Early History

Archaeological studies of the region have indicated human settlement in the territory of Tbilisi as early as the 4th millennium BC. According to an old legend, the present-day territory of Tbilisi was covered by forests as late as 458 AD. One widely accepted variant of the legend of Tbilisi's founding states that King Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Georgia (449-502) went hunting in the heavily wooded region with a falcon (sometimes the falcon is replaced with either a hawk or other small birds of prey in the legend). The King's falcon allegedly caught or injured a pheasant during the hunt, after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died from burns. King Vakhtang became so impressed with the hot springs that he decided to cut down the forest and build a city on the location. The name Tbilisi derives from Old Georgian T'bilisi (თბილისი), and further from T'pili (თბილი, "warm""). The name "T'bili" or "T'bilisi" (literally, "warm location") was therefore given to the city because of the area's numerous sulphuric hot springs that came out of the ground.

King Dachi I Ujarmeli, who was the successor of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. Tbilisi was not the capital of a unified Georgian state at that time and did not include the territory of Colchis. It was, however, the capital city of Eastern Georgia/Iberia. During his reign, King Dachi I oversaw the construction of the fortress wall that lined the city's new boundaries. From the 6th century, Tbilisi grew at a steady pace due to the region's favourable and strategic location which placed the city along important trade and travel routes between Europe and Asia.


Foreign Domination

Tbilisi's favourable and strategic location did not necessarily bode well for its existence as Eastern Georgia's/Iberia's capital. Located strategically in the heart of the Caucasus between Europe and Asia, Tbilisi became an object of rivalry between the region's various powers such as the Roman Empire, Parthia, Sassanid Persia, Arabs, the Byzantine Empire, and the Seljuk Turks. The cultural development of the city was somewhat dependent on who ruled the city at various times, although Tbilisi (and Georgia in general) was able to maintain a considerable autonomy from its conquerors.

From 570–580, the Persians took over Tbilisi and ruled it for about a decade. In the year 627, Tbilisi was sacked by the Byzantine/Khazar armies and later, in 736–738, Arab armies entered the town under Marwan II Ibn-Muhammad. After this point, the Arabs established an emirate centered in Tbilisi. In 764, Tbilisi – still under Arab control – was once again sacked by the Khazars. In 853, the armies of Arab leader Bugha Al-Turki (Bugha the Turk) invaded Tbilisi in order to enforce its return to Abbasid allegiance. The Arab domination of Tbilisi continued until about 1050. In 1068, the city was once again sacked, only this time by the Seljuk Turks under Sultan Alp Arslan.


The Capital of a Unified Georgian State and the Georgian Golden Age - Georgian Renaissance

In 1122, after heavy fighting with the Seljuks that involved at least 60,000 Georgians and up to 300,000 Turks, the troops of the King of Georgia David the Builder entered Tbilisi. After the battles for Tbilisi concluded, David moved his residence from Kutaisi (Western Georgia) to Tbilisi, making it the capital of a unified Georgian State and thus inaugurating the Georgian Golden Age. From 12–13th centuries, Tbilisi became a dominant regional power with a thriving economy (with well-developed trade and skilled labour) and a well-established social system/structure. By the end of the 12th century, the population of Tbilisi had reached 100,000. The city also became an important literary and a cultural center not only for Georgia but for the Eastern Orthodox world of the time. During Queen Tamar's reign, Shota Rustaveli worked in Tbilisi while writing his legendary epic poem „The Knight in the Panther's Skin“. This period is often referred to as "Georgia's Golden Age" or the Georgian Renaissance.


Mongol Domination and the Following Period of Instability

Tbilisi's "Golden Age" did not last for more than a century. In 1226, Tbilisi was captured by the refugee Khwarezmian Empire Shah Mingburnu and its defences severely devastated and prone to Mongol armies. In 1236, after suffering crushing defeats to the Mongols, Georgia came under Mongol domination. The nation itself maintained a form of semi-independence and did not lose its statehood, but Tbilisi was strongly influenced by the Mongols for the next century both politically and culturally. In the 1320s, the Mongols were forcefully expelled from Georgia and Tbilisi became the capital of an independent Georgian state once again.

An outbreak of the plague struck the city in 1366.

From the late 14th until the end of the 18th century, Tbilisi came under the rule of various foreign invaders once again and on several occasions was completely burnt to the ground. In 1386, Tbilisi was invaded by the armies of Tamerlane (Timur). In 1444, the city was invaded and destroyed by Jahan Shah (the Shah of the town of Tabriz in Persia). From 1477 to 1478 the city was held by the Ak Koyunlu tribesmen of Uzun Hassan.


Iranian Control

As early as the 1510s, Tbilisi, Kartli and Kakheti, were made vassal territories of Safavid Iran. In 1522, Tbilisi was garrisoned for the first time by a large Safavid force. Following the death of king (shah) Ismail I (r. 1501-1524), king David X of Kartli expelled the Iranians. During this period, many parts of Tbilisi were reconstructed and rebuilt. The four campaigns of king Tahmasp I (r. 1524-1576) resulted in the reoccupation of Kartli and Kakheti, and a Safavid force was permanently stationed in Tbilisi from 1551 onwards. With the 1555 Treaty of Amasya, and more firmly from 1614 to 1747, with brief intermissions, Tbilisi was an important city under Iranian rule, and it functioned as a seat of the Iranian vassal kings of Kartli whom the shah conferred with the title of vali.

