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  An amalgam of cultures

An amalgam of cultures

| DR BINA THOMAS THARAKAN
Published : Sep 3, 2016, 10:09 pm IST
Updated : Sep 3, 2016, 10:09 pm IST

There is something about Tbilisi, which connects the East and the West; the old and the new.

Walls of the Narikala Fortress looming large atop the city scape
 Walls of the Narikala Fortress looming large atop the city scape

There is something about Tbilisi, which connects the East and the West; the old and the new. A traveller cannot miss the influence that the region borrows from Europe and Asia, especially central Asia. Neatly mixed with the unique cultural diversity of ethnic groups, Tbilsi is nestled in the folds of the Caucasus mountain ranges. Eurasian nations are best described as ‘bridging’ nations and this instance is showcased in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

The cobbled streets of the old town are best explored by foot. The rest of the city can be covered on a bicycle. There is also the city’s hop on-hop off bus service that is convenient for a quick round trip. The Narikala, a reconstructed 4th century fortress wall by the River Kura (River Mt’k’vari in Georgian), rises like the crowning glory along the lower mountain ranges bordering Tbilisi’s old town, a landmark representation of the city’s ancient past and heritage. Alongside this is the Kartlis Deda, the iconic statue of Mother of Georgia, a more recent addition.

 

A short walk away from Narikala is the Freedom Square that played a significant role during the time of the Russian Empire. The large statue of Lenin in the centre of the square was symbolically torn down in 1991 and was replaced by a golden winged statue of St George, the legendary founder king of Georgia. Tbilisi has witnessed invasions by Roman, Persian, Byzantine and Central Asian powers and the more recent Russian occupation since 1801 to the break up of the Soviet Union. This is evident in the cultural and structural heritage.

Even at the Freedom Square, it is interesting to see the old and new jostling for prominence and attention. The few ultra modern malls cannot draw away your eyes from the ornate art nouveau structures from the 19th century lining the streets, or the Soviet Modernist structures from the mid 20th century. The city has done a great job in maintaining these grand heritage structures, including government establishments, opera houses, museums and libraries. What’s interesting to note, is that the residential apartment blocks blend in with the artistic surroundings. The Rustaveli Street Avenue, which extends to about 1.5 km from Freedom Square, is lined with maple trees, with the mountain ranges visible on the horizon.

 

For an archaeologist, Tbilisi or the ‘hot springs’ valley, is a fascinating study of ancient trade routes that connected land to the sea. A long narrow stretch of fertile land, the valley is wedged between the mountain ranges. The old town houses the oldest Eastern Orthodox Church in the world. Interestingly, the same traditions are followed by the Syrian Orthodox church community in Kerala. The past histories of this town have given it a unique multicultural and transnational character. It is evident in their language, which is one of the oldest surviving languages in the world.

This transnational influence is seen in their food too. The state staple kachaburi is a Mediterranean cheese dish over bread, which reminds one of pizza. The Georgian dumplings that are found here are like oversized versions of the Central Asian momo. Perhaps it is this peaceful coexistence of the old and the new that makes Tbilisi in Georgia one of the safest places to be in this world.

 

Dr Bina Thomas Tharakan is an archaeologist and writer