Kutaisi is a city of 150,000 on the Rioni River 220 kms to the west of Tbilisi. It was the Capital of the region in the Middle Ages and is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the World. Not surprisingly, its history is of enormous interest, attracting Georgia tourists to the city as well as the lovely surrounding areas. There is much to see and do for those who include Kutaisi on their holiday itinerary.
Kutaisi Religious Sites
This 11th century Cathedral is regarded as one of the most important examples of Georgian architecture still in existence. King Bagrat III commissioned it at a time he was uniting the regions into a single kingdom. At that time, Persians occupied Tbilisi, so Kutaisi was his capital.
Its situation is in a prominent position on the high right bank of the River. It is visible throughout the City and is a 15-minute walk from Tsiteli Khidi (Red Bridge) in the center. It was severely damaged in the late 17th Century by an explosion and its complete restoration has only been done in recent years. UNESCO recognized it in 1994 but the recent restoration has put the World Heritage status under threat.
It is a popular place for weddings while on Sundays, chants and folk music are part of the regular Sunday activities.
The Gelati complex consists of three churches that were built early in the 12th Century by David IV of Georgia whose body is buried there. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, having been a center for education since it first opened. Murals and manuscripts from its earliest days have been well-preserved. The wall paintings and mosaics add to the experience of visiting a calm and serene place.
Entry is free and those relying on public transport will find regular buses to and from the site throughout the day; it is a 20 minutes trip.
This monastery has an even better location, on a cliff above a tributary of the Rioni River, the Ckalcitela. The complex is just a short distance outside the City. The name ‘’Place of the Martyrs’’ comes about because of the 8th Century rebellion by the Argveti brothers, David and Constantine against the Arabs who occupied the area in those times.
This was Christian land and after the failure of the rebellion, they were offered forgiveness if the converted to Islam; they refused and were tortured and killed with their bodies thrown into the river turned the water red, hence the name ‘’Ckalcitela’’ meaning ‘’red.’’
Legend says the bodies were taken by lions and taken to the site of the Gelati Monastery. The Orthodox Church made the brothers saints.
Other City Attractions
Vani Archaelogical Museum
The Museum is being reinvigorated to improve visitor experience. Its location results from the archaeological gems that have been found in this part of Imereti. Historically, this was the Colchis Kingdom and the exhibits include items from as early as the 1st Century BC.
The Museum is one of two in Georgia with fine examples of gold work fashioned locally, as well as pottery both local and brought from Greece. The name Vani did not exist all those years ago and there are theories about whether the settlement was Leucothea mentioned by Strabo or Surium by Pliny the Elder.
The ruins of temples and old fortifications attract visitors. Centuries ago, this location was on an important trade route, hence the great historical content on view. Excavations are ongoing in the hope that even more riches will be revealed.
Niko Berdzenishvili Kutaisi State History Museum
This Museum was first established almost a century ago and has had two different homes since. With more than 150,000 exhibits, some as old as the 9th Century BC, it is a great place to learn about our history and culture. Roman, Byzantine and Oriental exhibits stand with many local items which include manuscripts and epigraphs, gold, leather, ceramics, textiles as well as typical household things.
Only a small percentage of things can be shown at any one time in a building of 10 rooms on two floors. The Museum’s library has 40,000 books and has collected works from throughout Western Georgia, its churches and monasteries. Most date from the Middle Ages, between the 11th and 15th Centuries.
If you decide to visit the Museum, look out for the manuscripts in the Georgian language, many translated from Greek. You can see manuscripts of Shota Rustaveli’s most famous work, ‘’The Knight in the Panther’s Skin’’ as well as some of King Vakhtang VI.
Every visitor to Georgia will be impressed by its cuisine and its wine. The Market in the City is definitely worth a visit because it is the place where the region’s farmers come to sell their produce. A wide variety of fresh local produce is on offer. There are stalls selling clothes, books, wooden products and household items but it is the fresh food that is the main attraction. The atmosphere in the Market is terrific and you will be greeted by a real splash of color.
