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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Tbilisi: The post-Soviet city of blackouts and plastic-bottled wine

2 February 2018
Georgian native Mariam Varsimashvili gives us an insight into her hometown.

Located in the South Caucasus, bordering Russia and Turkey, the capital of Georgia is not a very popular holiday destination – in fact, when I tell people where I’m from, they usually have no clue about its location, and some have never even heard of it. This is partly due to its history; the city has, for the better part of the last few centuries, been occupied by rival empires, from Roman and Persian to Ottoman and Russian, only seeing brief glimpses of freedom.

The most recent influence on the city has been the Russian rule, an era which has left the tall, grey building blocks characteristic of Soviet architecture. The buildings give the impression of the gloomy period; out of place and strange next to some of the glassy, modern buildings which scream of newness – an almost unsettling erasure of the past and a nod to a new age.

The mixture of influences in architecture can be seen in all parts of the city. Old Town, one of the most unique areas in the city, contains buildings dating back to the 5th century up to the 19th, when parts of it were rebuilt after the Persian invasion tore it to pieces. You can see the panoramic view of it from Narikala Fortress, initially a Persian citadel built in the 4th century. You can dive deep into the crumbling gates and walls of narrow, cobblestone streets that demand the uncovering of old secrets.

The consequences of turbulent history are reflected in the traditions and culture of Georgia. This is perhaps most interestingly portrayed in traditional dance depicting war, battlefields and competition. In one such dance, Xanjluri, male dancers in red chokas pace and fly across the stage with daggers in a series of energetic, complicated movements. The focal point of the dance is the spinning dancers throwing knives in to the stage with clean precision, then proceeding to dance on the same stage, urged on by the upbeat drums – a performance that evokes feelings of courage and awe.

But probably the best thing about Tbilisi is the food. Among the most popular and delicious is xinkali, meat dumplings, and acharuli xachapuri, a boat–shaped cheese pie, with egg and butter in the middle. As a tourist, you will be lucky to avoid the table etiquette – a bizarre display of hospitality. If you do get invited to a supra (basically a wild, drunken dinner party) and have ever experienced being forced to eat by your grandmother, then you’ll easily get accustomed to the constant wine being poured from a plastic bottle, usually homemade by the tamada (the one who is in charge and proposes toasts) and being forced to drink it to the bottom. The only ways of getting out of this is coming up with a convincing lie about some fatal health condition, or the electricity going out in your favour, leaving you with a chance of escape.

Words, Mariam Varsimashvili

Pics, Wiki Commons