Georgia (Caucasus) — History and Culture
The Georgian culture evolved with the country’s history, giving it a rich set of traditions with a touch of influence from foreign invaders and minorities. Most of the population is of Caucasian descent, but during the formation of the nation, diverse ethnic subgroups developed, each with their own distinct heritage and dialect such as the Svans and Mingrelians. Culture is evident in national artistic and religious expressions. The local cuisine may have touches of European and Western Asian influence, but it still has a unique flair that is undeniably Georgian.
Georgia was originally a unified kingdom of various states organized under a single aristocratic hierarchy. However, its early kingdoms disintegrated into different feudal regions during the Middle Ages, costing eastern Georgia to succumb to Arab control in the 7th century. From this point on, Georgia’s history was marked by a constant struggle for power and survival against its hostile and larger neighbors with brief interludes of peace.
The 12th and 13th centuries saw the peak of Georgia’s influence under Queen Tamar, but Mongol invasions cut this golden age short in the early 1200's. King Erekle II formed an alliance with Russia’s Catherine the Great at the end of the 18th century, but the Russians overthrew the royal lineage after the turn of the century, absorbing the entire region into their empire.
Georgia gained independence in 1918, though only briefly, as the Red Army went on to invade the territory three years later. Despite the Soviet leader Stalin’s Georgian descent, the republic suffered terribly under Soviet rule. In fact, an estimated 10 percent of the population perished from 1940 to 1945. Protests for independence climaxed in 1989 when 20 people were killed and even more were injured in a brutal Soviet attack during a nationalist demonstration in the capital.
A referendum was held in April 1991 in favor of freedom, marking the beginning of the Gamsakhurdia regime which was short-lived due to the chaotic government. Several leaders came to power, but the country suffered instability along with war with the neighboring nations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Sporadic fighting dominated for two decades, but the situation has been under control since the early 1990's.
Remnants of past kingdoms and empires can still be seen throughout the country alongside great temples, churches and monasteries including the ones in Mtskheta, dubbed the center of Christianity in Old Georgia. City museums give a good look into the long history and the rich culture that has evolved with it. The Georgian State Museum and the Georgian Museum of Arts are among the greatest galleries you can visit.
Georgian culture can be traced as far back as the millennia with many ancient traditions still practiced and passed down. Georgia has a strong literary, art and music scene, evident in its colossal architecture, rich mix of secular and spiritual literature, world-reknowned musical traditions, colorful dances, artistic inclinations, and even in the warm disposition and the innate hospitality of the Georgian people.
Applied design is seen in the beautiful handmade ceramics, metal engravings, wood and bone carvings, armory, and fine jewelry that locals produce, not to mention their masterful art of carpet weaving. Georgian painters are among the most skilled in the world. Niko Pirosmani, David Kakabadze and Gigo Gabashvili are just some of the many notable visionaries.
The country also has a strong choral culture and Georgians are known around the world for their harmonious folk traditions such as dancing. Among the more popular groups in the country are the Erisioni and Sukhishvilebi (Georgian National Ballet) dance troupes and the Rustavi and Martve choral groups.
Georgians are known for their rich literature, which was historically dominated by the church of early Christianity. The publications mostly revolved around the lives of various saints and martyrs, which later developed into folklore, heroic legends and didactic poems. Theater is another celebrated cultural tradition in the country, along with old and new cinema. Georgia has over 100 museums, more than 20 of which can be found in Tbilisi, providing plenty of opportunities to delve into ancient and modern culture.