Georgia Country Profile
Georgia is an ancient country sheltered in southwest Asia between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea. This country is so unique, it’s hard to know where to begin – one of the oldest nations in the world that boasts of the highest settlement in Europe, the deepest cave in the world, and a language and alphabet so unusual that they’re included in UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list.
No less than twelve distinct climate zones exist within this compact little country, whose geography and weather make it possible to go for a swim and downhill ski on the same day! Multiple indigenous cultures have retained their ancient languages and way of life, while meanwhile Georgia’s cities speed toward ever-increasing, tourist-friendly infrastructure and modernization.
Georgia is truly a country like no other, primed to become a major tourist destination in the coming years. Take a look at the Georgia Country Profile to become better acquainted with this one-of-a-kind nation, a terrific choice for your next travel adventure.
Georgia Country Facts
Official Name: Georgia (Sak’art’velo)
Capital of Georgia: Tbilisi
Country Population of Georgia: 4 million (2019)
Total area: 69,700 square km
Land Boundaries: Russia (north), Azerbaijan (east), Armenia (south), Turkey (southwest), Black Sea (west)
Climate: mostly humid subtropical; continental, maritime, alpine and other climates also present
Ethnic Mix: Georgian (86.8%), Azerbaijani (6.3%), Armenian (4.5%), Russian (.7%), other (1.7%)
Religions: Georgian Orthodox (83.4%), Islam (10.7%), Roman Catholicism (2%) Judaism, other (3.9%)
Independence: independence from USSR on April 9, 1991; first unified as a nation app. 1008 AD
Internet Domain: .ge
President: Salome Zourabichvili
Administrative Divisions: 9 regions, 1 city (Tbilisi), 2 autonomous republics (Abkhazia and Ajaria); South Ossetia (Tskhinvali Region) has no official administrative status
National currency: Georgian lari
National GDP: 16.21 USD billion (2019)
Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Round two-pin continental plugs are standard.
Flag of Georgia
Georgia’s flag is simultaneously one of the oldest and youngest national flags in the world. Originally used in 1099 by a crusader during the days when monasteries were being founded in Georgia, it became a symbol of Jerusalem and was adopted by the kingdom of Georgia as the official flag by the 14th century, possibly earlier.
After undergoing political changes and various flags over the centuries, Georgia again adopted the current national flag in 2004. This replaced its previous flag that had reflected Georgia’s complicated history with the Soviet Union.
The flag displays a white background with a Jerusalem cross: a large red cross dividing the flag into four sections. In each quadrant is one smaller red cross. The white color represents wisdom, peace and purity, while the red indicates courage, love and justice. The large cross represents Jesus Christ and is called the St. George Cross, after the patron saint of Georgia. The four smaller crosses are a reference to the four evangelists and the nails with which Jesus was crucified.
Brief history of Georgia
The oldest human remains in Eurasia were discovered in Georgia, also known as Sak’art’velo, and human settlements dating to prehistoric times have been uncovered here. The people were among the first in the Caucasus to master smelting and metal casting as early as the 6th-7th century BC.
Around the 4th-6th century BC, the first official states emerged in Georgia: Colchis in the west and Kartli (Iberia) in the east. As the Silk Road wound its way through the territory, it connected Georgia, Europe and Asia in an exchange of goods and ideas that began to shape the country’s course.
Christianity arrived in Georgia through a woman named St. Nino, and the Kingdom of Kartli (now Georgia) was declared a Christian nation in 337 AD, becoming the second official Christian nation, after Armenia. By this time, an alphabet and written language had already been developed.
The Georgians fought against Persian and Byzantine conquerors from the 4th-6th centuries AD in order to maintain independence. By the late 7th century, the Byzantine-Persian struggle for the Middle East led to Arab conquest of the region and the ensuing centuries saw Persian, Byzantine and Arab rule over the region.
The first united Georgian monarchy was formed at the start of the 11th century under King Bagrat III, who became the first king of a united Georgia in both the east and the west.
This ushered in Georgia’s Golden Age, lasting from the 11th-13th centuries. A country profile of Georgia from the Golden Age would include great rulers such as David IV the Builder and Queen Tamar, whose wise rule led to the country’s political and economic zenith.
These glory days ended in the 13th century, when the country was decimated by the Black Death and Tamerlane’s invasion. King George V the Great regained power in the first half of the 14th century before the country again succumbed to invading factions.
