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A country’s history is not just battlefields and politics.
While it takes millennia of strategy to transform the land into a nation, it would never be possible without the people. Shared customs, languages, food, traditions, and joy—these are the things that make that territory a home.
Due to its ancient history and vibrant blend of influences, Georgian culture is nothing short of fascinating and unique. Before your visit to Georgia, make sure to discover the intangible cultural heritage of the Land of the Golden Fleece can offer.
If you are reading these words, odds are you not only speak English but also understand its associated script.
You see, a language is composed through spoken words that carry meaning, and the symbols we use to represent them. The latter is called a writing system or script, and there are many in the world.
While there are many types of scripts in the world, the most widespread ones are alphabetical. These are the writing systems that use one symbol to represent one phoneme instead of a consonant, syllable, or word.
The most widespread alphabet is, by far, the Latin one. It’s the one you’re reading right now—the classic ABC.
However, Georgia is a rather exceptional country. It has not one, not two, but three writing systems, exclusive to its culture and unparalleled everywhere else in the world. In fact, the Georgian scripts are so unique that experts are not certain of their roots.
The oldest of them all is called Asomtavruli. While no one is certain about its age, some scripts date it to somewhere around the 5th century. For around four centuries, it was the only script to be found within the Georgian territories, until the arrival of Nuskhuri.
Nuskhuri was the second script that arose within Georgia, and it was deeply associated with clerical documents. It’s not a coincidence, then, that Nuskhuri took over from the 10th century onward, as Christianity spread through the country.
The last Georgian script is Mkhedruli, both the youngest and most widespread of all three written systems. It thrived alongside Nuskhuri, but its use was restricted to secular topics. Slowly, Mkhedruli took over, and it became the universal writing system for the country by the 19th century.
Despite the evident differences in each of the letters, the three writing systems have more in common than otherwise. They are written from left to right, are horizontal, the letters share the same names, and the scripts are mostly unicase. The official number of letters of the Georgian writing systems is around 38, but it displays variations according to the language, region, and the number of obsolete letters.
Nowadays, Mkhedruli is the one we recognize as “default” Georgian. Still, Asumtavruli and Nuskhuri are part of the official writing system of the Georgian Orthodox Church and used for artistic display.
If this all seems fascinating and unique, it’s because it is. So much, in fact, that the UNESCO proclaimed all three writing systems Intangible Cultural Heritage.
While it may sound confusing, the reality is far simpler than you might think once you understand that languages have a family.
Like any regular family tree, all current languages have an ancient origin, something akin to parentage and ancestry. Some modern languages share a common ancestor, a – proto-language, and these groups with a shared ancestry form the so-called language families.
In Georgia, all languages belong to the Kartvelian family, with all of them originating from Proto-Kartvelian, a language that experts speculate developed in the ancient political entity named Diauehi.
However, the fascinating fact about Kartvelian languages is that they form a primary family, meaning they are not related to any other known language across the world. Beyond being unique, this makes Kartvelian languages one of the oldest expressions of human culture.
Within Georgia, you can find all four of the Kartvelian languages, although they are not used equally.
The first one, Georgian itself, is the official language of the country. Spoken by over four million people, it’s the one you will most likely associate with Georgia, although some minorities speak it within other neighboring countries.
A second Kartvelian language, Svan, stands out for being an endangered language nowadays. It’s spoken predominantly in Svaneti by the Svan population, rounding its number of native speakers to approximately 30,000.
The remaining Kartvelian languages come from a branch of Proto-Kartvelian called Zan or Zanuri. The first of them, Megrelian or Mingrelian, is spoken by a bit over 300,000 people in the regions of Abkhazia and Samegrelo, while Laz has most of its speakers in Turkey, but is still used by a few minorities in Adjara.
However, most Georgians speak Georgian fluently, regardless of their native language. And while this can be said to be a matter of convenience, Georgian is a matter of pride for the population of the country as it reflects their history and traditions.
For example, a Georgian will say hello by proclaiming gamarjoba. This term is derived from the Georgian word for victory, gamarjveba, and it’s not a coincidence. For a country that has struggled for centuries for its own right to exist, seeing yet another day is nothing but a sign of victory.
Georgia has one of the oldest alphabets in the world, and it’s one of the few primary languages remaining. These ancient yet advanced means of communication make Georgian literature a real treasure for humanity, both historically and culturally.
