Tbilisi, Georgia – Day 2 of 3

Today is the second day of exploring Tbilisi. After a somewhat restless sleep I woke up at 8:00am to my alarm. I was to have a complimentary breakfast, however the receptionist was sleeping, so I didn’t want to disturb her. I instead started my day of adventure, and would source out some food later on.

I walked towards Freedom Square, where I would catch a bus to my second stop, Vale Park. Freedom Square was dressed in full Christmas attire, and looked very beautiful. Freedom Square is located at the eastern end of Rustaveli Avenue. It was originally named after Ivan Paskevich, Count of Erivan, a general in the Russian Imperial Army. During the Soviet era, the square was renamed twice; first to Beria Square, and then Lenin Square. The location was eventually renamed to Freedom Square in 1918 during the foundation of the First Georgian Republic following the collapse of the Russian Empire. The square was the site of the 1907 Tiflis Bank Robbery, as well as many mass demonstrations including the Georgian Independence from the Soviet Union, and the Rose Revolution in 2003.

Before boarding the bus to my next stop I needed to acquire a reloadable transit card, which I obtained from the nearby Metro station. A 1 Day transit credit on the card only cost me about $1.50. After acquiring my transit card I boarded the bus to Vale Park, about 20 minutes away. When I got off the bus I noticed two beautiful stacked spiraling buildings called the Pullman Axis Towers. They’re pretty unique looking, and remind me of the Telus Sky Tower in Calgary.

Vake Park is situated on the slope of the Trialeti Range in the central district of Tbilisi. It was opened in 1946 and consists of over 200 hectares of green space. The park consists of a massive central staircase, a World War II memorial (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), and a round pool. Inside Vale Park is the Circle of Woof Woof, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is a memorial commemorating the hundreds of thousands of Georgian soldiers who serviced and died in the Red Army during World War II. It was unveiled in 1981 and designed by Georgian sculptor Giorgi Ochiauri. It’s currently under renovation, however I still was able to snap a photo.

I was starting to get hungry so I walked across the street to Spar to purchase an apple and mandarin orange. Georgian apples are absolutely delicious. They’re not quite as crisp as our apples, and are fairly sweet.

Next stop was an abandoned parking garage, about 20 minutes away. This Circular Parking Garage is an excellent example of soviet brutalism (modernism) architecture. It was built in 1970 and designed by G. Kurdiani, V. Aleksi-Meskhishvili, and G. Mebuke. I would have liked to take more photos, however I was asked to leave by a security guard.

A short walk away is The Bank of Georgia Headquarters Building (formerly Highways Ministry). It is a beautiful 18-storey brutalism (modernism) style building that was designed by architects George Chakhava and Zurab Jalaghania. The building was originally built for the Highways Ministry in 1975, and sold to the Bank of Georgia in 2007. The structure consists of a grid of interlocking concrete forms; five horizontal parts with two stories each stacked on top of one another. Three parts are oriented in an east-west axis, and two are in a north-south oriented axis. The structure rests on and hangs from three cores. The design is based on a concept named the “Space City Method”, which has been utilized by other architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, who I’m very favorable. Frank Lloyd Wright used this same idea at his Fallingwater building, which was built in 1935.

Right next door is the Radio Holding Fortuna building, which is a brutalism (modernist) style structure that was built in 1973 under USSR ruling. The building was designed by S. Kavlashvili, G. Djanebirdze and S. Katsitadze and was originally used as a Power Control Centre.

Another short walk away through what I dubbed as the car repair district, is Expo Georgia. Expo Georgia, formerly the Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy, is an exhibition centre that consists of 11 pavilions, and an entrance building. It was designed by D. Papinashvili, Levan Mamaladze, Vladim Nasaridze and V. Peykrishschwili, and built between 1960 and 1971. In 1990 the site was privatized and renamed Expo Georgia. While taking photos here I was kicked off site by a security guard. I’m honestly unsure why, because its not even a government building. I was able to snap a few shots before this happened though.

I then took a bus to see the Art Palace of Georgia. The palace houses the Museum of Cultural History. The building houses over 300000 Georgian cultural objects! The history of the building was an interesting story. In 1882 a German Prince named Constantine Olderburg met a lady named Agraphina Japaridze in the Georgian city of Kutaisi. At the time Agraphina was married to another Georgian nobleman from the House of Dadiani, but that didn’t stop Prince Oldeburg. He confessed his love for her, they eloped and left Kutaisi and went to settle in Tbilisi. He commissioned the building of a palace for her. In 1927 the building was turned into the Museum of Theatre, and in 2020 renamed to its current name. I didn’t go inside as I had other museums higher on my list that I’d like to see.

