9 Things You Need to Know about the Republic of Georgia

For the past three months, I have been living and working in Georgia — the country, not the state — as a part of Northeastern's co-op program. From the moment I found out I got the position as an editorial assistant at OC Media (a job and company I highly recommend!), I have received numerous questions about Georgia. For everyone wondering about the basics of this country, here are 9 things you need to know:

1. Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia

One of the most frequent questions I get about Georgia is "Where is that?" Usually I show people a map, and describe that it lies on the Black Sea and is bordered by Turkey, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. But then comes the second question: "Is it a part of Europe?" While the answer depends on how you define Europe, most Georgians would consider themselves Europeans — the country is a member state of the Council of Europe and they hope to join the European Union one day. However, the country has also been considered a part of Asia and historically, it spent many years under Persian and Ottoman rule, giving it a very unique cultural atmosphere today. 

2. Georgia has its own language and script

The Georgian language is one of the oldest in the world is not related to any other language. The script dates back to the 3rd century BC, but has changed through the centuries, as has the language itself. Though I have been here for close to three months already, I have not learned the alphabet and can only say hello (Gamarjoba – გამარჯობა) and thank you (Madloba – მადლობა). Did I mention that there are three different ways to say a K sound and that words can feature up to five consants in a row? Here is a music video to give you a feel of what the language sounds like:

3. Over 80% of Georgians belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church

Christianity became the state religion in the 3rd century AD, following the baptism of King Mirian III and his wife, the queen, by Saint Nino. Today, the Georgian Orthodox Church, Georgia's dominant religious institution, is still highly influential in the country. Religious traditions are still important to follow, including that women must cover their hair when entering a church, something common throughout the Eastern Orthodox Churches. 

4. Georgia has both amazing mountain ranges...

While Georgia might not be the first place you think of when you think of amazing mountain ranges, there are plenty of things that make the Caucasus mountains special. There are numerous ski resorts for the winter, and in the summer you can hike through the mountains to see glaciers and take in the fresh mountain air. Some of the most scenic locations in Georgia lie in the mountain ranges bordering Russia and are well worth a visit. 

5. ...and an amazing coast on the Black Sea

If mountains aren't your thing, Georgia also lies on the Black Sea. There are numerous resort towns where you can spend some relaxing days on the coast, the most famous of which is Batumi, also known as the "Pearl of the Black Sea". 

6. Georgia has a long history

People have been living in Georgia since the Paleolithic Era, meaning there are quite a few archeological and historical sites across the country. This includes numerous cave cities, such as Uplitskhe and Vardzia, which were only abandoned during the Ottoman and Safavid Iran invasions in the sixteenth century AD. Georgia even had a Golden Age, lasting from the 12th to early 13th centuries AD, during which Georgia was ruled by King Tamar, who was the first woman to rule Georgia in her own right. Many of the traditions and motifs from early times have continued to this day.  

7. Georgia was a part of the USSR

A not-so-fun fact about Georgia is that it was the birthplace of Jospeh Stalin, or Iosif Besarionis Dze Jugashvili as he was known then. In 1921, the Red Army advanced into Georgia and the previously independent state (which gained independence from Russia only in 1918) eventually became a part of the Soviet Union. In the spring of 1991, Georgia declared independence, kicking off a civil war that lasted until 1995. 

Though Georgia has since become a quite liberal, Capitalist state, there are still many relics of its Soviet past around the country, from the Soviet-era apartment buildings that dominate city skylines to murals and sculputures depicting the Soviet dream. Even Mother Georgia, a sculpture that overlooks Tbilisi, dates from the Soviet period. 

8. You can't go wrong with Georgian cuisine

There is so much variety in Georgian cuisine that there is sure to be something for everyone. Here are a few of the most famous dishes:

  • Pkhali — A mix of vegetables (with a base of usually spinach, beetroot, or white beans) and walnut paste that is then topped with a pomegranate seed
  • Khinkali — A Georgian dumpling that usually has a filling of spiced meat and broth, though you can also get mushroom and potato khinkali as well
  • Khachapuri —A cheese-filled bread whose shape depends on the region it comes from. Imeretian khachapuri is circular and is reminiscent of a pizza while in an Adjarian khachapuri, the bread is shaped like a boat and is topped with a raw egg
  • Lobio — A traditional dish of stewed beans that come in a clay pot. This mix can also be stuffed into a pastry to make lobiani. 
  • Shkmeruli — A chicken dish featuring a garlic and cream sauce
  • Churchkhela — A Georgian candy made of nuts (usually walnuts or hazelnuts) that are threaded onto a string and dipped into a thickened fruit juice (usually grape) before being hung to dry

9. Georgia has been producing wine for over 8,000 years

Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, and wine is inseparable from the country's national identity. In 2013, UNESCO added the Georgian wine-making method, which consists of using clay pots known as qveri, to their heritage list. There are numerous grape varieties that are only found in Georgia, and the majority of wines are not exported outside of the country, making it hard to get outside of Georgia. Some of the best wine is homemade in small batches by families and then sold for only ₾10 ($3.50) in large soda bottles. Wine also makes up an important part of the supra (Georgian feast), where a tamada (a toast-master) must constantly gives speeches that everyone toasts to. 

I hope by reading this small list, you have gained little more knowledge about tourism in Georgia and why it is a country well worth visiting. Luckily, while it may seem far away, flights are not that expensive...and hey, summer is on the horizon.