The Georgian scripts, as we know them, rose to prominence alongside Christianism, making early literature almost inseparable from religion. In fact, the oldest known Georgian written work, The Martyrdom of the Saintly Queen Shushanik, reflects this association. Dated to somewhere around the late 5th century, it describes the torture and eventual death of the titular noblewoman at the hands of her husband as a consequence of her Christianity.
Through the following centuries, Georgian ecclesiastical literature kept developing steadily. Some of the most famous works include masterpieces such as Moktseva Kartlisa and Kartlis tskhovreba.
The arrival of Georgia’s golden era allowed for unparalleled growth and expansion of literature outside of religious scripts.
David the Builder, the king responsible for Georgia’s prosperity at the time, was a famed scholar concerned about the educational positioning of his people. His massive investments in these underdeveloped areas planted the seeds of the future cultural expansion of the kingdom of Georgia.
But that wasn’t enough for the king. Beyond his contributions as ruler, David the Builder also provided written works of his own. During the early 12th century, he composed galobani sinanulisani — The Hymns of Repentance. Eight free-verse psalms that are still revered as some of the best examples of medieval Georgian literature.
However, experts and newcomers alike consider Shota Rustaveli to be the most important and influential author in Georgian history. His epic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin is Georgia’s national epic poem and a reflection of the grandiose of its golden years.
Dedicated to Queen Tamar the Great, the poem highlights the chivalric values of medieval Georgia, showcasing a multifaceted mixture of courtly love, lyric poetry, and thinly-veiled allegories to the splendor of Georgia under the rule of its most magnificent queen.
Subsequent centuries saw a decline in Georgian prosperity, and the countless wars destroyed most manuscripts and stopped the advancement of literature. Subjugation by foreign forces through the years ensured to crush the aspirations of upcoming writers and poets.
However, much like the country itself, Georgian literature found a way to flourish even under the most oppressive circumstances.
The greatest writer in modern Georgian history is, without a doubt, Luka Razikashvili. More well-known as Vazha-Pshavela or Vazha, he was a prolific writer, poet, and playwright in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
His works were as modern as they were classic, producing an evocative mixture of tradition, folk myths, social conflict, and innovation. Masterpieces such as “Host and Guest” and “The Snake Eater” stand out as jewels made in Georgia for humanity.
To be continued …
The musical culture within Georgia is, to put it frankly, a serious business. Polyphonic singing, in particular, stands out as the precious jewel in the crown of Georgian music, as it was proclaimed Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001.
Archeological discoveries demonstrate Georgia’s musical culture dates to at least 3,000 years ago, while pagan, secular, and military music are mentioned by the Greek historian Xenophon, in the 3rd century BC. However, polyphonic Georgian songs as we know them today rose to prominence alongside Christianity, since they started as church chanting.
From then on, Georgian folk music evolved outside of its religious origins and developed as a secular expression of artistry. As a consequence, current genres are varied and widespread, distinguishing multiple versions of polyphonic music, urban folk music, and other categories.
For further details, the International Research Center for Traditional Polyphony displays a vast and widespread catalog of each genre, regional variation, and types of Georgian Folk Music.
But no one enjoys just reading about music without some samples. Luckily, Georgian music has plenty of examples of stunning harmonies, haunting lyrics, and dashing compositions.
Perhaps the most crucial song in Georgian history is Chakrulo, an iconic masterpiece of traditional Georgian polyphony. Originally from the Kakheti region, its importance to the world’s heritage was acknowledged when it was one of the selected tracks included in one of the two Voyager Golden Records.
These phonograph records were released into space with the Voyager spacecraft, containing samples of the most emblematic elements in humanity’s culture and history.
The name of this hymn roughly translates to You are the Vineyard, or You are a Vine, and it’s one of the most well-known chants worldwide.
According to folk tradition, King Demetrius I wrote the lyrics of the hymn during his confinement in the David Gareja monastery complex in Kakheti. The poetry is allegorical, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Georgia as a nation without explicitly mentioning them.
Precisely because of this, Shen Khar Venakhi became the only church hymn allowed by the Soviet government, and its popularity in the Georgian country spread like wildfire. Nowadays, it is something akin to an unofficial national anthem. It is played in schools, weddings, funerals, and in the heart of every Georgian.
Georgia’s musical repertoire is only comparable to its thriving history. A plethora of beautiful traditional songs stand the test of time and keep being a part of daily Georgian culture.
Lile is one of the most famous pagan Georgian songs. It references the mythological Lile, a sun deity in Svan mythology, with the song being a sun-worshipping tune during ancient times.