Another short bus ride away was Tbilisi Sports Palace. The Tbilisi Sports Palace is an indoor sports arena that was constructed in 1961 under former Soviet Ruling. The brutalism (modernism) style building was designed by Vladimir Aleksi-Meskhishvili, Yuri Kasradze, Temo Japaridze, and David Kajaia. The arena is primarily used by the local basketball team called the Dinamo Tbilisi. The 11000 seat arena was renovated in 2007 at a cost of about $5 million USD, however retains most of its former glory.

I was starting to get hungry at this point in time, so I picked up a Subway sandwich next door, along with a coffee, my first of the day. I’m surprised I lasted that long!

It was then time to try out the Metro for the first time. Tbilisi’s metro system consists of two lines, with only 23 stations. One of them runs up the length of the river (North-South), and the other runs East-West. Construction of the system began in 1952, and Tbilisi was the only former USSR city where the construction of the Metro system started before the city hit 1 million people. This was due to the importance of the city being a cultural and political hub. The Metro was opened in January 1966, and was the fourth metro system to be built in the USSR, following Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Kiev. After the fall of the Soviet Union most of the Soviet-era station names were changed, however due to financial difficulties this meant that the renaming took some time. The metro has been very underfunded since the fall of Soviet Union, and this is reflected in the physical presence of the stations, where lights are just hanging off of a wire, and its dark and drab. The metro even shut down at times in the early 1990’s due to lack of being able to afford electricity. The majority of the rolling stock is still the standard rolling stock from when the system opened, however they’ve been slightly refreshed about ten years ago.

I ended up taking the Metro back to Freedom Square, where I started to walk around Old Tbilisi. I saw some of the few remaining portions of the Old Tbilisi Wall, which consists of many layers of different eras. There are a few restaurants that have integrated themselves into the walls, which was neat to see.

Along the remaining walled section there is a beautiful art sculpture called Berikaoba, which showcases a lively circle of dancers and acts as a reminder that Georgian culture is a melting pot of different traditions and religious customs. The sculpture was created by Avtandil Monaselidze in 1981.

A few steps away is the Leaning Tower of Tbilisi. It is one of the city’s strangest buildings, and is tucked away on a side street in the old town. The tower features a huge clock, with a leaning column on its side. The clocktower, constructed in 2011, is attached to a puppet theatre owned by puppeteer Rezo Gabriadze.

Continuing on my walk through the old town you could see The Ceremonial Palace of Georgia perched on the hillside across the river. It was formerly known as the Presidential Administration of Georgia, and was the building that the President of Georgia operated out of until he moved to Orbeliana Palace in 2019. It is situated on the Eastern bank of the Kura River, the main river that flows through Tbilisi. The building was constructed between 2004 and 2009 in Neoclassical design, to resemble that of a 19th century building. It was designed by Italian architect Michele De Lucchi, who also designed the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Bridge of Peace.

Speaking of the Bridge of Peace, that’s right new door. The Bridge of Peace is a bow-shaped pedestrian bridge that was opened in 2010. The bridge, spanning 150 metres (490 feet) over the Kura River, is constructed of steel and glass and is lit with a custom RGB matrix of 1208 LED lights. The LED lighting system is triggered by 240 motion sensors as pedestrians pass over the bridge.

After crossing the Bridge of Peace into Rike Park I went and took a look at the abandoned Rike Concert Hall, which was designed by Italian architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas. The building is technically two buildings connected as a unique both, but each having its own function; a music theatre and an exhibition hall. It was completed in 2016 and was quickly abandoned in September 2019. It’s such a shame, because its such a beautiful building. I did some digging around on the internet, and it appears that it may have never been opened.

Also located in Rike Park is Air Balloon Tbilisi, which you saw in my night photos from yesterday. The large tethered helium filled balloon offers panoramic views of the city at a height of 150 metres above the ground. The gondola can accommodate up to 30 people at a time. The balloon was designed by Aerophile SAS, a French company, and started operations just two years ago in July 2020.

From Rike Park you can also see Metekhi St. Virgin Church, a Georgian Orthodox Christian church located on the left bank of the river Kura. It sits on the Metekhi Cliff opposite the old town of Tbilisi. The majority of the structure was built between 1278 and 1289 AD when King Demetrius II was in power, however its origins trace back to the 5th century. I walked to the church and took in the views of the riverbank below, as well as Narikala Castle & Fortress perched up on the hill to the West.

