Georgia – country of unique spirit, sounds, colors, movements, shapes and flavours. The culture of Georgia has evolved over the country’s long history, providing it with a unique national culture and a strong literary tradition based on the Georgian language and alphabet. This has provided a strong sense of national identity that has helped to preserve Georgian distinctiveness despite repeated periods of foreign occupation.
Kartvelian, the Georgian language is one of the oldest in the world, with its own distinctive alphabet, one of only 14 in the world. Georgian writing was first seen in the 5th century and early example can been seen in Palestine, in the Georgian monastery of the Holy Cross as well as in Bethlehem desert (Bir-ell-Katt). One of the oldest examples is at the Sioni church in Bolnisi, just south of Tbilisi.
Though modern Kartvelian is the official language in Georgia, there are used and other Kartvelian sub-languages, such as Mingrelian (spoken in Western Georgia – Samegrelo and part of Abkhazia regions), Svan (spoken in Northwest Georgia – Svaneti region) and Laz (spoken in Southeast shore of Black Sea, in present Turkey territory close to the Georgian border) – all related, diverged from the mother tongue, but still different. Moreover there are numerous of dialects, depending on region.
Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad.
The Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church is one of the world’s most ancient Christian Churches, founded in the 1st century by the Apostle Andrew the First Called. In the first half of the 4th century Christianity was adopted as the state religion. This has provided a strong sense of national identity that has helped to preserve a national Georgian identity despite repeated periods of foreign occupation and attempted assimilation.
According to the Constitution of Georgia, religious institutions are separate from government and every citizen has the right of religion. Most of the population of Georgia (83.9%) practices Orthodox Christianity and the Georgian Orthodox Church is an influential institution in the country.
Religious minorities of Georgia include Armenian Christians (3.9%), Muslims (9.9%), and Roman Catholics (0.8%).
Ones who visit Georgia will quickly understand Georgia is the country of religious people – many churches and crosses in the most beautiful places, people crossing in the front of them, icons at home, offices and in the cars, lots of holy days accomponied by religious rituals…
The haunting sounds of the Georgian polyphonic song are a highly unique musical tradition, appreciated around the world. Songs are usually sung in three-part harmonies in a slightly discordant style (only recently “rediscovered” in modern music) and echo up from the mountains of pre-history. They express the full range of daily emotion experienced while harvesting, courting, warfare, healing, grieving – as being a simple celebration of nature’s profound beauty. Each part is considered equal and together result in a tapestry in which the harmony is more important than the ever-weaving melodic thread. As well Georgian can be proud of rich variety of traditional instruments.
This musical style is so rooted in antiquity that the Greek historian Strabo records the multi-voiced chants of Georgians riding into battle in the 1st century BC. This music is not relegated to the church and concert hall but is an integral part of Georgian culture and can commonly be heard around the Georgian table in restaurants and cafes.
However Georgian music idoes not remain in the past and nor is it a static art form. Nowdays not only traditional Georgian folk music ensembles travel in all the world with their impressive programs but as well contemprory jazz, pop and ochestral representatives go around the world. Worth to mention Nino Katamadze – impressive vocal jazz singer; The Shin – Georgian fusion band which combines Georgian folk melodies with jazz; contemporary composer Gia Kancheli who continues to make significant contributions to the cannon of modern orchestral music and lots of others.
If you are in Georgia and want to dive to the music sounds you have a wide choice – Conservatoire of Music, newly renovated Concert Hall, magnificent neo-Moorish style Paliashvili Opera and Ballet House in Tbilisi, recently opened Opera house in Batumi, as well as numerous restaurants which almost daily helds Gergian folk music performances. And yeah.. worth to attend traditional folk music festival ArtGeni which is annualy held in summer and being hosted in several towns with the main week in Tbilisi Open Air Museum of Etnography.
By the way in 2001 UNESCO acknowledged Georgian polyphonic music as a “a masterpiece of the world`s intangible cultural heritage”.
Traditional dance is very importan part in Georgian culture – almost every Georgian child learns traditional dances and songs from the early age school; almost every celebration will be accomonied by dances would it be weddings or just occasional gathering in restaurant.
Georgian dances are famous for their plastic movements and energetic spirit. Dances reflect many different aspects of life – they are divided according to their origin and content into ritual and ceremonial, work, game and comic dances.
World known dance ensembles like “Sukishvili” or “Erisioni” present unforgettable performances to local and foreign public. Imagine around 70 dancer on the stage, clashing swords, flying sparks, daggers quivering in the floor, and graceful female figures in elegant medieval gowns..Impressive, spectacular, undoubtly worth to see.