Another iconic musical masterpiece is Khasanbegura, a unique song that narrates the historical defeat of Georgian traitor Khasanbeg Tavdgiridze at the hands of locals during the Russian-Turkish war. Its fascinating historical aspect goes along with harmonious vocals featuring five voices, yodeling, and the unyielding spirit of Georgian pride.
While Georgia’s musical history is incredibly plentiful and varied, its magnificence shouldn’t make us ignore the current musical scene in the country.
The country, mostly its capital city Tbilisi, is thriving with new talent innovating in every possible genre available, from the most mainstream pop music available and incredible avant-garde mixes of contemporary and traditional sounds.
Amongst these celebrated artists stand out Khatia Buniatashvili, a worldwide famous pianist with an extensive repertoire, including collaborations with Coldplay. Alongside her is Temur Kvitelashvili, a guitar virtuoso that has blended multiple musical genres by adding his particular twist. Finally, Nino Surguladze, an award-winning mezzo-soprano that has been recognized with the Presidential Order of Excellence.
Similarly, through the Georgian Public Broadcaster, the Georgia country is a member of the European Broadcasting Union and thus, a participant of the Eurovision Song Contest. Through the years the country has had highs and lows, with some of its most iconic entries being the Nu-Metal band Eldrine in 2011, and Nina Sublatti’s Warrior, an anthem to powerful women, including the Great Queen Tamar.
To be continued …
Regardless of country, dancing has always been a celebration of life. Naturally, Georgia is no different.
As rich and diverse as Georgian culture itself, Georgian dances come in every flavor—simple, complex, energetic, gentle. These notable differences are because each dance displays the unique features of the area it comes from, showcasing the beautiful blend of influences within Georgian territory.
There are endless folk dances worth discussing, yet three of them stand out.
Kartuli is a delight for romantics, and perhaps the most well-known Georgian dance of all. Performed by a man and a woman, Kartuli was originally a wedding dance, and it’s a visual representation of chivalric values and medieval courtly love.
After the first dance, the man performs alone and attempts to woo the lady through his gestures. They dance together, and then she displays her own demure, graceful moves. Through the duration of Kartuli the couple does not touch each other as a sign of respect and reverence. Similarly, the man only looks at the woman through the entire performance, while she elegantly keeps her eyes on the floor.
The opposite of Kartuli’s gentle dance, Khorumi is a battle performance and a yell of pride towards the motherland. Courageous, acrobatic, and energetic, Khorumi is performed exclusively by men, as it is an artistic interpretation of the Georgian battlefield. It saw its origins in the region of Guria/Adjara, yet it gained widespread popularity in the country.
However, things do not have to be on either extreme. Adjaruli is a pseudo-romantic dance like Kartuli, but less formal and far more energetic and light-hearted. With its bright colors, energetic moves, and playful disposition, Adjaruli brings joy to parties and a smile to men and women’s faces.
While these are some of the most prominent dances in Georgian culture, they are far from the only ones. Khevsuruli, Mtiuluri, Davluri, Perkhuli, Samaia, and many others display their unique charms and are worth discovering.
The widespread popularity and recognition of Georgian dancing tradition are, in part, thanks to the efforts of Iliko Sukhishvili and Nino Ramishvili, the founders of Georgian National Ballet.
And hey—if you feel courageous enough, these dances are some of the best things to do in Georgia.
At the risk of sounding biased, we must state an undeniable truth—Georgian cuisine is exquisite. Its unique blend of flavors, textures, and scents makes it unforgettable and one of the underrated jewels for foodies everywhere.
Its geographical location, at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, influenced the locals’ cooking customs to unforeseen levels, creating a unique usage of spices, herbs, and flavors. It’s no wonder, then, that food plays such a quintessential role in Georgia’s culture and hospitality customs.
Talking about the many dishes and food varieties available in Georgia would take thousands of words, and we all know food is to be tasted and not read. Regardless, it’s imperative for any upcoming tourist to know the staple Georgian delicacies and their mouth-watering virtues.
In the first place, we have khachapuri. Not apt for lactose-intolerants, this cheesy delight is perhaps the national fan-favorite.
Translated to something akin to cheese bread, its name is self-descriptive—flatbread filled with sulguni cheese. Each region has its own version of this indispensable Georgian dish, including the Instagram-famous Acharuli Kachapuri, with its distinctive boat shape and egg yolk.
Another quintessential Georgian delicacy is the country’s take on dumplings, the khinkali. Notorious for their distinctive onion shape, khinkali boast of a wide variety of fillings—from meat to mushrooms. Grab them by the top, turn them around, add pepper, and enjoy its flavorful charm.