Under the later rules of Teimuraz II and Heraclius II, Tbilisi became a vibrant political and cultural center free of foreign rule. To weaken the position of the Ottoman Empire and Persia in the Transcaucasus, The Treaty of Georgievsk was concluded in 1783. The Treaty of Georgievsk was a bilateral “friendly” treaty concluded between the Russian Empire and the east Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti on July 24, 1783. The treaty established eastern Georgia as a protectorate of Russia, which guaranteed its territorial integrity and the continuation of its reigning Bagrationi dynasty in return for prerogatives in the conduct of Georgian foreign affairs.

However, in response to this, in 1795 the city was captured and devastated by the Iranian Qajar ruler Agha Mohammad Khan, who sought to re-establish Iran's traditional suzerainty over the region. The Russian Empire betrayed the King Heraclius II of Georgia and did not help him with the army in accordance with the Treaty of Georgievsk. As a result, Tbilisi fell.


Russian Control

In 1801, the Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti of which Tbilisi was the capital was annexed by the Russian Empire in violation of the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk, and decisively with the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813, signed with Iran, the latter officially lost control over the city and the Georgian lands it had been claiming before. Georgia lost its independence and became the part of Russian Empire.

Tbilisi became the center of the Tbilisi Governorate (Gubernia). During the 19th century, new buildings, mainly of Western European style, were erected throughout the town. New roads and railroads were built to connect Tbilisi to other important cities in Russia and other parts of the region and the Transcaucasus (locally) such as Batumi, Poti, Baku, and Yerevan. By the 1850s Tbilisi once again emerged as a major trade and a cultural center. The likes of Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Mirza Fatali Akhundzade, Iakob Gogebashvili, Alexander Griboedov and many other statesmen, poets and artists all found their home in Tbilisi. The city was visited on numerous occasions by and was the object of affection of Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Lermontov, the Romanov family and others. The main new artery built under Russian administration was Golovin Avenue (present-day Rustaveli Avenue), on which the Viceroys of the Caucasus established their residence. Tbilisi started to grow economically and politically.


Independence (1918-1921)

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the city served as a location of the Transcaucasus interim government which established, in the spring of 1918, the short-lived independent Transcaucasian Federation with the capital in Tbilisi. It was here, in the former Caucasus Vice royal Palace, where the independence of three Transcaucasus nations – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – was declared on 26 to 28 May 1918. On May 26th 1918, Sunday, at 5.10 pm the Act of Independence was signed by the National Council of Georgia which declared the independence of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. After this, Tbilisi functioned as the capital of the Democratic Republic of Georgia until 25 February 1921. From 1918 to 1919 the city was also consecutively home to a German and British military headquarters.

Under the national government, Tbilisi turned into the first Caucasian University City after the Tbilisi State University was founded in 1918, a long-time dream of the Georgians banned by the Imperial Russian authorities for several decades.

On 25 February 1921, the Bolshevist Russian 11th Red Army invaded Tbilisi after bitter fighting at the outskirts of the city and declared Soviet rule.


Communist Government

In 1921, the Democratic Republic of Georgia was occupied by the Soviet Bolshevik forces from Russia, and until 1936 Tbilisi functioned first as the capital city of the Transcaucasian SFSR (which included Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), and afterwards until 1991 as the capital of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. During the Soviet rule, Tbilisi's population grew significantly, the city became more industrialised and came to be an important political, social, and cultural centre of the Soviet Union. In 1980 the city housed the first state-sanctioned rock festival in the USSR. In the 1970s and the 1980s the old part of the city was considerably reconstructed.

Tbilisi witnessed mass anti-Russian demonstrations during 1956 in the 9 March Massacre, in protest against the anti-Stalin policies of Nikita Khrushchev. Peaceful protests occurred in 1978 to defend the Georgian language as a state language, and in 1989 the April 9 tragedy was a peaceful protest against Russian occupation and for State independence that turned violent.


Restoration of State Independence

On October 28, 1990, the Communist Party was defeated in the Georgian SSR elections and the government was transferred to Zviad Gamsakhurdia's ruling political organization "Round Table - Free Georgia".

On March 31, 1991, a referendum was held in Georgia, where the citizens had to answer the question whether they wanted to restore the independence of Georgia on the basis of the Independence Act of 26 May 1918. 90,3% of the total population participated in the referendum, 98,9% of whom responded positively to the question. Based on this, on April 9, 1991, the Act of Restoration of State Independence of Georgia was signed into law. Restoration of Independence of Georgia on the basis of the Independence Act of 26 May 1918 meant that after the restoration of the state independence of Georgia it became the legal successor of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1918-1921. Nevertheless, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world states and the UN recognized independence of Georgia not as legal successor of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, but as a successor of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia.

Therefore, Tbilisi has been able to withstand the centuries-old tragedy and is now the most important industrial, social and cultural center of Georgia and the whole Caucasus region.


Historical Demographic Data

As a multicultural city, Tbilisi is home to more than 100 ethnic groups. Around 89% of the population consists of ethnic Georgians, with significant populations of other ethnic groups such as Armenians, Russians, and Azeris. Along with the above-mentioned groups, Tbilisi is home to other ethnic groups including Ossetians, Abkhazians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Germans, Jews, Estonians, Kurds (Yazidi and Muslim), Assyrians, and others.

More than 95% of the residents of Tbilisi practice forms of Christianity (the most predominant of which is the Georgian Orthodox Church). The Russian Orthodox Church, which is in Full communion with the Georgian, and the Armenian Apostolic Church have significant following within the city as well. A large minority of the population (around 4%) practices Islam (mainly Shia Islam). About 2% of Tbilisi's population practices Judaism, there is also Roman Catholic church and Yazidism (Sultan Ezid Temple).

Tbilisi has been historically known for religious tolerance. This is especially evident in the city's Old Town, where a Mosque, Synagogue, Roman Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches can be found less than 500 metres (1,600 ft) from each other.




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