Paliashvili Opera and Ballet House, Concert Hall, Performance Theatre “Nabadi” in Tbilisi, and most of Georgian restaurants are the place to see this increadible dance performance, as well as already mentioned fol festival Art Geni.
The cinema of Georgia has been noted for its cinematography in Europe. One of the most acclaimed Italian film directors, Federico Fellini, was an admirer of the Georgian film: “Georgian film is completely unique phenomenon, vivid, philosophically inspiring, very wise, childlike. There is everything that can make me cry and I ought to say that it (my crying) is not an easy thing.”
The history of Georgian cinema dates back to the early 20th century. The Georgian audience became familiar with the Lumiere Brothers Cinematographe back in 1896. The first cinema in Georgia opened in 1909, and since then Georgia has been a country in love with the silver screen.
The first showing of Georgian films “Arsena Jorjiashvili” (1921, director Ivane Perestiani), “Surami For-tress” (1922, director Ivane Perestiani) “Preceptor” (1922, director Vladimir Barski) was held at the Lyons International in 1924.
Some films were unacceptable for the Soviet censors. For example, the masterpiece of avant-garde cinema “My Grandmother” was banned for 40 years. A film by Mikheil Kalatozishvili, “Nail in the Boot” (1931), was also never shown in the Soviet period despite the fact that its director was a deputy minister of cinematography of the Soviet Union in 1940s and his film “The Cranes are Flying” was awarded the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958.
Filmmakers likeEldar Shengelaia, Giorgi Shengelaia, Otar Ioseliani, Merab Kokochashvili, Sergei Parajanov, Aleksandre Rekhviashvil, Mikheil Kobakhidze, etc introduced a new type of protagonist in Georgian cinema who fights against established rules, laws and stereotypes.
Some movies made in Soviet Georgia in the 1960s and 70s were declared dissident films which expressed protest against the Soviet system through metaphor, symbolism and evoking national folklore. According to the latest surveys, “Giorgobistve” by Otar Iosseliani (one of the most famous Georgian director, living and working in France), “Alaverdoba” by Giorgi Shengelaia “Extraordinary Exhibition” by Eldar Shengelaia, and “Big Green Valley” by Merab Kokochashvili are the three best Georgian films of all time. After the period of stagnation in the 1940s, the 1960s witnessed significant revival of Georgian cinema.
The fall of the Soviet Union and the chaotic first few years of independence resulted in a period of stagnation in the 1990s, when only few films were made. Fortunately nowdays Georgian cinema has been witnessing a period of rebirth and revival. Yet another generation of filmmakers emerged, and the directors who stopped making films in the 1990s returned to the country.
Georgian theatre can be proud of its long history as earliest theater space in Georgia dates back to the III century BC and can be found at Uplistsikhe. Despite a lack of theatrical texts, performances certainly occurred in Georgia and developed into a unique festive theatrical art with taste for singing, dancing and reenactments of epics. In the Middle Ages, theatrical festivals like berikaoba often became a means of protest against conquerors or feudal oppression and helped preserve oral traditions. Satires and folk performances with masks were common in the period.
The history of modern theater starts in the 19th century. Giorgi Eristavi emerged as the leading dramatist of this age and, in January 1850, he established his own theater where several Georgian plays were produced. In 1879, another company was established in Tbilisi with the help of such luminaries as Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli. This theatrical center, soon became the famous Rustaveli Theater, became a cultural center of Georgia, where ideas of liberty, humanism and reforms were discussed.
Nowadays Tbilisi is the city of Theatres, there are based more than 30 theatrical stages – from cosy ones for specific audiences (like finger, shadow, youth, doll theaters) to the huge ones: grand Moorish style Opera and Ballet House, Rustaveli, Marjanishvili, Tumanishvili Theaters, Russian Drama Theater and etc. Every autumn Tbilisi hosts International Theater Festival – where professionals from all other the world gathers full halls of Georgian and foreigner theater lovers.
Besides Georgian Theatrical traditions and culture is widely known abroad and has got international recognition in many world famous stages.
The Georgia’s literary tradition begins back in the dark ages, with “The Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shrushanik” written in 483.
