The newly established Republic of Georgia, riddled by a past of foreign occupations and invasions, is comprised of a people distinct in culture and strong nationalism. Proud to have forged an independent state (with the exception of three secessionist regions), the Georgians are facing political and economic challenges with fortitude in an effort to define and shape what will be the future face of the nation. Gifted in many arts including architecture, theatre, and literature, the Georgian society is a marvel to any traveler. During a Georgia adventure cruise, travelers have the opportunity to enjoy the architecture of spectacular monasteries, beautiful landscapes and distinct cuisine, revealing the character and spirit of these courageous people.
Before you begin your Georgia tour, spend a little time learning about the region’s ancient history. Georgia, while still a relatively young entity (not forming a coalition with other small principalities until the 10th and 11th century), has long been considered a strategically important stretch of land. With coastal lines along the great trade route between Asia and Europe, the land has been colonized and conquered by Greeks, Turks, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs at different points throughout history. Between constant efforts at self-government and establishing an independent entity along with other Armenian territories, the people of the region were rarely unoccupied by foreign nations. Leading into the 18th century, the Ottoman Turks controlled the territory, but Russia moved in, annexed Georgian princedoms, and forcibly seized control from the Turks by the 1870s. Advancements in technology and economic development led to the formation of nationalism and social nationalist movements. The Third Group, comparatively the most radical group formed, gave rise to Iosif Dzhugshvili, a member who later changed his name to Man of Steel, which in Georgian is translated Stalin.
Georgian culture, while influenced by the many occupying nations throughout its history, has maintained a strong sense of national identity and helped preserve a remarkably distinctive culture. The influence of Orthodox Christianity and the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church are evident when traveling in Georgia. Many works of art have been the expression of religious devotion, such as beautiful icons and well-known monastery and cathedral architecture. Continuing in this religious devotion, nearly 65% are of the Georgian Orthodox faith, 11% Islam, 10% Russian Orthodox, and 8% Armenian Orthodox.
The Georgian language originated nearly 2500 years ago. Literature has been a strong part of Georgia’s tradition. Initially thriving with religious works in monasteries, Georgian literature also included works of theatre (as early as 3rd century BC), lyrical poems, and works based in romanticism. Damiane and Anania attracted an audience for their Georgian paintings, and various goldsmiths made outstanding contributions to the world of art in the 11th century. Georgian music is also strikingly unique in comparison to its neighbors; characterized by polyphony, it uses interesting blends of non-Western harmonies. During your Georgia travel take advantage of the local music in the region. Georgian folk music, as well as modern rock and pop, also hold national popularity.
Since Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, a cultural resurgence has begun, including development of many theatres, opera houses, ballets, and museums, though this development has been somewhat hampered by the political and economic challenges the country faces. As they resolve and rebuild their nation, Georgians are eager to continue making great contributions to the world art scene.
Used as the vacation get-away for former elite Soviets, Georgia is home to some stunning scenery. Containing enclosed high plateaus, wide basins, caves and waterfalls among the mountains, a Georgia tour offers its travelers a taste of striking beauty and magnificent landscapes. Containing a rich variety of flora and fauna including the palm and eucalyptus trees along the beaches in the northwest, Georgians are beginning to realize the necessity of respecting the land and environment around them.
Currently the environmental focus in Georgia is lacking coordination and has not yet proven effective. With 40% of the work force in agriculture and 20% in industries such as steel, mining and chemicals, the young country will need to begin to develop sustainable environmental policies. The country battles air pollution, particularly in Rust’avi, and heavy pollution of the Mtkavi River and the Black Sea. The country also lacks an adequate potable water supply, while soil pollution from toxic chemicals affects ground water quality. Georgia has been party to discussions regarding a number of international environmental agreements, but still needs to ratify their policies. While the outlook is hopeful, unfortunately the incredible environment that has made Georgia such a popular tour destination is in jeopardy as conservation efforts remain stagnant.
