History of Tbilisi

History of Tbilisi: Narikala Fortress

Tbilisi's rich history spans over 1500 years. Legend has it that in 458 A.D., the Iberian monarch Vakhtang Gorgasali laid the foundation for the city. Yet, archaeological evidence suggests that there were already settlements in present-day Tbilisi even before King Gorgasali's reign. Its prime location, nestled between Metekh Rock and Sololak Ridge and next to sulfur springs, made it a place of great strategic value. The flowing Kura River linked the city to eastern Georgian cities and the lush valleys of Kakheti. Perhaps King Gorgasali's vision was to safeguard this vital region and oversee its surroundings.

After King Gorgasali's passing in 506 AD, his legacy continued through his son Dachi, who constructed the Anchishkhati temple – now the oldest building in Tbilisi – and cemented Tbilisi's role as the capital. The following years saw a series of rulers. However, in 580, following the death of King Bakur III, Persian forces invaded and began their occupation of Georgian territory.

The 6th century also saw the arrival of 13 Assyrian elders who played a pivotal role in promoting Christianity across Georgia. Notably, St. David of Gareji settled in Mtatsminda, eventually founding the iconic David Gareji Monastery in southern Kakheti.

The century concluded with territorial clashes between Iran and Byzantium. Tbilisi likely witnessed some of these skirmishes. By 591, a peace treaty divided Iberia between the two empires. Stefanoz, who descended from King Gorgasali, governed during this period and is renowned for erecting the Jvari temple near Mtskheta.

By the mid-7th century, Iberia fell under the rule of the Arab Caliphate, leading to the establishment of the Emirate of Tbilisi, an Islamic state in Georgia that persisted in various forms until the 12th century. While initially expansive, the emirate's territories contracted over time. Eventually, the emirate's power dwindled, and in 1122, King David VI led Georgian forces to reclaim Tbilisi, ushering in Georgia's Golden Age.
In Georgia's zenith, the nation flourished in diverse fields, from military conquests to a renaissance in art, architecture, and literature. Iconic landmarks like the Gelati Monastery near Kutaisi were established under the leadership of David the Builder.

When David the Builder took the helm in Tbilisi, he showcased remarkable acumen. Rather than driving out the substantial Muslim and Jewish communities, he gave them tax breaks, leveraging their trade skills to boost the city's economy. Historians believe that it was during David's reign that a royal palace, eventually doomed for demolition, stood on Metech rock. His granddaughter, Queen Tamara, might have commissioned the neighboring temple. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, Tbilisi witnessed the rise of numerous religious edifices. However, only a trio – Zion Cathedral, Metekhi Church, and the Blue Monastery in Vere park – remain intact today.

For nearly 350 years, Tbilisi enjoyed a peaceful existence, untouched by quakes or invaders. But in 1221, the Khorezmians, Central Asian natives with no previous stake in Transcaucasia, turned their expansionist gaze westwards. With Queen Tamara's passing, her daughter, Queen Rusudan, assumed leadership. Tbilisi soon found itself under siege by the Khorezmians, culminating in its defense forces pulling back. The invaders enslaved around 10,000 residents, pressuring them to forsake Christianity for Islam. Legends tell of icons of saints strewn on Metekh bridge, compelling a throng to tread on them. Those who defied were executed, their corpses flung into the Kura River. These martyrs, later sanctified, were memorialized in 2009 with a chapel by Metekh rock. Tbilisi suffered extensively at the hands of the Khorezmians – looted and left in ruins. When the Mongols came knocking in 1236, there was little left to plunder. Then, in 1366, the bubonic plague decimated the remaining populace.

As centuries rolled on, Tbilisi remained a target for many, lured by Georgia's bountiful lands. Shah Abbas's invasion in the early 17th century stands out, marked by pillage, captivation, and forced conversions. It was only when Rostom Khan Bagrationi, a Persian-descended Georgian, ascended the throne that these relentless assaults halted.

Under King Rostom's guidance, Tbilisi's iconic Narikala Fortress was rejuvenated. Furthermore, during this period, Georgia fostered ties with Iran, ushering in nearly a century of peace. Slowly but surely, Tbilisi emerged from its ruins. The Anchiskhati church, a vestige from the 13th century, remained partly intact, its walls bearing testimony to its origin. King Rostom played a pivotal role in its revival.

The 18th century proved tumultuous for Tbilisi. Invasions and relentless raids took their toll on the city and its historical markers. The Battle of Krtsanisi, between September 8-11, 1795, was particularly devastating. Under the aggression of Agha-Mohammed Khan's Iranian army, Tbilisi was nearly obliterated. To shield the nation from perpetual warfare, Tsar Irakli II sought the protective umbrella of the Russian Empire.
The 19th century heralded a phase of renewal. As Tbilisi was reconstructed, what we now recognize as the old city took shape. The affluent Sololaki district sprang up, characterized by ornate mansions. Rustaveli Avenue etched its mark on the city's landscape. As the city rejuvenated, its rhythm of life began to harmonize.

In 1829, the famed Pushkin graced Tbilisi. His presence considerably bolstered the city's profile across the Russian Empire. Until then, Tbilisi was predominantly familiar to military personnel. But following Pushkin's visit, Tbilisi started attracting the elite, furthering its growth and investment potential.

After 1917's revolution, Tbilisi emerged as the Georgian Republic's capital within the USSR. The city underwent significant transformation during this era. Notable landmarks like the Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky were demolished, making way for modern structures like Georgia's Parliament building. The Soviet era also spawned various residential projects, with a majority of Tbilisi's current structures dating back to this period. Amidst these changes, several architectural gems from the modernist movement emerged, including the Ministry of Roads building, the Palace of Solemn Rites, and the Technical Library.

Post-USSR's collapse, Tbilisi experienced a military upheaval, referred to as the Tbilisi War, from December 20, 1991, to January 6, 1992. The aftermath saw Eduard Shevardnadze assume Georgia's presidency, only to be succeeded by Mikhail Saakashvili post the "Rose Revolution" in 2003. Saakashvili's era was marked by numerous contemporary infrastructural additions to the cityscape, some even in close proximity to historical hubs.

Today, Tbilisi stands as a thriving metropolis, continuously evolving. With every passing year, it inches closer to becoming an epitome of comfort and modernity.