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Georgia

Mysterious Land of “Golden Fleece”

 

 

Area

69.700 km 2

Population

5.411.000 (1995), 56% residential, 44% rural

Capital

Tbilisi, population - 1.253.000

Principal towns

Kutaisi - (241.100), Rustavi- (158.000), Batumi- (137.100), Zugdidi-(105.000 including IDP from Abkhazia), Chiatura - (70.000), Gori - (70.000), Poti - (50.900)

National currency

Georgian Lari = 2.2 USD

GDP

US$ 1650 per capita (1998)

Life expectancy

72.63 (76.12 for women, 68.70 for men, 1990)

State Language

Georgian,

Religion

Main religion is Orthodox Christianity

HDI

0.645 (1993)

Literacy rate 99%

 

 



Location


With the towering Caucasus Mountains forming the border between Europe and Asia, Georgia has long been an important contact zone. Georgia occupies the Central and Eastern parts of the Caucasus. Its neighbor countries are the Russian Federation (in the North), Azerbaijan (in the East), Armenia (in the South), Turkey (in the South-East) and Western part of the country is washed by the Black Sea. The traditions of the East and West meet in Georgia to form an unique culture. History's oldest vineyards are found here; Georgia was one of the first countries to embrace Christianity. the Silk Route linking China with Italy passed though these mountains. Linguistically, Georgians do not speak Russian and do not use the Cyrillic alphabet: Georgian is an ancient and distinctive language, part of neither the Indo-European group nor the Turkic, and its written alphabet is one of only 14 in the world.



 

Georgians

The Georgians are among the most hospitable people on Earth, with strong traditions of chivalry and codes of personal honor. They believe that guests come from God. Friendship is prized highest among all the virtues. It is celebrated in the great national epic, The Knight in the Tiger's Skin, by Shota Rustaveli and which provides an insight into daily life, in which a person's worth is judged not by how much money he has in bank but how many friends he has.
The Georgians are proud, passionate, and fiercely individualistic, yet deeply connected with each other through a shared sense of belonging to a greater Georgian family. Women are highly esteemed in society and are accorded a respect endowed with great courtliness. The statue of Mother of Georgia (Kartlis Deda) that stands in the hills above Tbilisi perhaps best symbolized the national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine with which she greets her friends and in her right is a sword drawn against her enemies.


 

 

Nature
The following legend adequately describes Georgia's great natural beauty: When God apportioned the Earth to all the peoples of the world, the Georgians arrived late. The Lord asked them why they were tardy. The Georgians replied that they had stopped on the way to drink and raise their glasses in praise of him. God was so pleased with their response that he gave the Georgians the part of the Earth that he had been reserving for himself. A visit to Georgia will confirm that this legend is indeed true: Georgia is a natural paradise. Its diverse terrain includes raging rivers, healing spring waters, high mountains, lush valleys, and even a desert. Rare fauna and flora can be found in several nature reserves throughout the country.

 

 

History


Though only ten years have passed since Georgia regained her independence, her statehood goes back to the first millennium BC. Recent archeological evidence in DMANISI confirms that the first European inhabitants were Georgian, and among the artifacts at the Tbilisi State Museum there is a scalp of the earliest human being, dating to 1.7 million BC. Jason and the Argonauts sailed to Georgia to steal the Golden Fleece. Christianity took hold in Georgia as early as the first-century AD, and the robe of Christ is buried on Georgian soil. The famous Silk Road also passed through Georgia and parts of it are still visible today.
 
