CULTURE

Georgia’s unique history and strategic location have given rise to an equally fascinating and deep cultural heritage. The cross-pollinationof both Eastern and Western traditions, when combined with the traditions of the local mountain people, has permitted a variety of cultural marvels to flower. The Georgian language, the only Caucasian one that has a written form, still uses an alphabet originally developed in the third century BC. It is one of the fourteen different principal scripts that are in use around the world. A host of literary works, in both poetry and prose, pay tribute to the rich intellectual heritage of the country, with several works of worldwide renown, including Shota Rustaveli’s landmark twelfth-century work, The Knight in the Panther Skin.

The spread of Christianity into Georgia in the fourth century AD was driven by the decision of missionaries and the established Church to evangelize in the Georgian tongue. Unlike other areas of the Christian world where Latin was the language of the Church, people in Georgia received their spiritual instruction and attended their religious rituals in the vernacular, strengthening their ability to identify with their faith, and creating specialized nuances unique to Georgia. To this day, many of the churches throughout the country – such as in Tbilisi, where there are more than five hundred of them – contain frescoes, inscriptions, and artistic relief work bearing witness to the richly local flavour of Georgian religious practices. The truly splendid Bagrati Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Kutaisi, provides a perfect example of this and should not be missed by anyone visiting the country.

As the global cradle of viticulture and wine-making, perhaps one of the most important Georgian contributions to life in its richest and fullest sense has been the word “wine”, which comes from the Georgian word “ghvino”. More than five hundred different types of grapes are still cultivated throughout the country, and traditional wine-making techniques are still used alongside modern methods. Wine is an essential part of the traditional Georgian feast and is something you will no doubt be offered with great frequency along your journey throughout the country. The hospitality of the Georgian people is best summed up in the saying, “When a guest comes it is like sunrise. When he leaves, it is like sunset for his host.” Guests are spoilt with the most amazing variety of regional culinary specialties, combining to provide true feasts, often accompanied by music and the toasts of the “tamada” (the master of the table).