During the ensuing centuries Persia and Turkey battled for the land, before Georgia finally allied with the Russian Empire in 1801 to gain protection from its southern neighbors.
Growing unrest over the next century led to Georgia’s people declaring independence from Russia in 1918, and the Republic of Georgia was created. This lasted 3 short years, before Russia’s Red Army conquered the land in 1921. Georgia was forced to join the USSR, where it remained until gaining independence in 1991.
In the first decade after independence, Georgia struggled with unrest in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which gained partial independence with assistance from Russia. After wrestling with economic and social instability, the country began to stabilize in 2003 due to reforms catalyzed by the Rose Revolution.
Shortly thereafter, the crisis in Ajaria from 2004-2007 and the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 saw Georgia’s ties with Russia rapidly disintegrate.
Since 2008, the country has enjoyed peace, stability and thriving tourism.
Government of Georgia
Georgia is governed by a representative, multi-party democratic republic. The president is elected every six years and governs alongside the Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers and a 150-member Parliament. Georgia operates under a civil law system. The country is known to be one of the first in the world to give women the right to vote. In recent years it has taken a strong pro-Western stance.
Zviad Gamsakhurdia became Georgia’s first president after the country received independence from the USSR in 1991.
Georgia’s most recognized president to date is Mikheil Saakashvili, who served two terms and prevented the region of Ajaria from breaking away.
President Salome Zourabichvili, elected by the Georgian people in 2018, became the nation’s fifth president and the first female voted into office.
Georgia is a member of the United Nations, World Trade Organization, Asian Development Bank and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, among others.
Geography of Georgia
Situated on the Eurasian continent, Georgia’s wide range of forests, glorious snow-covered mountains and sunny seaside beaches add to its attraction as a tourist site. It’s considered one of the most environmentally diverse countries on the planet.
Georgia’s landscape and wildlife is amazing in its diversity: the palms, eucalyptus and jungles of the Colchis plain; the snowy mountain peaks of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus ranges; the steppes of the Yori Plateau and orchards of the Kartalinian Plain; and world-famous vineyards and alpine pastures, combined with diverse wildlife, have given Georgia the title of the most geographically diverse country of the former Soviet Union.
Mountains and plateaus cover four-fifths of Georgia’s territory, and in the West, a full third of the country is classified as forest. Mountain ridges divide the country into regions, each of which has a distinct landscape and climate.
The country is practically divided in two by the Greater Caucasus range, with the Surami Pass providing a convenient connection between eastern and western Georgia. In eastern Georgia are rivers and tributaries fed from the Caspian Sea, while in western Georgia are many rivers that converge at the Black Sea. Throughout the country are numerous healing mineral springs and rivers with huge hydroelectric potential.
Northern Georgia is marked by the imposing mountains of the Greater Caucasus Range, including the country’s highest point, Mount Shkhara (5,068m, 16,627ft).
Central Georgia is marked by lowlands and a multitude of rivers, smaller mountains and forests. The area’s fertile soil and Kartalinian Plain are perfect for cultivation and agriculture.
Southern Georgia is notable for the Lesser Caucasus, which runs along the country’s southern borders and invites Georgian countryside tourism.
Climate of Georgia
Not surprisingly, the climate of Georgia is as diverse as its geography. Nearly every imaginable weather pattern can be found in Georgia - continental to subtropical, Mediterranean to alpine climates. While the mountains protect Georgia from extreme cold, the Black Sea creates a wet and humid climate.
Western Georgia is largely humid subtropical – summer days are hot and humid, with frequent rainfall in spring and summer. Winters, however, are very mild and sunny, with temperatures that rarely fall below freezing. Rainfall is common throughout the year, especially in Ajaria’s rainforest. Along the Black Sea Coast the climate is temperate, mild and noticeably more humid.
Eastern Georgia, while having a variety of climates, is dominated by arid, moderate subtropical weather, with average humidity and much less precipitation than the west. Sunshine is abundant, except for late spring. The region is marked by hot summers and cold winters.
The mountain systems have their own distinct weather patterns. The highest peaks have snow year-round and essentially no summer, and the ranges are known to have sudden cold fronts accompanied by heavy precipitation. Southern Georgia also faces extreme winters due to its highland altitude.
The capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, has hot summers and long yet mild winters. Georgia’s many valleys face frequent strong winds.
