Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wolf-Headed King, Boiled Pheasant and Hot Springs: How Tbilisi was founded

It's been.. well, not exactly ages, but almost two months since my last post, so it is high time to continue with my story about Tbilisi.

This time I'm going to tell some words about the history of Tbilisi, namely, who and how founded this city.

Tbilisi (see the photo by Gia Gvilava on the right) has been the capital of Georgia for fifteen hundred years, but archeological excavations of the region revealed that the territory of present-day Tbilisi was settled by humans as early as the Bronze Age (4000-2000 B.C.).

The earliest recorded accounts of settlement, however, come from the second half of the 4th century A.D. As I mentioned in my previous post, a fortress named Narikala had already been built on the territory even before the city of Tbilisi itself was founded.


You can see here panorama photos of Tbilisi by miss_rubov.

As soon as I learned the word tbili (which means warm in Georgian), I noticed that this word and the name of the Georgian capital city Tbilisi had something in common. As I was told later, the name Tbilisi was given to the city because of the numerous natural sulphuric hot springs coming out of the ground in the area.

According to old Georgian historical sources, Tbilisi was founded in the middle of the 5th century A.D. by King Vakhtang I Gorgasali.

A legend tells that one day King Vakhtang was hunting in the heavily wooded region of the present-day Tbilisi with a falcon when his falcon injured a pheasant. The injured bird fell into a nearby hot spring. When it was taken out of the spring, the falconers saw that it had been boiled and ready to serve. King Vakhtang was so impressed that he decided to build there a city.

Later on, King Vakhtang's son and successor, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi, following his father's will, and Tbilisi became a significant industrial, social, and cultural centre in the Caucasus, emerging as a major transit route for global trade projects due to its strategical location at the crossroads between Europe and Asia (By the way, it is situated along one of the historic Silk Road routes).

King Vakhtang I Gorgasali's reign coincided with hard times of Georgian history. He is known as a brilliant politician, smart statesman and brave warrior who fought for the independence of Georgia against the Persian invaders. Numerous legends and folk songs have been created in honor to him.

In Kartlis Tskhovreba (The Life of Kartli) by Juansher, one of the main Georgian historical sources, King Vakhtang is depicted as a national hero devoted to fighting for Georgia's freedom: "...In his times he exceeded other men in height, good-looks and strength.... And King Vakhtang ordered to make his golden helmet with a wolf's head on the front, and a lion's head and mane - at the back... This Vakhtang built Tbilisi and the city of Mtskheta... His reign signified the revival of victorious fights when the Persians were defeated and other enemies succumbed, because of his terrifying image and height of a Goliath, famed in the world, exceeding all in immensity, since in height".

The name Gorgasali derives from the Persian gorgasar (meaning wolf-headed). The Persians called King Vakhtang the Wolf-Headed because of the shape of the helmet he wore. The name Vakhtang comes from the Old-Iranian *varka-tanu (meaning with the body of a wolf).

King Vakhtang Gorgasali had numerous fortresses built and last, but not least, it was him who helped the Georgian Orthodox Church gain autocephaly and was later canonized as Saint King Vakhtang I Gorgasali.

The monument of Tbilis's founder King Vakhtang located next to the Metekhi Church (see the picture above and the photo by shioshvili below) is one of the symbols of Tbilisi today.