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Tbilisi, Georgia
City flag City seal
 - Total
 - Water

350.0 km² (135.0 mi²)
Population 1,345,000 (2000 est.)
Time zone GMT +4
Location 41°43′ N 44°47′ E
Mayor Giorgi (Gigi) Ugulava

Tbilisi (Georgian თბილისი) — is the capital city of the country Georgia, located on the shore of Kura (Mtkvari) river, at 41°43′ N 44°47′ E. Tbilisi is also known by its former Turkish name Tiflis. The city covers an area of 350 km² (135 square miles) and has more than 1.345 million inhabitants. Tbilisi is a significant industrial, social, and a cultural center and is emerging as a major transit route for global energy/trade projects (see Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline). The city is located along one of the historic Silk Road routes and plays an important role as a trade/transit center due to its strategic location at the crossroads between Russia's North Caucasus, Turkey, and the Transcaucasian republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In recent times, Tbilisi is known for the peaceful Rose Revolution which took place around the city's Freedom Square and nearby locations, after falsified parliamentary elections of 2003 led to the resignation of the Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.



View of Old Town Tbilisi from the left bank of the Mtkvari River
View of Old Town Tbilisi from the left bank of the Mtkvari River

Early History

According to an old legend, the present-day territory of Tbilisi was covered by forests as late as the 5th century A.D. One widely accepted variant of the legend of Tbilisi’s founding states that King Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Georgia went hunting in the heavily forested region with a falcon (sometimes the falcon is either substituted by a hawk or other small birds of prey in the legend). The King’s falcon allegedly caught/injured a pheasant during the hunt, after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died (from the burns received in the hot water). King Gorgasali 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 the Old Georgian word “Tpili”, meaning warm. The name “Tpili” or “Tpilisi” (warm location) therefore was given to the city because of the area’s numerous sulfuric hot springs that came out of the ground. Archaelogical studies of the region have revealed that the territory of Tbilisi was settled by humans as early as the 4th millennium B.C. The earliest actual (recorded) accounts of settlement of the location come from the second half of the 4th century A.D, when a fortress was built during King Varaz-Bakur’s reign. Towards the end of the 4th century the fortress fell into the hands of the Persians after which the location fell back into the hands of the Kings of Kartli (Georgia) by the middle of the 5th century A.D. King Vakhtang I Gorgasali who is largely credited for founding Tbilisi (Gorgasali reigned in the middle and latter halfs of the 5th century) was actually responsible for reviving and building up the city and not founding it. The present-day location of the area which Gorgasali seems to have built up is spread out around the Metechi Square (Abanot-Ubani District).

Tbilisi Turns into a Capital

King Dachi I Ujarmeli (beginning of the 6th century A.D.) , who was the successor of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. It must be mentioned that Tbilisi was not the capital of a unified Georgian state at that time (therefore did not include the territory of Colchis) and was only the capital of Eastern Georgia/Iberia. During his reign, King Ujarmeli was also responsible for finishing the construction of the fortress wall that lined the city’s new boundaries. Beginning from the 6th century, Tbilisi started to grow at a steady pace due to the region’s favorable and strategic location which placed the city along important trade and travel routes between Europe and Asia.

View of the Narikala Fortress in the Fall
View of the Narikala Fortress in the Fall

Foreign Domination

Tbilisi’s favorable and strategic location did not necessarily bode well for Tbilisi’s 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 Persia, The Byzantine Empire, Arabia, and the Seljuk Turks. The cultural development of the city was therefore heavily dependent on who ruled the city at various times. Even though Tbilisi (and Eastern Georgia in general) was able to maintain a certain degree of autonomy from its conquerors, the foreign domination of the city began in the latter half of the 6th century and lasted well into the 10th century A.D. From 570-580 A.D., the Persians took over Tbilisi and ruled it for about a decade. In the year 627 A.D., Tbilisi was sacked by the Byzantine/Khazar armies and later from 736-738, Arab armies entered the town under Marvan II Ibn-Muhammad. After this point, the Arabs established an Emirate in Tbilisi. It must be noted that the Arab domination brought a certain order to the region and introduced a more formal/modernized judicial system into Georgia. In 764, Tbilisi was once again sacked by the Khazars, which was still under Arab control. In the year 853 A.D., the armies of Arab leader Bugha Turk (Bugha the Turk) invaded Tbilisi in order to establish a Caliphate. The Arab domination of Tbilisi continued until about 1050 A.D, due to the fact that local Georgians were unsuccessfull in their drive to expel the Arabs. In 1068, the city was once again sacked, only this time by the Seljuk Turks under Sultan Alf-Arslan.

