Guide-U Presents: The Places you should see in Tbilisi
After visiting the glorious Narikala Fortress, I would like to invite you to Tbilisi Botanical Garden, formerly known as the Royal Garden and now officially named: The National Botanical Garden of Georgia. The botanical garden is a historical Garden in the center of Tbilisi, in the Tsavkisistskali (Leghvtkhevi) valley. In 1845 it was no longer called the Royal Garden, because it became government property.
Between 1896 and 1904 the garden was expanded to the west and in 1932 the former Muslim cemetery was added to the garden. Among the graves that can still be found there is that of the Azeri writer, Mirza Fatali Akhundov (1812-1878).
The garden represents a rich collection of flora from all over Georgia and indeed the world. There are also several beautiful bridges stretching over the Tsavkisistskali River. Among these is an exceptional arched bridge at the top of the waterfall which was built in 1914.
The total area of the Botanical Garden is 98 hectares. The main entrance is at the end of Botanical Street, under Narikala Fortress. In 1909 construction started on a tunnel through the mountain from Lado Asatani Street. Construction was completed in 1914 and this became the second entrance. The entrance fee is just 2 GEL.
When you exit from the Botanical Garden, you’ll bump into Jumah Mosque, a magnificent mosque that is a mixture of Neo-Gothic and Islamic styles.
The Muslim population in Tbilisi can trace its roots back to the 8th Century and during many years of Arab invasions the population grew and many mosques were built, demolished and then built again on the site of the present-day mosque.
In 1723-1735, the Ottomans, who were in control of Tbilisi, built a Sunni mosque on this site. This mosque was destroyed by the Persians in 1740. In 1846-1851 the mosque was rebuilt following plans made by the architect Giovanni Scudieri. However, at the end of the 19th Century, this mosque was also demolished and another new one was built in its place. This mosque still stands today and is currently the only active mosque in Tbilisi. The mosque is unusual since it welcomes both Sunni and Shia Muslims through its doors to pray here.
Abanotubani (the bathing district) is one of the oldest districts in Tbilisi. Tbilisi has for quite some time been famous for its sulfur water that comes naturally from the ground along the banks of the Mtkvari River. And the name of this district is associated with the well-known naturally hot sulfur baths.
The Arab geographer from the 10th Century, Ibn Hawqal notes in “The Book of Roads and Kingdoms”: “In the city (Tbilisi) there are baths like Tiberiad Baths and the water there is boiling without fire.”
History tells us that in the 13th century there were 65 baths in Tbilisi. The Tbilisi baths are mentioned in the 13th & 14th Centuries by Marco Polo, in the 18th century by the Russian merchant Vasil Gagara, as well as Vakhushti Bagrationi, who counted six baths in Tbilisi.
In 17th-19th Centuries Tbilisi the main bathhouses in Tbilsi were; Erekle’s, Bebuta’s, Melik’s, Meiter’s (Sumbatov’s), Gogilo’s, Orbelianis’, Tbileli’s, Mirzoev’s, Khoja’s, “Grili” (Shioev’s), and “Chreli”. Most of the baths that still exist were created in 17th-18th Centuries with the influence of Iranian architecture and are all very close to each other.
The baths served several purposes. They were mainly used for medicinal purposes but people also came here for the whole day to wash, rest and feast. The baths were also famous for being a popular place for mothers to examine the beauty of single women and find a suitable bride for their sons.
The oldest bath here is King Erekle’s bath. “Chreli Abano” or ‘the colourful bath’ always stands out from the other buildings that are located on Abano Street thanks to its impressive and unique design. It got its name because of the colourful motley tiles that cover the front façade of the bath. It was redesigned in an eastern style in the second half of the nineteenth century. The plaque near the entrance displays the thoughts of the Great Russian author Alexander Pushkin: “I have never in my life come across anything better than baths in Tiflis”.
“A great sense of freedom and wellbeing permeated me. All my tiredness had gone and I felt strong enough to lift a mountain” – Alexandre Dumas, after a visit to the sulfur baths in 1858.
The famous Russian writer Alexey Tolstoy also stated: “when sitting in a marble swimming pool a man feels like either Pompey or Lucullus”.
Each bath is below ground level and is topped with a dome that is naturally lit through a glass window at the top of it. In the past men could wash whenever they wanted and could stay in the baths for as long as they liked. Women on the other hand, were only allowed in on special days. Matchmakers in the town often organized so-called ‘bride shows’ there.
The sulfur baths have been a vital part of life in Tbilisi for centuries. Today most of the baths are open 24/7.
Renovation work carried out by the council of Tbilisi in 2011 – 2012 opened up an area to the public that had been lost since the middle of the 20th Century, the Tsavkisistskali River bed. You can now wonder along the river bed and see the bathhouses in more detail and the amazing waterfall at the end. The valley also has its own micro-climate and stays quite cool on even the hottest of summer days so it’s a great place to relax and cool down.