all--from medieval ruins to modern architecture and colorful caverns to majestic mountains. Kutaisi is a quaint, charming city that is the perfect place to serve as your focal point in Georgia.
Kutaisi is located in the region of Imereti in west-central Georgia. The medieval heart of the city, located on Ukimerioni Hill, is where the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains meet the vast, marshy Kolkheti Lowlands. The hill sits above where the Rioni River tumbles through the mountains and enters the lowlands. It was here that the ancient city of Aia (the one from Greek mythology) was located. Aia became a major city in the Colchis Kingdom as well as the the Egrisi Kingdom, eventually becoming the capital of the Kingdom of Georgia under Kings Bagrati III, Davit Aghmashenebeli, and Tamar Mepe during the Middle Ages.
Not much of Kutaisi’s original citadel remains. Bagrati Cathedral, which was built by King Bagrati III in 1003 CE has been restored to its original form. The foundations of the citadel walls are still visible, particularly behind the cathedral, where much of the ruins of the inner citadel remains, including numerous rooms that were used for winemaking. From Bagrati Cathedral, you can gaze out on the Kolkheti Lowlands and, way off in the distance, see the Teleti Range rising above the clouds and stretching in either direction as far as the eye can see.
The other notable medieval site in Kutaisi is Gelati Monastery, which was built by Davit Aghmashenebeli in 1106 C.E. The monastery became one of the major centers for religious studies, philosophy, and mathematics east of the Byzantine Empire. Gelati was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 due to its well-preserved mosaics, which are comparable with some of the best Byzantine mosaics, its murals which have over 40 portraits of kings, queens, and noblemen, and its architectural integrity--much of the monastery remains in its original form, untouched since its construction in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Kutaisi’s city center has been elegantly restored, complete with cobblestone streets, a large verdant central park, and an extravagant fountain commemorating the city’s prominence in Greek mythology. In the heart of the city is Meskhishvili Theatre, which was built in 1955. The city's theatrical history, however, dates to 1861, when the city’s first troup was created.
Crossing the mighty Rioni River are numerous bridges, with the most notable being the Chain Bridge, which was once a suspension bridge made from chains and is the oldest bridge in Kutaisi, the Red Bridge, which was built in 1862 in an metallurgical factory in France, and the White Bridge, which was built in 1870.
One of Georgia’s most stunning pieces of modern architecture can be found in Kutaisi--the former Parliament of Georgia. Between 2012 and 2018, Georgia’s parliament was located in this flying-saucer-shaped building on the western edge of Kutaisi. The building is composed of a large glass dome, under which the main parliamentary chamber was located. Unfortunately, the building was widely unpopular with most members of parliament, and the decision was made to re-relocate the parliament back to Tbilisi starting from 2019.
Kutaisi is also a nature-lover’s dream. Since the city sits in both the Kolkheti Lowlands and the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. Most of Georgia’s most well-known natural features are easily accessible from Kutaisi:
Ts’q’alt’ubo, home to the best healing waters in Georgia, and perhaps even the Caucasus, is a mere 20 minutes from Kutaisi.
Prometheus and Sataplia Caves along with Martvili and Okatse Canyons are all within an hour drive from Kutaisi, meaning that a long hike through the forested hills of Imereti is just a short ride away.
The Katskhi Pillar, which was a pre-Christian temple and is now home to the most reclusive and exclusive Georgian Orthodox church, is just over an hour from Kutaisi.
Ambrolauri and Nikortsminda are less than two hours away, making the most pristine Alpine meadows of Georgia a fun day trip from Kutaisi.
The Kolkheti National Park, in Poti, is also less than two hours from Kutaisi. Here, you can see the best-preserved marshes and swamps in Georgia, along with enjoying your day by the Black Sea.
In the meanwhile, be sure to enjoy the best Imereuli Khachapuri and Lobiani in Georgia. After all, Kutaisi is the center of Imereti.
Whether you’re looking to take a stroll through an enchanting park, admire medieval ruins from Georgia’s Golden Age, or relax in Georgia’s nature, Kutaisi has it all. You can see Georgia’s mythological past from Kutaisi’s central square, enjoy Soviet gondola rides over the Rioni River, and kayak through some of the Caucasus’ only marshlands, all from the comfort of Georgia’s medieval capital.