If you make a 180 degree turn and face East you can also see Queen Darejan Palace, which is where I walked to next, however I came across quite the unique remains of an old Armenian Church that had completely collapsed. The church was called Karmir Avetaran, also known as the Church of the Red Gospel. It was built originally in 1735, rebuilt in 1775, again in 1808, and renovated sometime during the 19th century. On April 13th 1989 it is rumoured that the church was “blown up” or destroyed deliberately, however it’s likely that its structured failed from an earthquake that struck Tbilisi the day before. It once stood over 40 metres tall and was the tallest Armenian church in Tbilisi.

Just a few minutes away is Queen Darejan Palace. Queen Darejan Palace was built in 1776 for Erekle II’s wife, Queen Darejan. It was built on the edge of the city walls. The Palace consists of the Daria Monastery, and Sachino Palace. After the Queen’s exile in St. Petersburg, the palace and the church were purchased by Exarch Theophylact, where he organized his spiritual seminary and parish schools. During the communist regime the monastery stopped functioning, and was used as a museum and a warehouse. It was then used as a theatre until about 1990. In 1991 the church was transformed again into an administrative building for the Patriarchate. The views from the top were incredible!

I then took a 500 series bus to the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. Normal buses are 300 series, and the mini buses are the 500 series. They’re Ford Transit vans, and although they follow a specific route you have to flag them down to enter, and request when you’d like to get off. The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, also known as Sameba, is the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Tblisi. It was constructed between 1995 and 2004, and is the third tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world, and one of the largest religious buildings in the world. It has a total capacity of 10000 people, and was designed by Archil Mindiashvilli. Pictures don’t do this place justice; it’s incredibly large and beautiful on the inside.

After exploring the Cathedral grounds for a while I ended up taking another bus to see The Wedding Palace. The Wedding Palace, also known as the Palace of Rituals, is a beautiful expressionism style (1920’s) building that closed resembles my favorite architecture style; Art Deco. It was built in 1984 as a wedding venue, and designed by architects Victor Djorbenadze and Vazha Orbeladze. It has been visited by many famous figures / celebrities including Margaret Thatcher. In 2002 the wedding venue was purchased by oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili to use as his personal residence. In 2013, the palace was leased to a private events company to host weddings and functions. It looks like it’s in fairly rough shape now, and could use some TLC.

A short walk away is the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which houses the Minister of Government. The ministry fulfills the tasks required of it by the Prime Minister. This building is an excellent example of soviet-era brutalism.

Another short walk away is the remains of the Tbilisi Central Bus Station. It was designed by architects Shota Kavlashvili, Ramaz Kiknadze, and Vladimir Kurtishvili. It was constructed between 1964 and 1973 and included a bus station, restaurants, cafes, shops, and a hotel. The soviet era brutalism design even won an award of first prize on the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy of USSR. The bus depot and hotel are falling into disrepair, and some of the adjacent buildings are all boarded up.

At the bus depot I boarded another bus to take me to Isani Metro Station, which in my opinion is the only Tbilisi Metro station worth mentioning. As stated previously, Tbilisi Metro is a very simple metro system that is very underfunded and the stations are generally very basic, however Isani is an excellent example of brutalism architecture style. It was built in 1971.

I was getting hungry so it was time to get some dinner. I settled on Khinkali Pub, where I had… you guessed it… Khinkali’s! Khinkali’s are dumplings filled with pork and/or beef. I had deep fried pork and beef Khinkali’s. While I was at the pub I had a pretty lengthy conversation with a young gentleman named Tim, who is from Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Rostov-on-Don is within 100km of the border where the war is currently happening. Tim mentioned the vast majority of his friends are trying to leave the country before they get enlisted for military service. He said it’s a pretty sad state there.

After having dinner I walked around Old Tbilisi a bit more and saw the roofs of the Sulfur Baths, Legvtakhevi Waterfall, and took a walk through the Meidan Bazar.

Leghvtakhevi Waterfall is a 22 metre (72 feet) tall waterfall located in the Abanotubani (Sulfur Bath) area of Tbilisi. The name Leghvtakhevi comes from the Georgian word “Leghvi”, which means fig. There are many fig trees around the waterfall, hence the name.

Meidan Bazar is where you’ll find a plethora of souvenirs and traditional handcrafted goods in Tbilisi. The square is located underground below the tourist center of Tbilisi. I purchased some beer cheese here. It was very stringy, salty, and delicious.

I was absolutely exhausted from walking around so I walked back to my hotel, where I spent the rest of the night working on my blog. I walked a total of 22km today!

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