Yes, there’s a country in Europe that is commonly mistaken for the USA state of Georgia! Georgia is located at the intersection of Europe and Asia (between the Caucasus mountains and Black Sea). While it technically falls in Asia, the locals consider the country to be part of Europe. This previous Soviet Union country has an abundance of monasteries, cathedrals and churches, a lot like its neighbouring countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Together the three makes out the Caucasus region of Europe.
Fact is, Georgia is a new travel destination for visitors from countries in Western Europe, the USA, UK and even places like Iran, Israel and China. This seemingly overnight tourism boom is due to natural beauty, fashion, art and alternative creativity. If you’ve never heard of it, or if you want to discover this Eurasia gem, here’s are some interesting facts…
1. Georgia’s Five Cross Flag
The Five Cross Flag has a white background with a big red cross in the middle. The big cross is the cross of St George, the patron saint of Georgia. In each of the four white quadrants is a smaller red cross (the same color as the big one). The white of the flag represents peace, and the five crosses represent Christianity and sacrifice.
The flag was originally a banner from the medieval Kingdom of Georgia. It only became the modern-day flag in Georgia in January 2004. In 2003, protest erupted against the then president Eduard Shevardnadze. Instead of carrying guns or weapons, they carried roses and the Five Cross Flag. The flag is a symbol of the National Movement known as the Rose Revolution.
2. Why the country is called Georgia
There is no conclusive evidence as to how Georgia got its name. There is believed to be a direct link to St George. In fact, there is a golden statue of the saint slaying a dragon in Tbilisi Central Square. St George is the Patron Saint of Georgia and is believed to have been sentenced to death for refusing to renounce his Christianity. It’s important to note that Georgians don’t call their country by its English name. Locals refer to it as ‘Sakartvelo’, translated to “the place where the Kartvels – Georgians – are living”.
3. Georgian cuisine
Georgia may be a small country, but there is an abundance of interesting and delicious food. One of the most notable is ‘shotis puri’. The traditional bread is made in a round clay oven (known as a ‘tone’). The dough is then stuck around the walls of the oven and baked. Only skilled bakers are able to achieve the delicious bread. The oven needs to be hot and the dough sticky enough to stay glued to the sides.
Another intriguing treat in Georgia is ‘Churchkhela’, the uniquely candle-shaped candy. The main ingredients are nuts, flour and grape must. The skewers are dipped in thickened grape juice and then dried in a sausage form.
4. The language & writing system
Georgian is one of four Kartvelian languages. The other three are Laz, which is spoken in northeast Turkey, Svan used in Svaneti, Georgia and Megrelian, spoken in Samegrelo, Georgia. The Georgian script has three alphabets: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli. Modern-day Georgia uses Mkhedruli, which has 33 letters and no capital letters. Another interesting fact is that the Georgian language has no gender. When speaking to or about someone, you merely refer to them as “that”.
5. Traditional winemaking
The ancient wine-growing region of Kakheti is said to be the birthplace of wine. UNESCO has listed the country’s wine-making method as a notable piece of cultural heritage. The wine is fermented in a clay jar called a ‘qvevri’. The jars are filled with grape juice and sealed with a wooden lid. The sealed jar is then buried under ground to ferment and follow a natural process of wine-making. The crucial part of the traditional method is minimal human interaction. This method was first mentioned in 8 BC by the ancient Greeks!
Georgians still actively practice Orthodox Christianity. Georgia adopted Christianity as its national religion in 326 AD – the second country in the world. Majority of the population are Eastern Orthodox Christian. Despite the large Christian influence, Georgia is respectful towards other religions. The country has a number of Catholics, Armenian Apostolic and Muslims.
7. Churches & monasteries in Georgia
There is a large variety of holy places found in Georgia – from the caves of the Vardzia Monastery, to the isolated Gergeti Trinity Church found on Erusheli Mountain. Visitors can explore historic sights like Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, which was built as far back as the 4th Century! Many tourists pilgrimage here to visit these holy places.
8. Georgia’s UNESCO world heritage sites
There are three UNESCO sites in Georgia: Gelati Monastery, Mtskheta and all its historical monuments and the Upper Svaneti Region. The Gelati Monastery was built in 1106 and known as the hub of culture and intellect during the Middle Ages. The medieval complex is considered to be a masterpiece of the ‘Golden Age’ of Georgia. UNESCO declared it as a Heritage Site in 1994.
The historical monuments of Mtskheta were declared UNESCO Heritage Sites in 1994. Mtskheta was the capital of the East Georgian Kingdom from 3-5 Century BC. This was also where Christianity was declared to be the national religion of Georgia in early 4th Century. The notable sites include the Jvari Monastery and the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. The surrounding area is also a heritage site.
The Upper Svaneti region was declared a UNESCO Heritage site in 1996. The village of Chazhashi is seen as an ideal example of the preservation of medieval architecture. More than 200 of the unique tower houses of the medieval times are still standing. These towers were dwellings and protection against invaders in the 9-12th Centuries. The village sits in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains.
9. Home to Joseph Stalin
Georgia is a former Soviet republic and was home to the controversial political figure Joseph Stalin. Stalin was the Former General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. There is a Stalin Museum in the town of Gori in Georgia. Within the museum there is a death mask room where visitors can see Stalin’s death mask on an altar-like structure.
10. Georgians love guests
Georgians believe that a guest is a gift from God. At every supra (traditional Georgian feast) guests are welcomed with open arms and locals delight in feeding newcomers traditional treats. If you’re from abroad then you’re considered to be a guest of the country. Mealtimes are celebrated as they bring people together and there is always plenty of wine and food going around. There is a ‘tamada’ or toastmaster present at every ‘supra’ (traditional Georgian feast). This person is required to entertain, inspire or give thanks. If you find yourself welcomed into a Georgian home remember to raise a glass and say “Gaumarjos!” (“cheers” in Georgian).
Georgia is a beautiful and unique country, ready to be explored. And the best part of all, you can tour Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia with us! Simply go here for more.