Hagiographies and religious treatises were the focus of Georgian literature until the Golden Age, when Shota Rustaveli’s long poem The Knight in the Panther Skin redefined the art form. The poem occupies a unique position as the Georgian national epic. Supposedly Rustaveli was a government official during the reign of Queen Tamar (1184- 1212), late in the golden age. In describing the questing adventures of three hero-knights, the poem includes rich philosophical musings that have become proverbs in Georgian. The main street of the Georgian capital is named after Rustaveli.
Georgia’s literary tradition did not end in the middle ages, however. And several kings of the eighteenth century were patrons of the arts and accomplished writers in their own right. In the nineteenth century, Georgian poets influenced by ideas of romanticism and nationalism began a new literary awakening. Authors such as Ilia Chavchavadze and Vazha Pshavela had a massive impact not just on the Georgian language, but also on Georgia’s soul itself. Their works, and those of their contemporaries, helped to spread literacy all over the country, and handed down literary Georgian as it appears today. In the early part of the 20th century Georgia’s avant-garde play writes and poets, especially the symbolist Blue Horn Group, pushed the boundaries of the literary art. In modern times a number of new satirical writers have emerged, who publish highly critical and often controversial tracts about Georgian culture and society.
Georgian Architecture in general is a fantastic landscape of watchtowers, hand carved balconies, and richly frescoed churches.
Architecture in Georgia has been influenced by many civilizations. There are several different architectural styles for castles, towers, fortifications and churches. The Upper Svaneti fortifications, and the castle town of Shatili in Khevsureti, are some of the finest examples of medieval Georgian castle architecture. Other architectural aspects of Georgia include Rustaveli avenue in Tbilisi in the Hausmann style, and the Old Town District.
Georgian ecclesiastic art is one of the most fascinating aspects of Georgian Christian architecture, which combines classical dome style with original basilica style forming what is known as the Georgian cross-dome style. Cross-dome architecture developed in Georgia during the 9th century; before that, most Georgian churches were basilicas. Other examples of Georgian ecclesiastic architecture can be found outside Georgia: Bachkovo Monastery in Bulgaria (built in 1083 by the Georgian military commander Grigorii Bakuriani), Iviron monastery in Greece (built by Georgians in the 10th century), and the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem (built by Georgians in the 9th century).
Tbilisi is very interesting city in means of architecture – as historically, Tbilisi has been home for people of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Thus the architecture in the city is a mixture of local (Georgian), with strong influences of Byzantine, European/Russian (neo-classical), and Middle Eastern architectural styles. The most impressive examples of Middle Eastern style can be found in Abanotubani district with its Islamic style baths, and Opera and Ballet House in Rustaveli avenue.
As well Tbilisi is well known for its unique cantilevered balconies of intricately carved wood which hang over the second floors of many of its buildings, and often hung over the old city walls as well. Painted in a wild variety of colours, from ochre to cinnamon, azure to white. The prototypical ‘Tbilisi house’ is a blend of centuries blend of Georgian traditional with Russian classic.
At one time it was said Tbilisi had a church at the end of every street. Although not quite so today, new churches are still being built, from the giant new Sameba Cathedral, to the numerous of small chapels dotted around the city. But it is still the old churches like Sioni, Kashveti and Anchiskhati, that steal the show and capture the full feeling of what it’s always been like to be Georgian.
As well worth to mention that Tbilisi and Batumi are two main cities where antiquity meets future – in these spots numerous impressive contemporary architectural projects are being implemented by local and foreigner professionals.
Georgia has been long known as a nation of artists and as an “artist colony” of the Russian empire, and this tradition has continued in full. Few cities have as many art galleries or as much interest in art openings, and as much public art. Indeed few countries in the world boast such a profusion of and monumental sculpture found in town squares, on bridges and on the summits of hills. Often expressing themes that are an embodiment of national archetypes, our art and artists are a true window into the Georgian soul.
A good way to sense the development of Georgia’s artistic tradition is to visit some of our 12th century frescos at say Mtskheta or Betania monastery, then head to Tbilisi’s Art Museum on Pushkin Street. The numerous shapes and colours of our highly varied landscape find re-expression at the hands of artists in our many modern art galleries. The Art Museum reveals the steady progression of Georgian art from the intricately carved portico stones of churches, inlayed processional crosses, exquisitely detailed cloisonne enamel pendants from the 11th century, many gold and silver icons – to the 19th and 20th century modernist paintings. In addition we have a whole room dedicated to the naive style artist Niko Pirosmani, whose child-like vignettes shed powerful light onto everyday life of the l9th and early 20th centuries.
Georgians love clothing and fashion as much as they love art, perhaps because they are famed for their vanity, handsome men and beautiful women.