If you have a sweet tooth, worry not—Georgia can provide the sugary dose you seek. Don’t leave the country without trying Churchkhela—nuts dipped in a thick mixture of honey, flour, and grape juice. Or, if you seek something less snack-like, give Pelamushi, a pudding-like dessert made out of thickened grape juice.
Of course, this is nothing but a small sample of the wide repertoire within Georgian cuisine. Dozens of dishes boast of national and international recognition, and thankfully, Georgia offers you a chance to enjoy most of them at once.
Georgian wine is unique in the world. Not only because of its unique flavor, but also its production methods and unparalleled historical value. As a consequence, it boasts of an impeccable reputation and remains one of the main touristic points Georgia has to offer.
An incredible archeological find near Tbilisi unearthed pottery dating from the Stone Age. Beyond its general historical value, studies revealed a shocking additional fact—there were traces of wine. To be specific, the University of Pennsylvania found tartaric acid, a residue associated with the famed drink. Coupled with the grape-like decorations, investigators concluded winemaking in Georgia dates to over 8,000 years ago.
This information makes the country of Georgia the birthplace of wine as we know it—an overwhelming honor to consider.
The good news, however, is that the country’s wine culture is far from over. Georgians are still proud of their rich wine, and the drink is intrinsically tied to every aspect of their everyday life. Being born in Georgia means your birth, your accomplishments, and your departure will be blessed with wine through the years.
But beyond historical value, what makes Georgian wine so unique? The secret lies inside the kvevri.
Kvevri, also rendered as qvevri, designates both the traditional method used by Georgians to produce their wine, as well as the egg-shaped clay pot used for such purposes. Despite the advancement of time, Georgians prefer the kvevri method, and it remains almost virtually unchanged from the same techniques used 8,000 years ago.
Georgian wine follows a unique process. The grapes, cultivated and grown in Georgian soil, are usually pressed by foot thoroughly, and the juice is then stored inside the kvevri — including stems, skin, and seeds.
Once sealed, the kvevri is buried underground for no less than six months, as it accelerates the fermenting process and keeps the temperature steady and even. The distinctive egg-shape of the kvevri pushes the leftover product to the bottom, after providing an extra rich layer of flavor to the product.
Winemaking culture in Georgia owes a lot to its excellent climate and fertile soil. A privileged geographical positioning, and moderate weather to match, make it ideal for wine growth. Subsequently, the country has a wide variety of grapes, including Saperavi, Chinuri, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Ojaleshi, amongst others.
These individual grapes are often combined to create Georgia’s unique wine types. Some of the most valuable wines found in the Land of the Golden Fleece are Mukuzani, a dry red wine produced in Kakheti and made from Saparevi grapes; and Tsinandali, a white Kakheti variation that combines Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes.
As you can see, one Georgian region stands out above others as the go-to destination for wine enthusiasts — Kakheti. It produces most of the commercial wine exports of the country, and it lives and breathes a rich winemaking culture. Still, it’s far from being the only one.
Imereti, Kartli, Adjara, Svaneti, Abkhazia, and virtually every other region in Georgia has a unique appreciation for the product, making tourism in Georgia nothing short of a never-ending wine degustation experience.
Step on Georgian soil, and unravel your inner sommelier.
Undoubtedly, Georgian wine and food are exquisite on their own merits. However, when paired with traditional Georgian hospitality, they can turn a regular meal into nothing short of an extraordinary experience.
It’s that magical combination that makes Supra the unique experience it is.
The supra is a feast, but the word falls to encompass the real complexity behind the custom. For Georgians, the supra is a way of living and a tradition that encompasses the hospitality, solidarity, and union that defines Georgian society.
Supras are large feasts consisting of large and extravagant meals, meant to celebrate or commemorate important occasions. Births, birthdays, funerals, graduations, and other significant events in this country almost always include a supra. If celebratory, supras are called keipi, and kelekhi if commemorative.
Regardless of the occasion, supras revel in the social bond between the attendees through the sharing of food and wine. That’s why, beyond being a simple feast, they are a cultural phenomenon with their own set of unspoken rules.
For starters, any supra needs a leader—the Tamada. Functioning as a toastmaster of sorts, the tamada must be chosen as such by the host or the guests. They are usually the most outspoken individual at the table, skillful with words, proficient oratory skills, and must be able to handle their alcohol properly.