The Georgians belong to the southern branch of the Europeoid great race and take their origin from the Hetto-Iberians who inhabited vast territory in the Caucasus and Anterior Asia in the third and second millennia B.C. Some historians and ethnographers suppose that it was precisely from here that the peoples of this stock migrated west-wards. These scholars believe that in the Appenine Peninssula one branch of the Hetto-Iberians - the Etruscans - established Italy's most ancient civilization which had  a powerful influence on Roman culture. A similar process was in evidence in the Balcancs where the Greeks came to replace the Pelasgs, the indigenous inhabitants of the balcan Peninsula related to the Hetto -Iberians. That was the case , in the opinion of scientists, in the Pyrenees, or the Iberian Peninsula , where the descendants of the Iberians have remained to date under the name of the Basques.
The Georgian nation formed of several related tribes. The main of them were the Karts, the Megrels-Chans (Lazes) and the Svans. The Karts included the Kartalineans, Kakhetians, Imeretians Gurians, Adjarians, Meskhians, Mtiulianas, Rachineans, and others. The Karts, the largest Georgian tribe, gave their name to the Georgians, that is Kartveli,as well as Sakartvelo, which means the land inhabited by Georgians. In ancient Roman sources it is called Iberia (the Iberians).
Some may associate the Caucasus with the dove which Noah released from his ark during the flood. It reached Mount Ararat and when it returned with an olive branch in its beak Noah understood that peace had come to the world. Together with his family and all living things he left the ark.
If your mind is open to the world of myths, imagine the great Titan chained to one of these mountain faces, punished for bringing fire to humanity. Others may recall the Golden Fleece stolen from the kingdom of Colchis by Jason with the aid of the king's daughter Medea, who was then taken to Greece together with Jason's Argonauts.
... and a new life began.
... In 337 Georgia officially adopted Christianity.
... By the 6th century it had become a feudal state and was seized by Arabs in the 7th century. Georgia was united under the Royal House of Bagrationi.(10th-11th cc.) Before the first half of 1184-1213 - Queen Tamar's reign. Georgian kingdom reached the climax of its political might. Georgians did not only repulse the repeated efforts of the Turkish rulers to regain control over the Caucasus inflicting crushing defeats on their coalition forces in battles at Shamkor (1195) and Basiani (1204), but themselves launched an offensive against the Moslem world. Georgia became the most powerful state of Asia Minor.

The time from the 11th to the 13th centuries is commonly known as the ' Golden Age" in Georgian history. Humanistic principles found perfect poetic expression in the greatest Georgian book of all time s -' The Knight in the Panther's Skin" by Shota Rustaveli. 13th century - end of the Golden Age in Georgian history. By the early 40s hordes of the Mongols hordes conquered Georgia. Economy fell into decay, flourishing towns were devastated. The country was losing healthy manpower but people kept fighting.

In 1783, Georgian King established the protectorate of Russia over the Georgian Kingdom, but in 1801 Russia violated the Treaty, included Georgia in its empire and abolished the Georgian kingdom.
Georgia was declared an independent Democratic Republic (26 May,1918). In 1921it was annexed by the Red Army and became a part of the Soviet Union.
In 1991 Georgia declared its independence and seceded from the USSR.

1992-1993  - War in Abkhazia (part of Georgia ). The separatist government of autonomous republic of Abkhazia was supported by Russian politicians and military and genocide of Thousands of Georgians was done,  300 000 became refugees. Though the Abkhazia  is acknowledged by international community as consisting part of Georgia, currently there is separatist government in Abkhazia widely supported from Russia.

 

Georgian  language

The Georgian Language, is the state language of Georgia. The Georgian alphabet is among the 14 existing ones throughout the world.
The Georgian language belongs to the Kartvelian group of the Iberian-Caucasian language and is one of the oldest living languages of the world. To indicate a place, time and circumstances the Georgians do not use prepositions but prefix and complete words with syllables, almost without accentuation or stressing usually the first syllable when necessary. Georgian written language dates from the 4th-3th centuries B.C. The Assyrian manuscript "The Book of Peoples and Countries" (5th century) reports that of the 75 peoples known at that time only 15, including the Georgian people, has an alphabet of their own. The Georgian alphabet contains as many letters (33) as there are sounds in Georgian language, and that' s way writing is not discrepant with pronunciation: one writes exactly as one speaks. Handwritten letters are almost identical with printed ones.

Monuments
Magnificent churches, massive fortresses, and ancient towers perched on high mountain tops enrich the Georgian landscape with architectural splendor. The cave town of Uplistsikhe (6th-century BC), splendid churches, the cave-monastery of Vardzia (3000 caves), the fortress-village of Shatili, and the village of Ushguli (highest in Europe), with many of its fortified towers still in use, are just a few of the historical monuments that await visitors. It takes a lifetime to see all the wonders of Georgia.

A Country of Wine
Wine has been cultivated in Georgia almost as long as there have been Georgians. Georgia cannot be imagined without wine. Over 500 varieties of grape grow in Georgia. Linguists believe the word "wine" is of Georgian origin, and archeologists assert that Georgia is the place where viticulture began. Georgians preserve a centuries-old tradition of making wine in stone presses and storing it in clay vessels underground. The best part of Georgia's wine tradition are the frequency of toasts to family and friends, which make any visit to Georgia unforgettable.

