Georgia is a land filled with magnificent history and unparalleled natural beauty. Archaeologists found the oldest traces of wine production 8000 BC in Georgia. For those of us in the West, we unfortunately get precious little exposure to this stretch of land between the Black and Caspian seas. However, this is changing drastically.
Georgians are not Russians, Turks or Persians, nor do they have any ethnic connection with other people. However, there are theories which link Georgians to Basque, Corsican and North Caucasian people. Georgia is a multi-ethnic state, the dominant ethnic group are the Kartveli, but other significant Georgian ethnic groups include the Mingreli, Laz, and Svan all of whom speak Georgian languages distinct from the national language, Kartuli. Georgian language is in its own language group, completely unrelated to Indo-European or Semitic languages. Georgians have been embroiled in struggles against the worldâs biggest empires Mongol, Persian, Ottoman, Russian, etc for centuries. This little country was invaded many times and destroyed as many. However, Georgians have managed to preserve their cultural and traditional identity for 9,000 years. The countryside is covered with ancient towered fortifications, many of which house ancient churches including one of the oldest in Christendom and monasteries.
Christianity was introduced into Georgia in the first century, and became the official national state religion in the mid fourth century Georgia was the second nation to adopt Christianity, after Armenia with the evangelism of St Nino of Capadoccia. The Georgian cross is recognizable, for it was forged by St Nino with grape vines and her own hair. The grape and the vine thus hold important places in Georgian symbolism.
The conversion to Christianity meant that Georgians would have a historical cultural leaning to the West instead of with the Muslims in the region Turkey and Persia to the South. Nonetheless, Georgian culture stands at the cross-roads of civilizations. Its culture and traditions are the product of the influence of its neighbors and of its own unique civilization.
During the Soviet era, Georgia was the "Riviera of the Soviet Union" and was renowned for its cuisine and wine. Russians may love vodka, but the Georgian wines were favoured by the Soviet elite. During Soviet era, Georgia flooded Russian markets with high quality tea, wine and fruits. The Georgian Black Sea coast, in particular Abkhazia and Adjaria, enjoys sub-tropical conditions and beautiful beaches imagine pine trees and mountains covering the coast line.
Georgia, on the periphery of the Soviet Union, also contributed greatly to the dissolution of the Soviet Union with nationalist calls for independence and the Georgians have catalyzed the dissolution of empires before. Georgia stood on one of the key routes of the Silk Road and now plays a significant geopolitical role, being located at the crossroads of Central Asia, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East, and currently contains important oil pipelines leading from Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
This proud nation is still in transition after the fall of the Soviet Union. Tense relations with Russia and deepening friendship with the USA and the EU has led Russia to close its markets to Georgian exports, badly affecting the Georgian economy. Russia has closed its border with Georgia since 2006, while Russia's allies, the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have also closed their borders with Georgia, and have maintained the strict economic embargo against Georgia ever since. In 2008, the country went to war against Russia over South Ossetia, in which the Georgians were defeated within days, leading Georgia to lose 17% of its territory, Russia to diplomatically recognizing both separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the severance of diplomatic relations with Russia, which had a serious impact on the economy.
Imagine cities with narrow side streets filled with leaning houses, overstretched balconies, mangled and twisted stairways, majestic old churches, heavenly food and warm and welcoming people. All of this with a backdrop of magnificent snow peaked mountains, and the best beaches of the Black Sea.
The Georgians have exceptionally strong traditions of hospitality, chivalry, and codes of personal honour. They believe that guests come from God. Friendship is prized highest among all the virtues. It is celebrated in Shota Rustaveli's 12th century national epic, The Knight in the Tiger's Skin "ááá¤á®áá¡á¢á§ááá¡ááá" or "Vepkhistqaosani", in which a person's worth is judged by the depth of his friendships. The Georgians are proud, passionate, and fiercely individualistic, yet deeply connected with each other by a shared sense of belonging to a greater Georgian family. Women are highly esteemed in society and are accorded a chivalric respect. The statue of Mother of Georgia kartlis deda that stands in the hills above Tbilisi perhaps best symbolizes the national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine with which she greets her friends and in her right is a sword drawn against her enemies.