Tbilisi as the Capital of a Unified Georgian State and the 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. From 12-13th centuries, Tbilisi became a dominant regional power with a thriving economy (with well-developed trade and skilled labor) and a well-established social system/structure. By the end of the 12th century (A.D.), the population of Tbilisi had reached 80,000. The city also became an important literary and a cultural center not only for Georgia but for the larger civilized world as well. During Queen Tamar’s reign, Shota Rustaveli worked in Tbilisi while writing his legendary epic poem, “The Knight in Panther’s Skin”. This period is widely known as “Georgia’s Golden Age” or the Georgian Renaissance.

Mongol Domination and the following Period of Instability

View of Tbilisi, ca 1890-1900.
View of Tbilisi, ca 1890-1900.

Tbilisi’s “Golden Age” did not last for more than a century. In 1236 A.D., after suffering crushing defeats to the Mongols, Georgia came under Mongol domination. The nation itself maintained a form of semi-independece and did not lose its statehood, but Tbilisi was strongly influenced by the Mongols for the next century both politically and culturally. In the 1320’s, 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). In 1522 A.D., Tbilisi came under Persian control but was later freed in 1524 by King David X of Georgia. During this period, many parts of Tbilisi were reconstructed and rebuilt. From the 17-18th centuries, Tbilisi once again became the object of rivalry only this time between the Ottoman Turks and Persia. King Erekle of Georgia tried on several occassions, successfully, to free Tbilisi from Persian rule but in the end Tbilisi was burnt to the ground in 1795 by Shah Agha-Mohammad Khan. At this point, sensing that Georgia could not hold up against Persia alone, Erekle sought the help of Russia.

View of Tiflis from the Grounds of Saint David Church, ca. 1907-1915.
View of Tiflis from the Grounds of Saint David Church, ca. 1907-1915.

Tbilisi Under Russian Control

In 1801, after the Georgian Kingdoms of Kartl-Kakheti joined the Russian Empire, Tbilisi became the center of the Tbilisi Governance (Gubernia). From the beginning of the 19th century Tbilisi started to grow economically and politically. New buildings mainly of European style were erected throghout the town. New roads and railroads were built to connect Tbilisi to other important cities in Russia and other parts of the Transcaucasus (locally) such as Batumi, Poti, Baku, and Yerevan. By the 1850’s Tbilisi once again emerged as a major trade and a cultural center. The likes of Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, 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, the Romanov Family and others. The Romanov Family established their residence (in Transcaucasia) on Golovin Street (Present-day Rustaveli Avenue). After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Tbilisi became the capital of an independent Georgia.

Independence: 1918–1921

For a brief period of about three years between 1918 and 1921, Tbilisi served as the capital of an independent Georgian state.

Under Communist Rule

In 1921, the Democratic Republic of Georgia was occupied by the Soviet Bolshevik forces from Russia and until 1991, Tbilisi functioned first as the capital city of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic which included (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), and later as the capital of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. During the Soviet rule, Tbilisi’s population grew significantly and the city became more industrialized. The city was one of the most important political, social, and cultural centers of the Soviet Union along with Moscow, Kiev, and St. Petersburg.

After the Break-Up of the Soviet Union

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Tbilisi has experienced periods of significant instability and turmoil. After a brief Civil War which the city endured for two weeks from December 1991 – January 1992 (when pro-Gamsakhurdia and Opposition forces clashed with each other), Tbilisi became the scene of frequent armed confronations between various mafia clans and illegal business entrepreneurs. Even during the Shevardnadze Era (1993-2003), crime and corruption became rampant at most levels of society. Many segments of society became impoverished due to a lack of employment which was caused by the crumbling economy. Average citizens of Tbilisi started to become increasingly disillusioned with the existing quality of life in the city (and in the nation in general). Mass protests took place in November of 2003 after falsified parliamentary elections forced more than 100,000 people into the streets and concluded with the Rose Revolution. Since 2003, Tbilisi has experienced considerably more stability, decreasing crime rates, improving economy, and a booming tourist industry similar to (if not more than) what the city experienced during the Soviet times.


Tbilisi's Largest Park Vake with the foothills of the Trialeti Range in the background.
Tbilisi's Largest Park Vake with the foothills of the Trialeti Range in the background.

Tbilisi is located in Eastern Georgia within the Tbilisi Depression along both banks of the Kura (Mtkvari) River. The elevation of the city ranges from 380-600 meters above sea level (1246-1968 feet). To the north, Tbilisi is bounded by the Saguramo Range, to the east and south-east by the Iori Plain, to the south and west by various endings (sub-ranges) of the Trialeti Range.

The relief of Tbilisi is quite complex. The part of the city which lies on the left bank of the Mtkvari (Kura) River extends for more than 30km (19 miles) from the Avchala District to River Lochini. The part of the city which lies on the right side of the Mtkvari River on the other hand is built along the foothills of the Trialeti Range, the slopes of which in many cases descend all the way to the edges of the river Mtkvari. The mountains, therefore, are a significant barrier to urban development on the right bank of the Mtkvari River. This type of a geographic environment creates pockets of very densely developed areas while other parts of the city are left undeveloped due to the complex topographic relief.


