Discovering Georgia The highlights
Heather Fitsell visited Georgia courtesy of the Georgia Tourist Board and Ukraine International Airlines. Georgia is a country as yet unspoilt by mass tourism, but with so much to offer the visitor as it seeks to disassociate itself from its troubled and Soviet history, a taste of some of the 25,000 monuments and diverse landscape Georgia has to offer are a must. These are Heather’s top five highlights.
Tbilisi Holy Trinity Church
It is impossible to avoid seeing this building from almost everywhere you stand in Tbilisi. It was completed in 2004, having taken just two years to build, making it the largest religious building in Georgia. A stepped avenue leads the eye straight to the church on top of Elia Hill, surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens, which entice you into the church. We entered from a side door into the vast expanse of the church. Notably, there is no decoration above approximately three metres, which makes the size of the church all the more grand. It contains some delicate religious art works and a cross sculpture made from a walnut tree, which was given by the mothers of Georgia with no sons, to the church. This is definitely one church that should not be missed on a visit to Georgia.
Traditional Georgian Folk Singing
Before travelling I had read about the wonderful voices of Georgia, and fortuitously, during our home stay with a Georgian family in Telavi, our fellow guests included a Georgian singing quartet who, over dinner, graced us with their breathtaking harmonies. It was a magical experience that gave us a very personal insight into Georgian life and culture.
Georgians enjoy toasting and after every toast followed a song, so before long we were adding in toasts, in order to hear more songs. The sound that these four men created was simply unique. One of our group made a short recording of our experience, which you can listen to below.
Davit Gareja Monastery
Davit Gareja is an incredibly tranquil and peaceful place. It is situated overlooking the geologically stunning border with Azerbaijan and is home to 20 monks, who have been part of the loving restoration of this cave monastery since 1988, when it was rescued following 67 years of abandonment and returned to its original purpose. The monastery is steeped in history dating back to the 6th century, but it has not always been a peaceful one and it has been the sight of significant violence and attacks including the death of 5,000 people during the time of the Mongols, and until 1921 it was used as a military base. It is one of the most remarkable of Georgia’s ancient sites.
Stalin Museum in Gori
I was interested to see how Georgian born Joseph Stalin was portrayed in his home country. The museum is a grand building and paintings of Stalin line a magnificent staircase to the upper floors of the museum. Our guide spoke good English and she presented the facts of Stalin’s life without going into any detail about the atrocities that he committed. The displays contain a large number of black and white photographs from Stalin’s lifetime and a fascinating collection of the gifts that he was given by foreign nationals and countries.
Outside the main museum, still in situ, is the small house where Stalin grew up. Simply furnished you can take a walk inside the building and experience a little bit of history for yourself, before crossing the courtyard to Stalin’s train carriage. He was reportedly afraid of flying and so took the train everywhere. You can see his en-suite compartment, and the meeting room filled with mirrors, which Stalin used to control his facial expressions whilst in deep discussions.
Uplistsikhe Cave Town
This was the highlight of my trip. Uplistsikhe, meaning ‘guarded fortress’ is a stunning complex of caves dating back to the first century before Christ which at its height was home to 20,000 people. The town was on the main trade route from Asia to the Black Sea and was home to a large market, a theatre with beautiful ceilings which inspired Roman architecture, a church, a temple dedicated to the sun, underground jails, wine-pressing areas, caves used for food storage and animal shelters and a secret underground tunnel. Sadly a lot of it was badly destroyed in 1920 when an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred. Nevertheless, the overcast sky on the day we visited was a perfect background to the sand coloured rock that formed the caves.
Within Georgia, other sights to visit include a vast array of churches and monasteries - most of which are still working - museums, quaint towns like Signagi and wineries in the Kaheti region.
My visit to Georgia has left a lasting impression. There is so much to do and see, I sincerely hope to return as I have barely scratched the surface of what Georgia has to offer and the warmth of the Georgian people, who are forever smiling, is what makes this country so special.
Explore Cox & Kings holidays to Georgia.