As well as coffee and local wine, you will see a wide variety of cheeses, fruit and vegetables, pickles and spices. You can be certain that it is this fresh produce that local cafes and restaurants are using to make their dishes.
The Palace of the Imeretian Kings
You would be forgiven for thinking you have come to the wrong place when you see this relatively small house, but you would be wrong. It was formerly one of the buildings within royal grounds.
The Okros Chardikhi (Golden Tent) Palace is long gone. Successive invasions by Moghuls, Ottomans and Russians saw the decline of the Imeretian Kings and by the 19th Century, this was the royal residence after the destruction of everything else. It acts as a museum these days and contains portraits of Imeretian royalty. A quaint building in a lovely location.
This fountain is the focus of the central square of the City. It was only built in the last decade but the figures that form part of the fountain are replicas of original Colchis artifacts, made of gold, that were excavated in nearby Vani. The originals are safe in Tbilisi Museum and you should look out for them if you are visiting our Capital City.
It is extremely ornate with around 30 statues in all, animals such as lions, deer, sheep, goats and horses. It is rather difficult to photograph because the fountain is a roundabout with constant streams of traffic going around it. Tradition in Georgia includes the supra, a feast which follows a well-defined structure. The Tamada is the person calling the toasts and controlling the event. A Tamada sits between the animals on the fountain, holding a wine horn.
Kutaisi Natural Wonders
The Prometheus and Sataplia Caves
Both these caves in Imereti Protected Areas are close enough to each other to be visited in the same day. The route to the caves goes through dense forest then suddenly in front of you, you will see Prometheus Cave.
Prometheus, legend says, stole fire from the Gods and was punished by being chained to Khvamli Mountain, which is visible from Prometheus Cave. It is a stunning place with wonderful stalactites and stalagmites, not to mention petrified stone waterfalls, an underground river and lakes. You can walk the 1.4km or enjoy a short boat trip to see the whole cave.
When you continue on to Sataplia, you will see the dinosaur footprints for which it has become famous. Guides will explain the detail of each which is likely to be something new to you. You will actually get great views of the City from Sataplia Mountain. The cave is below the mountain and once inside, passing down a tunnel, there is a lovely heart-shaped stalagmite right in the middle.
If you want refreshments, you will find them just outside. Sit and smell the lovely scent of the forest.
Okatse Canyon, Kinchkha Waterfall and Martvili
The Okatse River is a lovely place just to enjoy the local environment. After a 40 minutes minibus ride from Kutaisi to the village of Gordi, there is a path that leads to Okatse Canyon where you are certain to want your camera ready. The Kinchkha Waterfall at 70 meters high is the largest of a number of waterfalls on the River and one of the biggest in Georgia.
A cantilever bridge 800 meters long and 50 meters above the river provides the best place for photographs but there is a pathway up against the steep side that offers excellent views as well.
Continuing another 2 kms you reach Lomina Lake in the midst of a forest. If you want to swim go ahead, and if you want a night out you are allowed to camp overnight.
A second canyon, Martvili, is nearby with paddle boats available to rent for journeying in the shallow water. More photographs!
Enjoy Walking in Kutaisi
Whether you simply enjoy a stroll or want to test yourself with more strenuous walking, Kutaisi has plenty to offer you. Hikers will get plenty from their trips out to the places mentioned above.
Within Kutaisi itself, there are many green areas to enjoy. If you have already visited Bagrati Cathedral, you will have seen one close by, Gora Park. You can still see it from the city center and it is accessed using a ropeway. It may be old, but it is used everyday by the locals. There is plenty for kids to do there and the restaurant specializes in typical Imeretian food. Pioneers Park across the City is a great place for a picnic, a forested area for walking or jogging.
Kutaisi Botanical Garden
There was a garden founded in the 19th Century but what you will see today is more modern, half a century old although exotic species were included in gardens before the Botanical Garden modern development. It includes subtropical shrubs and trees, the first in the region. There are species from all over the world, more than 700 species from a wide range of botanical families. The expansion of the Garden is a relatively recent event.
The Garden is naturally terraced and as you stroll around, you will see species from all parts of Georgia as well as Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States. There are plenty of seats if you just want to take in your surroundings for a while.