The climate of Tbilisi is transitional from humid subtropical to relatively mild continental. The climate of the city is influenced both by dry (Central Asian/Siberian) air masses from the east and humid subtropical (Atlantic/Black Sea) air masses from the west. Tbilisi experiences relatively cold winters and hot summers. Due to the fact that Tbilisi is bounded on most sides by mountain ranges, the close proximity to large bodies of water (Black and Caspian Seas) and the fact that the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range (further to the north) blocks the intrusion of cold air masses from Russia, Tbilisi has a relatively mild micro-climate compared to other cities that possess a similar continental climate along the same latitudes (i.e. Chicago or Pittsburgh).

Average annual temperature in Tbilisi is 12.7 degrees Celsius. January is the coldest month with an average temperature of 0.9 degrees Celsius. July is the hottest month with an average temperature of 24.4 degrees Celsius. The absolute minimum recorded temperature is -23 degrees Celsius and the absolute maximum is 40 degrees Celsius. Average annual precipitation is 568mm (22.4 inches). May is the wettest month (90mm) while January is the driest (20mm). Snow may fall on average for 15-25 days per year. Northwesterly winds dominate in most parts of Tbilisi throughout the year. Southeasterly winds are common as well.

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Avg Temperature [°C] 0.9 2.5 6.5 12.3 17.2 21.1 24.4 23.7 19.6 13.2 7.9 3.5 12.7
Precipitation (mm) 20 25.8 48.3 57.5 90.2 76 44.9 45.5 48.6 42.5 36.9 24 560.2

People and culture


Tbilisi is a multi-cultural city. The city is home to more than 100 different ethnic groups. Around 80% of the population is ethnically Georgian, with significant populations of other ethnic groups which includes Russians, Armenians, and Azeris. Along with the abovementioned groups, Tbilisi is also home to various other ethnicities including Ossetians, Abkhazians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Jews, Estonians, Germans, Kurds, and others.


More than 85% of the residents of Tbilisi practice various forms of Christianity (the most predominant of which is the Georgian Orthodox Church). The Russian Orthodox Church as well as the Armenian Apostolic Church have significant followings within the city as well. Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, and other Christian denominations also make up the city’s Christian minority. A large minority of the population (around 8%) practice Islam (mainly Sunni Islam). Judaism is also common, but to a lesser extent (about 2% of Tbilisi’s population practices Judaism). Tbilisi has been historically known for religious tolerance. This is especially evident in the city’s Old Town, where a mosque, synagogue and Eastern Orthodox Churches can all be found within less than 500 meters from each other.


View of Rustaveli Avenue towards the Rustaveli State Theater
View of Rustaveli Avenue towards the Rustaveli State Theater

Tbilisi has a number of important landmarks and sightseeing locations. The parliament and the government (State Chancellery) buildings of Georgia as well as the nation's Supreme Court are all located in Tbilisi. The city also has important cultural landmarks such as the Tbilisi State Conservatoire, Tbilisi State Opera Theatre (Paliashvili Opera House), Shota Rustaveli State Academic Theatre, Marjanishvili State Academic Theatre, the Sameba Cathedral, the Romanov Palace (also known as the Children's Palace today), many state museums, the National Public Library of the Parliament of Georgia, the National Bank of Georgia and other important institutions. During the Soviet times, Tbilisi continuously ranked in the top 4 cities in the Soviet Union for the number of museums.

Out of the city's historic landmarks, the most notable locations are the Narikala fortress (4th century-17th century AD), Church of Anchiskhati (6th century, built up in the 16th century), Sioni Cathedral (8th century, later rebuilt), Church of Metekhi (13th century), etc.


How to pronounce

Georgians pronounce Tbilisi with a barely-spoken 't', so that it almost sounds like "Bill-EE-see"; English speakers often mispronounce it like "Tib-LEE-see", but that is incorrect. The correct pronunciation is T*-bi-li-si. The "i" is pronounced as in machine. The "t*" is pronounced as english "t": aspirated--with a puff of breath after the consonant sound. There is no voiced sound between the "t" and "b" in Tbilisi. Moreover, the Georgian language is unstressed. To approximate the correct pronunciation, English speakers should say t*-BI-li-si, with a light emphasis on the first syllable "BI."


Universities in Tbilisi include:

Sister cities

Tbilisi's sister cities include:

Notable people

Notable people who are from or have resided in Tbilisi:


  • There is a street in Tbilisi named for American President George W. Bush.

See also


  • Georgian State (Soviet) Encyclopedia. 1983. Book 4. pp. 595-604.

External links

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