Traditions
Georgia is a land of traditions, most of which remain unchanged even in the face of globalization. The best-preserved and most fascinating traditions are found in the mountains. Friendship and hospitality are highly valued by Georgians. "Guests are from God," is a well-known saying, which is not surprising, as Georgian generosity is legendary. A guest of a Georgian familywill be lavishly treated to a "supra," a feast led by a "tamada" (toastmaster). No one leaves Georgia without new friends.
Family is one of the cornerstones of the Georgian life style. Georgian families are usually extended, i.e. often three generations parents and children live together.

An unusual phenomenon for foreign visitors is the Georgian table, which has a deeper implication than an ordinary meal. Complicated ritual relationships are manifested in it. The table is led by "tamada", who proposes traditional toasts. Each toast is interpreted by table members before drinking it.

Georgian toasts are numerous but the most important and popular are the toasts to the guests, friends, ladies, family members, relatives, mother land, those, who passed away, etc. You can extend the list yourself.

In Georgia you never drink wine without toasting, which is not applicable to beer. Traditional tables are usually accompanied by singing. As mentioned above, the table is led by "tamada", who is the one to propose toasts. If you want to leave the table (this especially concerns men), the most appropriate way will be the following: first ask the tamada for permission to propose a toast, then toast to the host family and only after that leave the table.

In restaurants and other places the bill is never split and is paid by one person. Normally, men pay for women.

 

Culture


Despite numerous hardships and ordeals, Georgians have succeeded in preserving their nation, their language, and their culture. The Georgian alphabet, characterized by letters of exquisite grace, is just one of fourteen in the world. Many accomplished poets and artists have contributed to the country's heritage. Shota Rustaveli, the great twelfth-century poet, is revered as a national treasure whose verse defines Georgian ideals of chivalry, honor, and friendship. The Georgian spirit is also reflected in its unique dancing and polyphonic singing traditions.

 

 

Music

Polyphonic choral music of Georgia is a unique traditional art form, underscoring the country's art and soul. Choirs like the Ensemble Tbilisi evoke sonic patterns thousands of years old, and bring them into the present with an ear-opening power.

As one of the oldest cultures in the world, Georgia has more than its share of monuments to an illustrious past. Most notable are the early Christian churches, dating from the fourth century onward, powerful structures of stone that have their roots not only in the public architecture of Rome and Byzantium but the traditional homes of Iberia, or eastern Georgia, known as the darbazi. The circular floor plan surmounted by a beehive dome structure, which originally was vented to allow wood smoke to escape, lent itself metaphorically to the vaulted dome of heaven in ecclesiastical structures.

Though the cruciform structure (shaped like a cross) was one of the common elements of Christian religious structures throughout the Middle East, Georgia's innovation was the triple-naved basilica, whose three domes share a common roof, such as found at Sioni Basilica (built between 478-493 A.D). Other domed churches include the triple-church basilicas at Nekresi and Kvemo Bolnisi, which feature three naves joined by arcades. Variations followed and evolved over the next century, such as the tetraconch (four-asped) church at Jvari (constructed between 586-604 and rebuilt several times since).

The Arab invasion in the seventh century interrupted this early creativity, but brought new artistic influences into the mix. The architecture of Georgia has often been called Byzantine, but its influences are more wide-ranging due to its location at the crossroads of so many cultural influences. By the era of David the Builder and Queen Tamara (11th and 12th centuries) Georgia's renaissance was well underway, and again the churches were dramatic expressions of skill and aesthetics. The structures at Mtskheta, the old capital just outside of Tbilisi, are good examples.

Paintings, sculpture and representational art were not permitted in early church structures, due to religious reasons, but after the 11th century a more humanistic tradition appeared. Fresco art such as found at David-Gareja and Vardzia are like windows into the past with their portraits of royalty and religious themes. Mural art blossomed too, and over the next centuries Byzantine and Persian influences penetrated the Caucasus.

In the 19th century, painting became a more important aesthetic outlet for Georgians living under the rule of the Russian czars. Then as the 20th century dawned what became Georgia's most celebrated painter was discovered living the life of a beggar in the streets of Tbilisi --Niko Pirosmani, a self-taught sign painter. He produced perhaps 2,000 paintings primarily as trade for drinks, even after his discovery by three Russian artists in 1912. He died a pauper in 1918, and while most of his work has been lost, his colorful naïve style was once thought typical of Georgian folk art.

 

Georgian Traditional Dances

 

        

 

 

The beauty and originality of the Georgian folk dances is perhaps due to their ability to reflect so many different aspects of Georgian life. They are divided  according to their origin and content into ritual and ceremonial, work, game and comic dances. The advent of Christianity to Georgia in the first half of the 4th century (the year of 337) and, at the same time, the survival of paganism in certain remote mountain districts, have similarly had an influence on Georgian folk dances. In form, Georgian dances are divided into solo, pair and group. Each dancer has to subordinate to the requirements of a common plan and its expression in the dance. At the same time the performers do not lose their individuality, since several dances demand competition between partners in strength, agility, elevation and bold movements. The role of female dancers is an interesting one.