People of Georgia
Georgian people are the personification of hospitality, good humor and love for life. They tend to be direct and openly emotional, unafraid to express their feelings. Georgians ae known to be relationship-oriented and while they maintain a certain reservation with strangers, their friendly disposition quickly surfaces when confronted with a smile or gesture of kindness.
Georgian society has been shaped gradually over the years. Traditionally warriors, Georgian people have long operated within a hierarchal society that pays respect to the elderly and holds religious values in high regard. Today, roughly 60 percent of Georgia’s population resides in cities, while Georgia’s country population is forty percent.
In Georgian society, hospitality is of the utmost importance, and guests are held in sacred honor. The supra, or feast, is an integral part of Georgian culture, for it embodies many things that are most dear to the people – guests, abundant and delicious cuisine, endlessly flowing wine and heartfelt toasts to life, health and happiness. Georgians even have several traditional dances that depict relational intricacies and national bravery through graceful and intricate moves.
The mountain ridges that divide Georgia into distinct geographical regions also contribute to the country’s fascinating ethnic and linguistic diversity. Each subset of Georgia’s country population has cultivated its own customs, legends, variations in cuisine and traditional dress. Every district is also known for the unique behavioral distinctions of its native population, be it adherence to tradition, strong work ethic, persistent determination or skill in hunting, farming or shepherding.
Economy and Industry
Georgia’s economy is largely diversified, with tourism, mining, agriculture and machinery being some of its key industries.
While tourism to Georgia from the country of Russia has declined in recent years, international tourism has been steadily increasing.
Arable land is sparse in Georgia due to its mountain and forest terrains. Primary crops include citrus fruits and grapes, tobacco, tea, nuts and beets.
Natural resources include significant deposits of manganese, iron ore, copper, gold, marble and coal.
Small-scale production of machinery, metals, fertilizers and perfumes are also common, as is the raising of livestock, silkworms and bees.
Recent economic Georgia country profiles indicate an upswing in real estate, construction, trade and the restaurant industry.
Primary exports include minerals, fertilizers, nuts, electricity and wine, which are primarily exported to surrounding nations.
Georgian is one of the oldest languages in the world - by 337AD, Georgian had already been transcribed into an alphabet and a written language. Another remarkable feature of the countrywide language of Georgia is that it’s unrelated to any other language in the world outside of Georgian territory. Yet within Georgia, Georgian has many dialects, and three separate languages still spoken in the Caucasus Mountains (Laz, Svan and Mingrelian) are considered part of the family of Georgian languages.
Georgian belongs to the South Caucasian (Kartvelian) language family. It’s the only written Kartvelian language –the other South Caucasian languages use Georgian for written purposes.
Present-day Georgian script was likely derived from the Greek and/or ancient Aramaic alphabet, the latter which Georgian replaced as the national language in the 4th century. The current alphabet was derived through several modifications over the centuries. It contains 33 characters and no upper or lower cases.
Georgian is considered by many to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. It includes sound combinations rarely found in other languages and may have up to eight consecutive consonants in one word. Certain aspects of Georgian syntax, however, are similar to structures found in many Indo-European languages.
Georgian is the first language of over 80% of the country and by half a million Georgians residing in Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and elsewhere. There are no less than 18 dialects of Georgian, mostly mutually intelligible, although the Kartvelian dialect is the standard literary and spoken dialect.
More than 20 native languages are spoken within Georgia, particularly in the Caucasus mountains where rugged terrain has kept small communities isolated from one another for centuries. Minority Georgian languages with the largest number of speakers include Russian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Ossetian, Laz and Assyrian. In Abkhazia, Georgian and Abkhazian hold dual status as national languages.
Many Georgians speak 2-3 languages, with Russian by far the most common second language. English has become more popular in recent years, particularly as Georgia’s international tourism grows.
Georgia is one of the oldest Christian nations in the world. Prior to embracing Christianity, the people’s religious beliefs centered on Zoroastrianism and various pagan cults. It’s believed that the message of relationship with God through faith alone in Jesus Christ was first preached in the region by Andrew, a disciple of Christ. However, it wasn’t until the 4th century when Nino of Cappadocia traveled to Iberia (present-day Georgia) to share Christianity that it was declared the official religion of the country. The Bible was translated into Georgian in the 5th century.