The first toast pronounced by the tamada is almost always dedicated to God and Georgia itself, asking for blessings for Sakartvelo and the land they live in. The tamada may speak for as long as he wants, and guests can eat as he does, but it’s frowned upon to talk or drink during the toast.
Once the tamada finishes his speech, he’s expected to drink his whole glass and make room for the next guest that wishes to speak in a counter-clockwise direction. Upon returning to the tamada, he may start the next toast for a different topic and continue through the entire event.
While the toasts depend on the occasion, one thing prevails: the guest will be honored. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a Georgian supra, expect toasts referring to your nationality, your journey, your relation with the hosts, and other associated topics related to you.
Wine will flow freely, and each cup will be refilled through the hours without stopping. Similarly, a large variety of Georgian dishes will be served nonstop, with particular priority being given to the guest. They are, after all, gifts from God, and shall be celebrated as such.
After a supra, odds are you will leave full—both your stomach and your heart. After all, Georgian hospitality is unlike any other.
Known as the Seventh Art, cinema is an audiovisual display of culture, and it inevitably reflects the values, strengths, and weaknesses of its country of origin.
Naturally, the Georgian film industry is a clear reflection of the dynamic, yet complex history and development of its culture.
Renowned within Europe for its inspiring, mystical, and quite philosophical approach, Georgian cinema had one of its most fervent admirers in Italian director Federico Fellini.
According to JSC Georgian Film, the cinematic industry in Georgia was born in 1908, almost parallel with the rest of Europe. Instead of creating fiction, these proto-movies display the everyday life of Georgians in short intervals.
The first full-length film would be released in 1902, authored by Vasil Amashukeli and titled Journey of Akaki Tsereteli in Racha-Lechkhumi. It was a documentary dedicated to the eponymous poet, as well as life in Georgia at the time.
From then on, the development of Georgian cinema could not be stopped.
While the economic hardships suffered after the collapse of the Soviet Union diminished the productivity of the Georgian film industry, it didn’t stop. In its century of existence, the country has released over 900 full-length films, 500 animated films, and over 1,600 documentaries.
There are many films worth mentioning. However, it’s worth mentioning that Nana Jorjadze’s A Chef in Love received worldwide recognition after being nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category in the 69th Academy Awards ceremony.
To be continued …
If you want to talk sports, be warned—Georgians are passionate about them.
Since ancient Roman times, Georgians’ physical prowess and strength have been a well-known fact. Subsequently, it’s not a surprise the country successfully engages in a plethora of sports worldwide.
The most popular sport within the country is football, akin to the trends in Europe. While young men and women love to engage in soccer, the national team is not as successful as the Georgians’ passion. According to FIFA’s official ranking, Georgia’s national team is currently in the 90th position, something that can cause deep disappointment amidst enthusiasts.
But Georgian’s are vastly successful in another sport—wrestling. Georgia has a rich wrestling history, and each region has its methods, techniques, and rules. However, Chidaoba remains the most important one. A complex mixture of wrestling, dancing, music, and chivalry, Chidaoba is the national sport in Georgia and an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2018.
Another important sport for Georgians is Lelo burti, a traditional contact sport that resembles rugby. Traditionally important and invaluable for Georgian culture, it is still played regularly in rural areas.
Finally, basketball remains an important part of Georgia’s athletic culture, as many world-class players are Georgian, including Zaza Pachulia, Tornike Shengelia, Giorgi Shermadini, amongst others.
To be continued …
To say Georgia’s history and culture are tied to religion would be an understatement. Most of the cultural progress, history victories and losses, and overall development are associated with spirituality and its growth.
Most of the population within the country is overwhelmingly Christian, specifically the Georgian Orthodox Church. According to data from 2014, over 88.6% of the population identifies as Christian, while another 80% considers religion an essential part of their daily lives.
Historically, the unfortunate number of religious wars, systematic oppression, and forced suppression meant most of the population had to fight actively for their right to belong to their desired religion. Perhaps as a consequence of these continuous attacks, Georgians remain deeply religious and practice their beliefs with devotion.
However, and despite the overwhelming predominance of Christianism, Georgia remains a reasonably tolerant and religiously diverse country. The same statistics showcase that 10.5% of the population is Muslim, and less than 1% belong to Catholicism or other Orthodox churches. While cases of discrimination are not uncommon, harmony between different sectors is most approachable.
Although Georgia is officially a secular country that separates the state from the church, the Georgian Orthodox Church enjoys special privileges due to the overwhelming influence of the religion and its priests in the daily lives of the citizens, including fields such as politics and economy.