The woman never openly tries to attract her partner’s attention in the dance -  as though she does not wish to be noticed by him. It is not indifference but  reserve. Her features maintain an expression of self-respect, an awareness of  her beauty and irresistibility - and with it a challenge - and at the end of the  dance a sign acknowledging his conquest. In the new folk dances which have  been created in the last 20 or 30 years, a change has been noticed in the  pattern of women’s dances. They have acquired more liveliness, boldness and  energy of movement without infringing, however, on the traditional strictness of  the dancer’s conduct. The male dancers can also boast a highly original  technique for, unlike any other dancers in the world, they dance on their toes  and without the aid of „block" shoes. There are more than ten types of  movement on the bent toes., The most important are standing, the spin, and  jumps on the toes of one foot or both, with feet astride or crossed. In the  women’s dances, in contrast to classical ballet, dancing on pointes is unknown.  The woman moves with small light steps. Her long skirt hides the movement of  the feet, creating the impression of an even, flowing glide. Turns and other  characteristic movements are important.

There are immense gradations of form  between the easy, smooth turn and the abrupt stormy whirling of the body (on  one foot, or on one or both knees) in the men’s dances. Both men’s and  women’s dances have a basic requirement that the back must be immobile  while the legs and arms move, no matter whether the tempo be fast or slow.  The faster a man’s feet fly, the more steady must his body remain. The men’s  arms move very differently from the women’s. In pair dances of the "kartuli"  type, the wide sweep and fullness of the men’s arm movements recall the  majesty and pride of the soaring eagle, the powerful beat of the falcon’s wings.

 

Georgian Folk Music

Folk music, namely polyphonic choir performance traditions have a special place among the cultural values of the Georgian people. The Georgian folk music can be considered unique without any exaggeration in the world music culture. If we imagine the world music map, we shall see that Georgia is a polyphony oasis in the desert of monody, one part musical traditions. The tradition of polyphony has been preserved from ancient times till today.

Every region of Georgia has its own tradition of specific musical dialect and the manner of performance, none the less all of them share the same intonation and harmony characteristics. Here the parallel can be made with the diverse nature of the country. It is the style that occurs in three specific forms from : the complex polyphony found in Svanetia, whereby all the voices follow the same rhythmic pattern, producing chordal progression; the polyphonic dialogue typical of Eastern Georgia with two high voices over a drone bass; and the contrastive polyphony widespread in Western Georgia and characterized by predominantly three-part writing.

Georgian folk songs are generally written in three-part polyphony, though four-part writing is also found, as is clear from Gurian and Adzharian work songs. Unison singing has survived in a few mountainous regions such as those inhabited by the Khevsur and Tushetians, and individual examples of monophonic songs are occasionally found in both Western and Eastern Georgia. They include work, cradle, burial and mourning songs and are sometimes accompanied by native instruments.

On hearing a recording of the Gurian marching song, Khasanbegura, Igor Stravinsky said: "One of the … most impressive recent musical experiences… I owe to… the tapes of polyphonic singing recorded in mountain villages near Tiflis. The discovery of an active performing tradition of music ranging from tenth-century conductus and organum to High Renaissance was a major find, I think, contributes to performance knowledge being even more valuable than acquisitions of more music… The yodeling, called 'krimanchuli' in Georgian… is the most virile vocal performance I have ever heard."

It is natural that the rich musical tradition gave birth to the professional ecclesiastic music right after the introduction of Christianity in Georgia (IVth century). This genre was especially developed in local ecclesiastic academies and schools (Gelati, Ikalto) and the Georgian cultural centres abroad (Jerusalem, Athoni, mount Sina, Petritsoni (Bulgaria)). The collection of hymns of VIII-X centuries (the most famous of which are the hymns of Michael Modrekili of IX-X cc.) provide with the wide variety of texts and original musical symbols. Georgian and foreign researchers are working to decipher them.

All these songs reflect the creative imagination of the Georgian nation, its highly developed auditory sensitivity and complex and sophisticated musical thinking. It is no accident that in 1977 a recording of the song Chakrulo was launched into space on board an American space probe as an example of human civilization.

 

 (The above information is  from the various Georgian web-stes,

 for more information about Georgia see the websites in the section - "Links")