Today, most Georgian people belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church, now a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church. St. George and Mary are revered, and priests are held in high respect among the people. Churches and monasteries are common sights, and the Helatian Monastery, near Kutaisi, is one of the most respected religious centers in the Orthodox world. Not surprisingly, many religious pilgrims are attracted to Georgia- country tourism outside Tbilisi to see its beautifully preserved churches and monasteries is common.
Over 80 percent of the country self-identifies as Christian. While many Georgians attend church services regularly, for many others their religion has little impact on their daily life. Many have a vague understanding of the tenets of their faith and the afterlife. In Georgia, European secularism and ancient superstitions have intermingled with Orthodox creeds over the centuries. Nevertheless, religion impacts the worldview and social identity of the Georgian people, greatly influencing their values as a society.
Today, there is no official state religion in Georgia, and religious tolerance is widely upheld. The local Russians, Armenians and Greeks practice Catholicism and the Russian Orthodox faith, and a small but ancient community of Jews still exists. There is also a sizable Muslim minority in Georgia, comprised of Azerbaijani Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims in Abkhazia, Ajara and South Ossetia. Superstitious and cultic practices are still common among the mountain people of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus.
The capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, has been a strategic city in the region for many centuries. The name ‘Tbilisi’ means ‘warm area’, as the city is famous for its natural sulfuric springs and warm, humid weather. According to popular legend, Tbilisi was founded by King Vakhtang Gorgasali who, while on a hunting trip, discovered the bird he had shot down boiling in a hot spring, and he deemed the area a prime location for a new city. In reality, however, the King likely rebuilt parts of a city that had been founded centuries prior.
Either way, Tbilisi is still famous for its sulfuric baths, known for their healing and medicinal powers. The city also astounds with a unique blend of architectural styles, influenced by Arab, Turkish, Persian, Russian and traditional Georgian tastes. Many of the structures can be categorized into three distinct eras: pre-19th century, 19th-early 20th century and the Soviet era. The unique courtyards, balconies and stairwells of Tbilisi’s homes are particularly impressive.
In Tbilisi more than anywhere else in Georgia, Europe and Asia collide. Known for its friendly people, superb theaters and bustling casinos, Tbilisi offers attractions and entertainment for everyone. The city takes on a different vibe at night with live music, international restaurants, a night market and gorgeous city views.
Cultural monuments continue to attract visitors, providing visual reminders of this modern city’s historical foundations. A 20-meter statue of the Mother of Georgia and a separate one of St. George slaying a dragon reflect the nation’s heroes. Ancient fortresses, monasteries, churches dating to the 6th century and a fire temple speak of kingdoms that once held sway over the region. The Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi Concert Hall, modern cable cars and pristine parks likewise attract local and foreign visitors on a daily basis.
The crowning feature of Tbilisi, however, is the friendliness and hospitality of the people.
January 1 - New Year’s Day
January 7 - Orthodox Christmas
January 19 - Orthodox Epiphany
March 3 - Mother’s Day
March 8 - Women’s Day
April 9 - National Unity Day
May 9 - Victory Day
May 26 - Independence Day
August 28 – Mariamoba (St. Mary’s Day)
October 14 – Svetitskhovloba (Georgian orthodox festival)
November 23 – St. George’s Day
Date Varies - Orthodox Good Friday and Easter (end of March-beginning of May).
Notable Historical Figures
King Parnavaz (331BC- 234BC) – Although much legend surrounds him, King Parnavaz is believed by many to be one of the first monarchs to rule over Iberia in present-day Georgia. He is considered the founder of the Parnavazid Dynasty who helped Alexander the Great to conquer the Achaemenid Empire.
Shota Rustaveli (c.1165-after c.1220) –author of Georgia’s most famous poem, “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” and one of the most significant contributors to Georgian literature.
Queen Tamar (1166-1213) – Also known as Tamar the Great, Georgia’s only female queen reigned for nearly 30 years and helped to usher Georgia into its Golden Age.
King George V the Brilliant (c. 1286-1346) – Georgia’s wise and astute ruler who secured its borders, strengthened ties with surrounding nations and popularized the Jerusalem cross seen on Georgia’s flag today.
Vazha-Pshavela (1861-1915) – Born Luka Razikashvili but writing under the pen name Vazha-Pshavela, this poet and playwright is referred to as the “nature poet” and is considered one of Georgia’s finest authors.
Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) – the USSR’s leader for more than a quarter century was born in a small Georgian village to Georgian parents.