Georgians pride themselves on the fact that their culinary tradition survived the Soviet Union-era mass catering. Cafes and restaurants are much more established here than in many other former Soviet republics, and there are many opportunities to frequent them when taking a tour of the country. Markets are filled with fruits, vegetables, and walnuts, which are used extensively in sauces, soups, and desserts. During your Georgia cruise you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample the local cuisine, and don’t forget to enjoy Georgia’s wines. Over 500 grape varieties are grown in Georgia, making it a great source of red and white wines that often have a fruity overtone. Meals usually begin with some sort of hot and cold dishes, which may include spicy grilled liver. Roast suckling pig, grilled or casseroled beef and chicken are often served, as well as assortments of fresh and cooked vegetables and sauces flavored with numerous spices.
Predominantly mountainous and strategically located, Georgia controls most of the routes through the northern Great Caucasus Mountains and the southern Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The Kolkhida Lowland borders the Black Sea in the west, Turkey and Armenia to the south, Russia to the north, and Azerbaijan along the eastern Mtkvari River Basin. The country boasts good soils in the river valley flood plains of the Kolkhida Lowland, at which point the country reaches its lowest altitude. A Georgia cruise allows easy exploration of the landscape: the spectacular terrain varies greatly in altitude, ranging from sea level along the 192 miles of Black Sea coastline and 17,064 ft at Mt. Shkhara’s peak. Comprised of roughly 26,911 sq. miles, this tiny country is slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina, with roughly one and a half million people settled in and around the capital city of Tbilisi.
In an attempt to form an independent republic, Georgia, along with Armenia and Azerbeijan, declared independence from Moscow, only to quickly fall again to the Red Army in 1920. At this time, linked with the neighboring territories, it was called the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (TSFSR). As Stalin rose to power, a nationalist movement swept over Georgia resulting in thousands of locals being shipped off to Siberia and the dismantling of TSFSR in 1936. Georgia then became its own recognizable territory under Soviet control. The country experienced a time of public order and high living standards during the 1960s and 70s. Following the disintegration of the USSR in the late 1980s, Georgia became an independent republic in 1991. A period of chaos ensued when Shevardnadze, the elected chairman of the parliament and head of state, pursued conflicts in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions. Georgia went on to oscillate between periods of relative peace and periods of crime, gang warfare and corruption.
In November of 2003, the Rose Revolution ushered a new president into power, Makhail Saakashvili, the youngest president in Europe. After working with certain secessionist regions to offer autonomy under the cover of Georgian authority, many groups are learning to work out their differences peacefully and through diplomacy. With a peaceful outlook, the republic has opened itself up to travel, and a tour of Georgia is quickly becoming a unique destination to foreign visitors. The future for the nation looks very bright and peace seems promising thanks to military intervention from Russia, a US military presence, and huge aid packages from the West. While the effects of the more recent conflicts are still felt and remembered, many Georgians are hopeful and eager to build their state into a stable country.
Currently Georgia is characterized as a republic including the three autonomous republics Abkhazia, Ajara, and South Ossetia. Celebrating their independence from the Soviet Union on April 9, 1991, the multi-party republic has only a few years of self-government under its belt, most of which were filled with civil skirmishes and conflicts. The political atmosphere in the country has only recently stabilized (since the beginning of 2004) and as such the process for implementation of new policies and legislation is slow. The political stability – although relatively new – is inviting more travel within Georgia, and visitors are taking advantage of the optimistic political environment. Currently the President is Mikheil Saakashvili who was elected in 2003 at the young age of 35, with Zurab Nohaideli as the current residing Prime Minister.
Georgia’s weather varies a great deal given the varying altitudes in the country, particularly during the summer months. A Georgia cruise highlights the inviting weather of the coast, which boasts a near tropical climate during the summer. The areas further inland and south are very dry, and in July the daily high averages about 87°F. In the north and at higher altitudes the temperatures stay cool. Yet during winter, freezing temperatures cover the entire country.
Separated by the mountains Georgia enjoys geographical isolation. The country harbors thousands of species of flora and fauna, many of which are of a rare and endemic variety. Georgia travel offers opportunities to visit the region’s forests that cover roughly 2.7 million hectares (or 38% of the country’s surface) provides natural habitat for 1000 species of animals, 330 bird species, and almost 240 species of reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Georgia offers a tremendous amount of diversity, but many species are very rare. It is important to promote conservation efforts to protect the delicate ecosystems in order for the species to thrive.